An Analysis Of The Role Of Queen In The Novels Beowulf And Grendel


In both texts, Beowulf and Grendel, the main purpose of the
Queens is to serve the courts as "weavers of peace". In
Grendel however, Queen Wealththeow is described in much
greater detail and serves a further purpose. The reader
gains insights that are not present in Beowulf, his desire
for a human woman. 

It was not unusual for women to be offered as tokens of
peace within the noble courts. In the novel Grendel,
Wealhtheow's brother, King of the Helmings, bestowed her to
King Hrothgar to promote peace amongst the Helmings and
Scyldings. "She had given, her life for those she loved. So
would any simpering, eyelash batting female in her court,
given the proper setup, the minimal conditions"(Grendel,
p.102). It is ironic how she promoted peace with her
arrival, in both texts. Queen Wealhtheow however is not the
only woman in the texts who was forsaken to encourage
appeasement amongst feuding courts. Queen Hygd was offered
to Hygelac under very similar circumstances as told in
Beowulf, and portrayed in Hygelac's kingdom. There is
reference in both texts concerning this tradition, and it
is evident to the reader that this is not an unusual
Anglo-Saxon custom. 

Queen Wealhtheow and Queen Hygd served as excellent role
models for the courts in which they served. They
exemplified the mannerisms and etiquette of the noble
people. Queen Wealhtheow showed excellent poise from the
very beginning of both texts. She was admirable as she
passed the mead bowl around Heorot. The offering of the
bowl was symbolic, being that the bowl was first given to
Hrothgar and then passed to Beowulf, as if she presented
him with her trust. Beowulf gave Wealhtheow his guarantee
that he would be successful or die in battle. After she
presented Hrothgar and Beowulf with the mead bowl she
served the Scyldings, and did so as if they were her own
people. She was not a Scylding, nor did she desire to be
one, but she never made her unhappiness known, as described
in Grendel. 
There is not great detail on Queen Hygd in Grendel, but
from what the reader can gather from Beowulf, she is as
much of a female role model as Queen Wealhtheow. She was
young but very intelligent. In fact King Hygelac felt
intimidated by Hygd's intelligence. Queen Hygd was unlike
Wealhtheow in the way in which she did not bear many gifts.
Hygd was more concerned about the future of the people of
her kingdom succeeding Hygelacs death than Wealhtheow. Hygd
offered Beowulf the kingdom because she believed it was in
the best interest of the people, she loved the warriors and
wished peace amongst all the people. Wealtheow on the other
hand felt that the kingdom should be preserved for her sons.
Wealhtheow spoke after the "fight at Finnsburg" about the
importance of her sons taking over the kingdom in the poem
Beowulf, and this reminds Hrothgar of his age. This same
speech affected Hrothgar in both texts. It forced him to
contemplate his worthiness of Wealhtheow. He realized that
she was young and beautiful, and need not be with an old
man. His sorrow was intensified by the fact that she knew
all this as well.
Queen Wealhtheow put up an excellent disguise when hiding
the pain she experienced from being forced to be Hrothgar's
wife. Unlike in "Beowulf", in "Grendel", the reader was
given insight into Wealhtheow's sorrow. The only time she
would display her unhappiness was when she would lie in bed
at night with Hrothgar with her eyes full of tears.
Sometimes she would leave the kingdom to dwell in her
sorrows but she would be immediately surrounded by guards,
and escorted inside. Wealhtheow was homesick, she missed
her land, and her brother. When her brother visited Heorot,
she paid no attention to Hrothgar, and Hrothgar fulfilled
her role by passing around the mead bowl. In Grendel, it
told of Hrothgar's love for Wealhtheow. He would often
stare at her in admiration. Despite her resentment she
treated Hrothgar with much respect. She always looked up to
him and referred to him as "my lord".
Although Wealhtheow has much resentment towards serving the
Danes, she puts all that aside and fulfills her duties as a
praiseworthy queen. In "Grendel", it told how she came
between drunken men in the mead hall, as if she was their
mother. Her intervention reminded them of their
responsibilities toward the kingdom. Her presence "brought
light and warmth, men began talking, joking and laughing,
both Danes and Geats together"(Grendel, p.163). She created
a positive feeling throughout the kingdom. In her presence
the Shaper vocalized on a positive note about comfort and
joy. Wealhtheow gave Beowulf advice about proper etiquette,
and how to speak to the Geats with "mild words". She
advised him to make sure that he shared his gifts. All the
things she did, were part of a rule by which she lived.
Before Beowulf left the Danes, Queen Wealhtheow gave
Beowulf a precious collar, the Brosing necklace, in
appreciation for his duty. She gave him the gifts so that
he could make known who he was, and to be proud of his
accomplishments. She wished him the best of luck and asked
him to take care of her sons.
There was much focus on Queen Wealhtheow's outer beauty in
the novel Grendel. It went into much further detail than in
the poem, Beowulf. From Wealhtheows entrance into the
novel, the reader was told in great detail of her physical
beauty. Beowulf primarily focused on her inner beauty. She
was described as "having hair red as fire, as soft as the
ruddy sheen on dragons gold. Her face was gentle,
mysteriously calm" (Grendel p.100). This combination made
her a very desirable woman. So desirable that Unferth was
attracted to her. Unferth flirted with Wealhtheow often in
Grendel. When she would offer him the mead he would glance
at her and look down and smile. Unferth felt embarrassment
after he made a comment about men killing their brothers
while they were drunk. Few people in Heorot found the
comment humorous, and the queen was caught off guard. He
respected the queen, as did every one throughout the
kingdom and felt humiliated at what he had said. He felt
regret and embarassment by his mistake and glanced at the
queen without looking away. Being the kind person that she
was, she forgave him, and he was put at ease.
The lust for Wealhtheow did not stop with Unferth. Perhaps
the most significant difference in the two texts is that in
Grendel, the monster, was attracted to Wealhtheow. There is
no suggestion in Beowulf that Grendel possesses any
feelings toward the humans. This desire for Wealhtheow
gives the reader better insight into Grendel's character.
Up until this point the reader was given no hint that
Grendel possessed anything except hatred toward the human
race. Grendel was touched the first time he saw Wealhtheow;
he was struck by her innocence and beauty. He wanted to sob
at the sight of her; the reader had never been introduced
to this sensitive side of the monster. The reader wasn't
the only one who had a problem understanding Grendel's
feelings, Grendel couldn't understand them either. He was
"tortured by the red of her hair and the set of her chin
and the white of her shoulders". There is definitely a
sexual overtone in Grendel's desire for Wealththeow. Upon
his attack on her, he ripped her out of bed by her feet as
if he was going to split her in half. He wanted to kill her
but he was torn by his feeling for her. All the pain he
wanted to inflict was sexual. He wanted to "cook the ugly
hole between her legs, and squeeze out her feces with his
fists". His motive for killing her was justified by wanting
to teach the Danes reality, but he refrained because it
would be "pointless pleasure". Grendel was clearly unhappy
about his desire for Wealtheow, and was disconcerted. He
contemplated killing her because he wanted to get rid of
these feelings, instead he decided to focus on the
undesirable side Wealhtheow, "her unqueenly shrieks" and
"the ugliness between her legs(the bright tears of blood)."
Although the two texts are fundamentally the same, there is
a significant difference in how Queen Wealhtheow is
portrayed. In the novel Grendel, the reader is given not
only further insight to the beauty and charm of Wealhtheow,
but the sensitivity and needs of Grendel. Both texts allow
the reader to gain a further understanding to the position
of women in the Anglo-Saxon society by means of the
development of the characters, Queen Wealhtheow and Queen

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