Saturday, February 12, 2011

Beowulf: an Androgynous hero?

Beowulf we know and read about is only thought of an epic hero with masculine physique, almighty strength, and pride out of his accomplishments. However, in the article, Beowulf’s androgynous heroism by Robert Morey, focuses on revealing Beowulf’s feminine side in the poem as a hero, which seem to be very peculiar at first. Despite of this unconventional, even idiosyncratic argument, Morey provides a reasonable justification about Beowulf’s femininity through context of the period at that time and also through the analysis of excerpts from the poem.

First, Morey notifies the audience that, “The role of woman in Beowulf, as in Anglo-Saxon society, primarily depends on peace making, either biologically through her marital ties with foreign kings as a peace pledge or mother of sons, or socially and psychologically as a cup-passing and peace-weaving queen within a hall." Based on this social role of women at that time, applying it to Beowulf when he tries to compromise and be an arbitrator make macho and daunting warrior to be much peaceful and humanistic character.

Second, Morey argues that Beowulf is the only king in the poem who does not show any evidence that he is married, which feminizes him not only structurally, but physically as well.

Also, in the poem, Beowulf is described with adjectives, such as milde, mondawaere, and lide , that are usually associated with religious figures, which in a way tries to broaden hero’s capacity to fulfill certain gender roles or qualities that are associated with women. Based on how the poem describes the figure of Beowulf, it shows that there was less of a gender distinction on religious figures than in modern society.

In my opinion, although Beowulf’s masculine, manly side is definitely emphasized the most throughout the poem, the poet also reminds the reader about Beowulf’s soft inner side throughout his actions, such as talking to people of Herot when first arrives at their kingdom instead of getting physical, and also when he tries to compromise and convince others to bring nations together. However, I do not think Beowulf’s amicable and nonviolent effort to generate harmonious relationship among kingdoms necessarily represents the social role of women at that time, because the time period when this poem was written was very patriarchal society, therefore they were ignorant enough about women’s social roles. In result, the poet probably did not think about incorporating the gender role of women to the poem, especially when their roles were not recognized.

However, I agree with the fact that the religious figures at that time were not only seen as a male figure. A lack of gender distinction in a religious figure was definitely present at that time. But, I do not think the poet was necessarily trying to portray Beowulf as a religious figure in general, because he has too many flaws to be such a holy character. I think the characteristic that Beowulf reveals at the end of the poem is evident that he is not a hero that is depicted as a religious figure. After the fight with the dragon, when Beowulf wants to see Dragon’s treasure for the last time before he dies, it shows that Beowulf is still human after all and he is the same as any other king, which admires money and power, although he tried to do things differently than other kings in the past.

Morey, Robert. "Beowulf's androgynous heroism." The Journal of English and Germanic Philology 95.4 (1996): 486+. General OneFile. Web. 12 Feb. 2011.

1 comment:

  1. You picked an interesting and important essay to summarize - it was a good choice. I think, as far as content goes, you did a fine job of summarizing it - certainly of summarizing it as I remember it; I have no objections to your work, and I certainly think that you raised a number of the critical points.

    Where I would like to have seen a little more development is at the end, where you put forth your own views about Beowulf androgyny in relationship with the class. I was struck by the fact that you thought that such a patriarchal poem wouldn't show interest in women's roles, and therefore wouldn't feminize Beowulf himself. While that argument isn't crazy, in order to make that argument convincingly, you'd need to deal with the role of women in the poem - which would probably meaning dealing primarily with Wealtheow, although also with Hrothgar's daughter and various others. At the very least, you're simplifying a character who is more subtle and complicated than she appears to be.