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Gender Equality in Beowulf

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Topics: Beowulf, Hroðgar
Laura Robles
12-I
Miss Stolyarova
10-1-14

Gender Equality in Beowulf
Back in the medieval ages, men dominated the community, because it was believed that they were the ones with power and strength. But, even though women did not appear often in the poem, they did play a significant role aside from just being pretty and wearing gold. In Beowulf the author introduces Wealhtheow, Hygd, Hildeburh, Freawaru, Modthryth, and Grendel’s mother as one of the most important women throughout the poem. The assumption that women were not highly important in Beowulf is a misconception. Woman had political power over the Danes, were used as peace weavers, and were very violent, and strong.

The importance of women in Beowulf can be seen through the political power that the women had on the Danes. In the poem, the author introduces two queens, named Wealhtheow and Hygd. Both of them developed an important role of being the hostesses. Although, they pleased and served men whenever they needed, Wealhtheow and Hygd had enough power to establish a hierarchy in the hall. Having to carry the cups around in order to give it to the king, and his warriors was not a simple task for women. When Wealhtheow first appeared in the poem, “she graciously saluted the men in hall, then handed the cup
first to Hrothgar, their homeland's guardian, urging him to drink deep and enjoy it
because he was dear to them” (43), the queen is making it clear that Hrothgar is the most powerful king in the hall, by handing him the first feasting cup. Hygd tries to convince Beowulf to take the position as king, because she “had no belief in her son's ability
to defend their homeland against foreign invaders. Yet there was no way the weakened nation 
could get Beowulf to give in and agree 
to be elevated over Heardred as his lord” (161), women had power when it came to politics, because they were aware of what was going on. Hygd began to make important decisions of who will become the next king, and her decisions could change everyone’s lives.

Women were highly significant through their role of being peace weavers, because men were able to use them as a form of possession. The author introduces Hildeburh, and Freawaru, both women who had to marry a man from a rival group in order for peace to be established between the tribes. Hildeburh, and Freawaru did not marry because they were in love, but simply for convenience, since the tribes believed this would help them gain amity. Hildeburh was the first woman that was introduced as a peace weaver, “a Danish princess married to the Frisian King Finn, loses her son and her brother Hnaef in a fight at Finn’s hall” (71), Hildeburh was first mentioned in a story that was performed by the king’s poet after Grendel’s death. Then, Freawaru was introduced through a story that was told by Beowulf. “Most often after the fall of a prince in any nation the deadly spear rests but a little while, even thought the bride is good” (35), Beowulf is predicting that Freawaru will marry in order to create peace, and believes that peace-weavers will soon create hardships and war.

Women can behave just as violently, and can be just as strong as any men they have encountered. Grendel’s mother and Modthryth are the perfect representation of powerful women in Beowulf. Grendel’s mother was very fearless, because she “had been forced down into fearful waters, the cold depths, after Cain had killed
his father's son, felled his own
brother with a sword” (89). After the assassination of her son, she decided to seek vengeance, rather than forgetting the incident ever happened. Grendel’s mother died while fighting with Beowulf, because she wanted to gain back her sons honor. Then there was the Great Queen Modthryth, the one that was capable of anything. “If any retainer ever made bold
to look her in the face, if an eye not her lord's
stared at her directly during daylight,
the outcome was sealed: he was kept bound
in hand-tightened shackles” (133), many people were afraid of her because she was known for murdering many innocent man who have entered her hall, or even looked her in the eye. Even though they were both physically different, they were very powerful and strong women.

In conclusion, women have always been an important part of society even though they are not vastly appreciated. In the poem Beowulf, women are very significant, because of their political power, their influences on people, their abilities to make peace between tribes by sacrificing their freedom, and because they are strong and independent. One should never underestimate the power of women because even though one believes them to be as fragile and delicate as they appear, woman can be just as powerful, and strong as any men.

Works cited
Heaney, Seamus, trans. Beowulf. N.p.: n.p., 2001. PDF.

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