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Comparing the Role of Women in Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

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Men exemplify heroic qualities in both Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, however, women are depicted differently in the two stories. In Beowulf, women are not necessary to the epic, where as in Green Knight, women not only play a vital role in the plot, but they also directly control the situations that arise. Men are acknowledged for their heroic achievement in both stories, while the women's importance in each story differ. However, women are being equally degraded in both Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

The women in Beowulf are barely discussed and seem to exist solely for the use of the men. They are weak and portray none of the legendary qualities that the men display. Wealhtheow, the Queen of Danes and Hrothgar's wife, is the only female character in the epic that talks. In a speech to her husband, we are able to see that she is a strong woman, who is able to speak her mind. She tells the king that it is good that he adopted Beowulf, but reminds him that he already has two sons. However, her speech is made while she carries the drinking goblet to all of the men in the room, "Wealhtheow came in,/ Hrothgar's queen, observing the courtesies./ Adorned in her gold, she graciously handed the cup first to Hrothgar, their homeland's guardian,/ urging him to drink deep and enjoy it because he was dear to them" (612-618). When she is given the opportunity to talk, she only praises the men and plays a role defined by their society.

Hygd, wife of Hygelac, the King of Geats, is mentioned several times, although we never hear her speak. She offers Beowulf the throne when he returns home from fighting the dragon, but the narrarator of the poem tells us, "There Hygd offered him throne and auth...


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...d with the best gems/ Ever brought into Britain, with bright pennies/ to pay,/ Fair queen, without a flaw,/ She glanced with eyes of grey./ A seemlier that once he saw, In truth, no man could say" (74-85).

We do not learn anything about the queen's personality. We now know that she is an attractive woman, but is her soul just as beautiful?

Throughout both of these stories, we are told many tales about heroic men. Beowulf and Gawain encounter many obstacles, however, they prevail in the end. Weather women play an important role in the stories or not, they exist solely for the use of the men. If all of the women were removed from Beowulf, the plot would not be affected. Even though the women in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight play important roles, they were used as sexual objects. In both stories, women are being degraded, while men remain the heroes.


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