Role of Queen in Beowulf & Grendel
In both texts, Beowulf and Grendel, the main purpose of the
Queen's are 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 insight to a part Grendel
that is not present in Beowulf, his desire for a human.
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 from her arrival because
she was an essential part in keeping peace, as the "weaver of peace"
in the later of both texts. Queen Wealhtheow however is not the only
woman in the texts that was forsaken to encourage appeasement amongst
feuding courts. Queen Hygd was offered to Hygelac under very similar
circumstances as told in Beowulf, and portrayed the same role 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
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 Hygds intelligence. Queen Hygd was unlike
Wealhtheow in the way in which she did not bare 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. Which made his sorrow even worse is 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 Hrothgars 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 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 at him and referred to him as "my lord".
Although Wealhtheow has much resentment towards serving the
Danes, she puts all that beside her and fulfilled her duties as an
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 , how to speak to the Geats with
"mild words". She advised him to make sure he shared his gifts. After
all that was 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, 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, the queen was caught off guard. He respected the queen, as
did every one throughout the kingdom. He was humiliated at what he had
said, he felt regret and ridicule 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 posses any feelings toward the humans. This
desire for Wealhtheow gives the reader better insight into Grendels
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 Grendels 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 Grendels desire for Wealththeow. Upon his attack of 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 Hygd.
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