Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index


  • Record Number: 7593
  • Author(s)/Creator(s): Olsen , Alexandra H.
  • Contributor(s):
  • Title: Speech and Women's Power in "Beowulf" [Annual Meeting of the Modern Language Association of America, San Diego, December 27-30, 1994, Session 57]
  • Source: Old English Newsletter 28, 3 (Spring 1995):
  • Description:
  • Article Type: Conference Paper Abstract
  • Subject (See Also): Beowulf, Old English Epic Literature- Verse Power Speech
  • Award Note:
  • Geographic Area: British Isles
  • Century: 8-9
  • Primary Evidence:
  • Illustrations:
  • Table:
  • Abstract: Traditionally, the study of "Beowulf" has been governed by the assumption that, since men were responsible for public functions like king, warrior, and avenger, they also held the power in the world of the poem. Critics of "Beowulf" have tended to minimize the importance of women in the poem because of the obvious importance of male heroism. Think of how many studies deal with the "beot" (heroic boast), a speech-act that characterizes the hero. Other forms of speech are ignored or denigrated, those by old men who no longer play the heroic role and those by women, who, it is assumed, held passive and private roles as hostesses, peaceweavers, and ritual mourners. Anglo-Saxonists need to adopt the view advanced by Mary Erler and Maryanne Kowaleski that power is the ability to influence decisions, as women like Wealhtheow clearly do. A true understanding of women's roles in "Beowulf" requires a reconsideration of power and of speech acts, which Elizabeth Closs Traugott and Mary Louise Pratt define as goal-directed actions. A promising approach to "Beowulf" involves the use of speech-act theory to analyze the poem from an angle hitherto little utilized. Speech-act theory helps us appreciate that speech in "Beowulf" is of equal importance with heroic action [Reproduced by permission of Robert Schicler, the “Abstracts of Papers in Anglo-Saxon Studies” editor, and the editors of the “Old English Newsletter.”].
  • Author's Affiliation: University of Denver
  • Conference Info: - , -
  • Year of Publication: 1995.
  • Language: English
  • ISSN/ISBN: 00301973