The Heroic Age

Issue 5

Summer/Autumn 2001

The Social Centrality of Women in Beowulf


Notes and Bibliography




1. "The women in Beowulf, whether illegitimate monsters or pedigreed peaceweaving queens, are all marginal, excluded figures . . ." Gillian R. Overing (1995) "The Women of Beowulf: A Context for Interpretation", pp. 219-260 in Beowulf: Basic Readings Peter S. Baker, Editor. New York: Garland Publishing.

2. Similar relationships are drawn between the women by Jane Chance (1986 & 1990)

3. Unless otherwise specified, all line numbers are from L. Wrenn and W.F. Bolton eds,(1988) Beowulf With the Finnesburg Fragment Exeter, England: University of Exeter Press, and all modern English translations are from R.M. Liuzza (2000) Beowulf: A New Verse Translation Peterborough, Ontario, Canada and Orchard Park, NY: Broadview Press.

4. Enright 1996

5. Enright, 7. Translation from T. A. Shippey 1976

6. Wealhtheow's own interest, which is the prosperity of her own children. "Wealhtheow is, however, not a Christian nor a bourgeois mother; her concern is not with gentle interpersonal behavior but with the reins and passage of power and the treachery possible in such passage . . .Wealhtheow has a deeper and more serious concern for her sons: their survival in a tribal system where all but the most ethical are likely to break the basic social rules in the quest for power." (Bloomfield 1994:194-95) For Hrothgar's acceptance of Wealhtheow's speech see John M. Hill (1995: 100-102).

7. An action which may bring up the question of whether or not one could argue for Wealhtheow - and Hygd also - as a beag-gifa, "ring-giver" (master, lord).

8. I see no reason to agree with Enright 23. "And yet, what influence does she have against her husband? All she can do is offer veiled pleadings to Beowulf and mild hints to Hrothgar; she is powerless to counter the implicit offer of kingship, at least while her husband lives."

9. Janemarie Luecke (1983: 191) She cites Tacitus' description of the close relationship between a woman's brothers and her sons that can be read in reference to Hildeburh's situation. "The sons of sisters go so far as to regard this tie of blood as peculiarly close and sacred... However, a man's heirs and successors are his own children." (par. 20) In this light it is notable that the scop does not say whether Hildeburh's sons fought with her husband or her brother.

10. Stephen O. Glosecki (1999:25).

11. Glosecki 26.

12. Enright 22. He in turn cites Bernice Kliman (1977:33).

13. Sklute (1970) In Elene, the term is used in reference to an angel (masculine by nature), a messenger from God, sent to serve as a freothuwebbe between God and man. The one use of the term in Beowulf refers to Thryth, who eventually married into a rival tribe but at the time the poet is speaking about she has been killing her suitors - not exactly the best way to weave peace. The use of freothuwebbe in Widsith refers to a woman who possibly married into a rival tribe (Ealhild, an Angle, it has been argued, was the historical wife of Eormanric, king of the Ostrogoths) but it is unclear in the poem whether the term refers to her specifically for that reason.

14. Jane Chance (1986) discusses peacemaking as an aspect of what I above called the 'hostess' function. She considers not only the passing of the cup, but also Wealhtheow's speeches to the king and to Beowulf. She describes the queen herself as an emblem for peace, because she only appears after a battle has been won.

15. Hill 2000: 64n.8

16. For further discussion of the political place of peaceweavers and the tension inherent in their situations see Jane Chance (1986).

17. Luecke 200.

18. For another reading examining the strength of Hildeburh see Robert A. Albano.

19. See Rolf A. Bremmer, Jr. I am unsure what to make of Bremmer's arguments for the avuncular relationship between Beowulf and Wiglaf, but Glosecki (34-35) accepts and expands on Bremmer.

20. The relationship between Wealhtheow and Hygd mirror that of Hildeburgh and Freawaru: the older and more experienced women of the pair have their situations described in much more detail than the younger, inexperienced ones. This seems to be purposeful on the part of the author, although I am not sure what exactly his purpose is other than to make a symmetrical story.

21. I assume that Freawaru is carrying out the same sort of hostess duty as I discussed above; however, the mention here is too short to make any conclusion as to the importance of this particular act.

22. Chance 1986: 256.

23. For more on Thryth and Grendel's mother as complements to each other see Damico 1980: 149-167, esp. 152-155.

24. Marijane Osborn (1999: 49-76) suggests an alternate reading of lines 1931-1932 in which fremu folces cwen refers not to Thryth (the traditional reading), but to Hygd, who has been mentioned in the lines before. This minor re-evaluation of the grammar attempts to answer a question that has long bothered scholars: What is Thryth doing here? According to Liuzza's reading, Hygd is actually considering Thryth's actions herself. "The people's good queen (fremu folces cwen) weighed [considered] Thryth's pride, her appalling crime . . ." This seems to be what Luizzia has done in his translation, although with the word order it is unclear who the fremu folces cwen is: "She considered Thryth's pride, famous folk-queen, and her terrible crimes."

25. Although the poet uses the term freothu-webbe to refer to Thryth, his intentions are not so clear. Does he mean that she is a peace-weaver who acts as she should not, or is it that, because of her violent actions, she is not worthy of the title of peace-weaver?

