Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index


  • Record Number: 4567
  • Author(s)/Creator(s):
  • Contributor(s):
  • Title: Consequential Actions/ Marginality and Perversion: Breaking the Man-Monster Binary in "Beowulf"
  • Source: Old English Newsletter 33, 3 (Spring 2000): Paper presented at the Thirty-Fifth International Congress on Medieval Studies, The Medieval Institute, Western Michigan University, May 4-7, 2000, Session 347: "Beowulf I."
  • Description:
  • Article Type: Conference Paper Abstract
  • Subject (See Also): Beowulf, Old English Epic Grendel's Mother (Literary Figure) Literature- Verse Marginality in Literature Women in Literature
  • Geographic Area: British Isles
  • Century: 8-9
  • Related Resources:
  • Primary Evidence:
  • Illustrations:
  • Table:
  • Abstract: I argue that the characters we are most troubled by in Beowulf (particularly Beowulf and Grendel’s mother) are either perverse, marginalized, or both, not by their essential nature, but through action. In simple terms, I suggest that each character does what the other ought. At the most basic level, Beowulf is perverse because he does not reproduce, and Grendel’s mother is marginalized because she does. This understanding of marginality, as influenced by Michael Camille and bell hooks, therefore means that characters are not essentially "monstrous" but exist under a different set of social obligations than the norm. Alternately, perversion, following along the lines of Jacques Lacan and complicated by Sigmund Freud's earlier works, is the defiance of already-occupied social roles. Because one does not preclude the other, marginality and perversion occur most frequently in consequential relationships. By relegating a character to the margins, it is almost certain that a perversion of role will occur. And this perversion cannot help but affect the society to which it is marginal. The most meaningful moment of Beowulf, therefore, is the moment of Beowulfs perverse grapple with Grendel's mother; the dance between Grendel's mother and Beowulf has more far-reaching consequences than her death. She is the only woman that the poem ever shows Beowulf touching, and though her perversion results in a destructive offspring, the consequence of Beowulf’s lack of reproduction is more destructive. Grendel consumes a few of Hrothgar's thanes, but Beowulf’s living actions result in the annihilation of his entire people after his death. [Reproduced by permission of the editor Robert L. Schichler and the editors of the Old English Newsletter.]
  • Author's Affiliation:
  • Conference Info: - , -
  • Year of Publication: 2000.
  • Language: English
  • ISSN/ISBN: 00301973
  • Material/Technique :
  • Rights: