"AglæcWif": Deconstructing Dichotomies in the Women of Beowulf College

In her 1995 article "The Women of Beowulf: A Context for Interpretation," Gillian R. Overing argues that "[t]he women in Beowulf, whether illegitimate monsters or pedigreed peaceweaving queens, are all marginal, excluded figures…"(Overing, 335) Though the role of the woman in Beowulf is narrow, it is diversified; the female figure simultaneously occupies the role of decorative accessory, unaffected hostess and endorser of goodwill and peace. Feminine characters, such as Hrothgar's queen Wealhtheow and Hildeburh, daughter of the king in the “Finnsburgh Episode,” are employed in the narrative to obediently necessitate their male counterparts.

The exception, however, is Grendel’s nameless mother, whom through her maternity and monstrosity possesses agency in the limited feminine space of the poem. In stark contrast to the traditional female figure, Grendel’s mother exists liminally: as a monster in the heroic hierarchy, and as a matriarch in the patriarchy. Marginalization is advantageous for Grendel’s mother, to a certain extent. The translationally ambiguous "aglæc-wif" incorporates various symbolic connotations: “aglæca/æglæc” refers to both “heroicism” and “monstrosity”, while simultaneously...

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