That is no queenly custom for a lady to perform - no matter how lovely,that a freothu-webbe should deprive of life a friendly man after a pretended affront. (1940-1943)

26. For intriguing examinations of the term 'aglæc-wif' and its possible interpretations see Melinda J. Menzer.

27. For a more detailed discussion of the human-ness of Grendel's mother see Keith P. Taylor.

28. Liuzza's translation of this passage follows a suggestion made by Fred C. Robinson. Another reading, the one that I follow here, is offered by E. Talbot Donaldson: "He might not approach the throne, [receive] treasure, because of the Lord; He had no love for him."

29. Chance notes that "she [Grendel's mother] possesses no legal right to exact compensation for her kinsman's loss because Grendel is himself a homicide." However, she neglects to cite her source, and this information is not clear within the context of the poem. Chance 1986: 252.

30. See Keith P. Taylor, and also Elizabeth M. Liggins and Kevin S. Kiernan.

31. Many thanks to L. J. Swain, who first pointed out to me the differences between the entries of mother and son.

32. Grendel's mother's strength in battle also contrasts decidedly with her son's. Grendel has protected himself against weapons using magic, but that does not matter because Beowulf is able to defeat Grendel with his bare hands. Not only is Beowulf unable to defeat Grendel's mother with his bare hands, but he has to use a magic weapon from her own lair to kill her.





Albano, Robert A. (1994) "The Role of Women in Anglo-Saxon Culture: Hildeburh in Beowulf and a Curious Counterpart in the Volsunga Saga." English Language Notes 32/1:1-9.

Bloomfield, Josephine (1994) "Diminished by Kindness: Frederick Klaeber's Rewriting of Wealhtheow." Journal of English and Germanic Philology 93/2: 181-203

Bremmer, Rolf H., Jr. (1980) "The Importance of Kinship: Uncle and Nephew in Beowulf." 'Amsterdamer Beitr_ge zur _lteren Germanistik' 15:21-38

Chance, Jane (1986) Woman as Hero in Old English Literature. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse
University Press.

Chance, Jane (1990) "The Structural Unity of Beowulf: The Problem of Grendel's Mother." Pp. 248-261 in New Readings on Women in Old English Literature Helen Damico and Alexandra Hennessey Olsen, eds. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press

Damico, Helen (1980) "The Valkyrie Reflex in Old English Literature." Allegorica 5/2:149-167

Enright, Michael J. (1996) Lady with a Mead Cup: Ritual, Prophecy and Lordship in the European Warband from La Tène to the Viking Age. Dublin, Ireland and Portland, OR: Four Courts Press.

Glosecki Stephen O. (1999) "Beowulf and the Wills: Traces of Totemism?" Philological Quarterly 78/1,2: 15-48. Reprinted in this issue.

Hill, John M. (2000) The Anglo-Saxon Warrior Ethic: Reconstructing Lordship in Early English Literature. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida

Hill, John M. (1995) The Cultural World in 'Beowulf'. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, pp.100-102.

Kiernan, Kevin S. (1984) "Grendel's Heroic Mother." In Geardagum 6: 25-27.

Kliman, Bernice. (1977). "Women in Early English Literature, Beowulf to the Ancrene Wisse ." Nottingham Medieval Studies 21: 32-49.

Liggins, Elizabeth M. (1973) "Revenge and Reward as Recurrent Motives in Beowulf." Neuphilologische Mitteilungen 74: 200-202.

Liuzza, R.M., editor. (2000) Beowulf: A New Verse Translation. Peterborough, Ontario, Canada and Orchard Park, NY: Broadview Press.

Luecke, Janemarie (1983) "'Wulf and Eadwacer': Hints for Reading from Beowulf and Anthropology." Pp. 190-203 in The Old English Elegies: New Essays in Criticism and Research Martin Green, Editor. London: Rutherford

Menzer, Melinda J. "Aglæcwif'(Beowulf 1259a): Implications for -wif Compounds, Grendel's Mother, and Other Aglæcan." English Language Notes 34/1:1-6.

Osborn, Marijane (1999) ""The Wealth They Left Us": Two Women Author Themselves through Others' Lives in Beowulf." Philological Quarterly 78/1,2: 49-76.

Overing, Gillian R. (1995) "The Women of Beowulf: A Context for Interpretation", Pp. 219-60 in Beowulf: Basic Readings Peter S. Baker, Editor. New York: Garland Publishing.

Robinson, Fred C. (1992)"Why is Grendel's Not Greeting the gifstol a wræc micel?", pp. 257-62 in Words, Texts, and Manuscripts'Michael Korhammer, Editor. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer.

Shippey, T. A. (1976) Poems of Wisdom and Learning in Old English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Sklute, Larry M. (1970) "Freothuwebbe in Old English Poetry." Neuphilologische Mitteilungen 71/4: 534-540

Taylor, Keith P. (1994) "Beowulf 1259a: the Inherent Nobility of Grendel's Mother." English Language Notes 31/3: 13-24.

Tuso, Joseph F., editor. (1975) Beowulf: The Donaldson Translation, Backgrounds and Sources, Criticism. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

Wrenn, C.L. and W.F. Bolton, eds. (1988) Beowulf With the Finnesburg Fragment. Exeter, England: University of Exeter Press.



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