Beowulf

The Image of Women in Old English Literature

At a time in history in which war was rampant and conquering lands and enemies seemed a priori, the period's hero tended to follow suit. Beowulf, as a prime example of Old English literature, is set in this highly male-dominated world governed by violence, honor, and doom. The role of women in this world also follows a clear pattern: chattel to be used as marriage chips to link warring tribes in order to achieve peace, or Madonnas to be placed on a pedestal and worshiped from afar. Men tend to occupy both the literature and thought of the Old English world, while women are scarcely to be seen in a hero's role. Therefore, such characters as Grendel's mother, Thrith, and Welthow in Beowulf fall victim to the lens of misogyny used to view women in Old English literature, as their strength is viewed as negligible, depicted from the perspective of men.

Grendel's mother is a strong example of this misogynistic view. A horrible monster, she descends on Herot in a frenzy of grief and rage, seeking vengeance for her son Grendel's death. "She'd brooded on her loss, misery had brewed/ In her heart, that female horror, Grendel's/ Mother" (ll. 1258-1260). Claire A. Lees, in her essay At a Crossroads:...

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