Comparing The Role Of Women In Beowulf And Sir Gawain And The Green Knight

1322 words - 5 pages

Men exemplify heroic qualities in both Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, however, women are depicted differently in the two stories. In Beowulf, women are not necessary to the epic, where as in Green Knight, women not only play a vital role in the plot, but they also directly control the situations that arise. Men are acknowledged for their heroic achievement in both stories, while the women's importance in each story differ. However, women are being equally degraded in both Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

The women in Beowulf are barely discussed and seem to exist solely for the use of the men. They are weak and portray none of the legendary qualities that the men display. Wealhtheow, the Queen of Danes and Hrothgar's wife, is the only female character in the epic that talks. In a speech to her husband, we are able to see that she is a strong woman, who is able to speak her mind. She tells the king that it is good that he adopted Beowulf, but reminds him that he already has two sons. However, her speech is made while she carries the drinking goblet to all of the men in the room, "Wealhtheow came in,/ Hrothgar's queen, observing the courtesies./ Adorned in her gold, she graciously handed the cup first to Hrothgar, their homeland's guardian,/ urging him to drink deep and enjoy it because he was dear to them" (612-618). When she is given the opportunity to talk, she only praises the men and plays a role defined by their society.

Hygd, wife of Hygelac, the King of Geats, is mentioned several times, although we never hear her speak. She offers Beowulf the throne when he returns home from fighting the dragon, but the narrarator of the poem tells us, "There Hygd offered him throne and authority/ as lord of the ring-hoard: with Hygelac dead,/ she had no belief in her son's ability to defend their homeland against foreign invaders" (2369-2371). She is unable to speak, which symbolizes how women do not have much of a voice in this book.

Some of the women in Beowulf also serve as peacekeepers. Wealhtheow is referred to as "peace-pledged between nations" (2017). Hildeburh, a Danish Queen, is another woman who functions as a peacekeeper. She was given to Fin, a Frisian king in order to keep the peace. However, when her brother, Hnaef, kills Frisian warriors, a war breaks out and Hnaef and Fin are killed. Hildeburh is taken home, "Over sea-lanes then/ back to Daneland/ the warrior troop/ bore that lady home" (1557-1560), and she has no say in the matter. She fails at maintaining peace and is hauled home like a piece of property.

Hrothegar's daughter, Freawaru, is a third peacekeeper in the epic. She is going to marry Ingeld, Lord of the Heatho-Bards. Freawaru is told to marry Ingeld because, "the guardian of the kingdom sees good in it/ and hopes this woman will heal old wounds/ and grievous feuds" (2027-2029). Love and her desires are irrelevant in this decision. Hrothegar simply gives...

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