A Role Model For Women: Wealhtheow

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The substandard status of women has been a staple in various cultures throughout the centuries. Certainly the literary world has been no exception; in fact, literature projects the creed of a civilization rather well. At first glance, women seem to take up very little space within the context of Beowulf, but a second look will reveal their societal roles in this era thanes and kings. Particularly, the portrayal of Queen Wealhtheow as a peacemaker and an audible voice reflects the contradictory expectations of women in a patriarchal society. As the queen, Wealhtheow is by default the ceremonial hostess as well; she is expected to bridge the gaps that exist between the guests and the rest of the king’s court. At the feast in honor of Beowulf’s arrival, Wealhtheow enters in graceful splendor, passing a cup of mead around to the warriors. Although her manner is depicted as “queenly and dignified,” honoring the gathered thanes with her service, the act of physically bearing a cup for the men places her in a status subordinate to that of her husband (621). As portrayed in the text, Wealhtheow, in spite of her title, or perhaps because of it, has yet to gain equality among her male acquaintances. In addition to her dignified servitude, Wealhtheow also lends formality whatever activity she is involved with. For instance, after Beowulf fulfills his promise, she takes it upon herself to announce the extent of his accomplishments (1221-1226). The formality in her speech reminds everyone of the proper code of conduct, and offers structure in the midst of the drunken men. To the reader, Wealhtheow’s words present a note of finality and solidity to Beowulf’s heroism that would otherwise be left to the ambiguity of interpretation. In the same way, Anglo-Saxon women of the past seem to be expected to shed light on, or even contribute to, the successes of their male counterparts.

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