Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index


  • Record Number: 4707
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  • Title: Grendelle: The Dead Mother in "Beowulf" [Thirtieth International Congress on Medieval Studies, the Medieval Institute, Western Michigan University, May 4-7, 1995. Thirtieth Symposium on the Sources of Anglo- Saxon Culture, co- sponsered by the Institute and CEMERS, Binghamton University. Session 40.]
  • Source: Old English Newsletter 28, 3 (Spring 1995):
  • Description:
  • Article Type: Conference Paper Abstract
  • Subject (See Also): Beowulf, Old English Epic Feminist Theory Grendel's Mother (Literary Figure) Literature- Verse
  • Award Note:
  • Geographic Area: British Isles
  • Century: 8-9
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  • Abstract: Although detailed attention has been given to almost every character. primary and secondary, in "Beowulf," few scholars have taken sufficient notice of Grendel's motl1er. Usually perceived as an extension of her son's figure, she is either ignored or cast under the generic title of "monster. " This paper aims to analyze the function of Grendel's mother anew, seeing her as a pivotal character in the "entire" epic, by following current French feminist theories. Inverting the traditional Freudian Oedipus complex and its Lacanian application to the acquisition of language and social status, theorists like Helene Cixous, Lucy Irigaray, Margaret Homans, et aI. posit "the death of the mother" as the psychological prerequisite for an individual's social and linguistic maturation inside patriarchal structures. In examining Beowulrs conflict with Grendel's mother (here referred to as "Grendelle"), and taking into account the rela- tion of the other mother-figures in the text to his female adversary, this study (I) establishes a mother-son relationship between Beowulf and "Grendelle," (2) unfolds the mechanism through which the masculine society of Heorot directs and rewards the hero for killing the mother, and (3) argues that Beowulrs heroic status is centrally related to this act, which re-affirms paradigmatically the shaken patriarchal credos of the Danes. In conclusion, in this reading the traditionally focal killing of Grendel becomes instead the prelude to the psychologically crucial encounter between Beowulf and his mother-figure, from whose death he gains a new level of speech and tokens of masculinity. Only after the slaying of Grendelle does the hero fully achieve his position both as subject to patriarchal principles (embodied in king Hrothgar) and as the psychological mainstay upon which those principles depend for their renewed affirmation [Reproduced by permission of Robert Schicler, the “Abstracts of Papers in Anglo-Saxon Studies” editor, and the editors of the “Old English Newsletter.”].
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  • Year of Publication: 1995.
  • Language: English
  • ISSN/ISBN: 00301973