Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index


  • Record Number: 7594
  • Author(s)/Creator(s): Tripp , Raymond P., Jr.
  • Contributor(s):
  • Title: Why Women are Unimportant 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 Literature- Verse Women in Literature
  • Award Note:
  • Geographic Area: British Isles
  • Century: 8-9
  • Primary Evidence:
  • Illustrations:
  • Table:
  • Abstract: This paper looks at recent critical treatments of women in "Beowulf," comparing approaches, relating them to the poem, and offering an explanation of why women in fact do not figure importantly in the poem. Approaches tend either to blame the poet for neglecting women, and scholars for not blaming the poet, or to blame scholars for neglecting the fact that the poet does not neglect them; and a general dissatisfaction with older views has produced no new consensus. Results have been problematic because such approaches neglect the provenance of the poem, and because they are not guided by a general theory of literature. The interpretive tradition surrounding Klaeber's edition, moreover, complicates all criticism. This paper argues that "Beowulf" is for the most part epic and therefore external and actional. Accordingly, the human predicament itself - life, death, and survival, not the interim and internal machinery of the psychosocial maintenance of life - is foregrounded. The domestic operation of life is a given rather than a problem, and for that reason sufficiently transparent so as not to require literary attention. The fundamentally pre-psychological provenance of the poem, therefore, actually precludes, not only the imponance of women as females, but also the importance of men as males. Beowulf is asexual. Attention to the nature of "literary" importance explains the general absence of modem personalities and their problems in the poem. In principle the literature of any age deals with what is exceptional and irregular, rather than with what is ordinary. If everyone cut up her own children or married his mother, Medea and Oedipus would not merit literary treatment. If Hamlet were decisive, there would be no play, etc. Women are unimportant in "Beowulf" because domestic (court) life and human sexuality were not yet dysfunctional. The pagan view of life, death, and survival, however, was not working, and this is what the poet is concerned to show. Focusing on women, therefore, risks anachronism [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