Contrasting the Role of Women between Beowulf and Marie de France’s Lanval
In the two medieval poems Beowulf and Lanval the roles of women contrast each other greatly. The women in Beowulf are not as powerful as the women in Lanval, but play crucial roles as creators of harmony. Certainly in both stories we see evidence of societies that both exhibit dominance in men and primarily disallowment of women. Although in Lanval there is an extreme level of female power, as seen with both the fairy lady and in treatment of both Lanval and Arthur by Guinevere. Overall, I would presume that Marie de France’s Lanval has more powerful female roles then Beowulf, simply because in the end of Lanval we last see Lanval “behind her [the fairy lady] on the saddle” (642) .
The first woman introduced in Beowulf is the queen of the Danes, Hrothgar’s wife, Wealtheow. She is the most notable, and well-known female character in the story. From the first time she enters Heorot her courteousness and obedience is revealed. She salutes the men of the hall and then serves them drinks beginning with her husband the king and continuing her way down the ranks. She is also portrayed as a rich noble woman. The text describes her as queenly and dignified, “decked out in rings” (621) which signifies wealth and honor during that time. When Beowulf returns victorious she tells the king to be generous in giving them rings and advises him about making Beowulf heir to his throne. This shows she is unafraid to speak her mind, a rare and inappropriate quality at the time. She is able to be this way because of her reputation as a great queen and loving wife. It is also during this time that she realizes the change in rank that took place after Beowulf’s victory because she serves him right after the king. All of these actions make Wealtheow the most admirable female character in the story.
The only other character besides Wealtheow that is surly looked favorably upon is Hygd, wife of Hygelac...