In addition to the peacemaker, the queen in "Beowulf" acts as hostess to the men of the land. It is important to note that the hostess does not solely serve the men; rather she is the instrument that reaffirms social customs and publicly establishes the status of the men who are in the presence of the king. Wealhtheow, the queen of Daneland and wife of Hrothgar completes these duties in the mead hall when the warriors are dining with the king. For example, Wealhtheow establishes a warrior's status by using the cup of mead. She carries the cup of mead starting with the king and then to the warriors. In the first scene, she serves Beowulf last since he had just arrived in Daneland. However, in lines 1162-1231, she serves Beowulf directly after serving her husband. The act of the cup demonstrates that Beowulf has earned his right to sit beside the king, as though he were a Dane himself (Porter 1). Furthermore, the hostess holds political power in the hall. Wealhtheow demonstrates this power by publicly requesting to the King that he not allow Beowulf to be the heir to the throne, but to remember that her sons are the rightful heirs to such a position (Beowulf, lines 1180-1191). She is confident that the King will abide by these social customs and there is no reprimand or indication in the poem that her wishes will not be granted (Porter 1). Beowulf does become the king; however, he only holds the place until the sons are old enough to fulfill their duty as king. The hostess becomes the voice of reason; she is responsible for upholding the socials customs of her country when all of the warriors have forgotten the importance of these codes.
Unlike the peacemaker and the hostess, the female monster embodies masculine energy and counteracts the social expectations of a woman in society. The most important female monster in "Beowulf" is Grendel's mother who depicts the aforementioned behaviors. First, the female monster uses physical force and violence to solve conflict. For example, Grendel's mother is viewed as evil and monstrous; she attacks anyone that enters her cave without reason (Beowulf lines 1259-1260). Grendel's mother is a "hostile hostess" who uses "the sword to rid her hall...of unwanted hall guests" (Porter 2). The behavior is masculine and demonstrates that the female monster does not solve conflict with words and marriage (like the peacemakers and hostesses), but with physical action. This male behavior according to the poet should never be tolerated regardless of social status (Beowulf lines 1940-1943). Moreover, the female monster exhibits unexpected masculine energy by engaging in the customs assigned to a warrior. In this society, only men seek vengeance, therefore a woman that does so is considered villainous for disobeying the expected behavior of a female in civilized society. After the death of her son, Grendel's mother goes on a "sorrowful journey to avenge her slain son" (Beowulf lines 1276-78). Smith claims that "her role as an avenger" makes her a disturbing and "grotesque" for her ability "to carry out the male dominated act of revenge." Seeking vengeance is not acceptable as a female. Her actions make her an outcast, a monster to the village because she does not fulfill her female duties. These qualities in a woman during this time classify her as a monster.
The epic of "Beowulf" is lined with heroic men seeking vengeance, ruling halls, and fighting battles. The women in the story are expected to fulfill duties that best serve the men of the land. The importance of the roles that women adapt in the story is underestimated. Many of the women have more power than one would expect during this time. The roles are central to the story and in maintaining a civilized society. The hostess serves as a political instrument that brings hospitality and order to the land, while the peacemaker weaves herself between lands to form alliances. At last, the monster is a complex female that opposes the social expectations of a female and utilizes the law of man to solve problems. The poet does not exalt the women in the story for their influence over men, however, it should be considered to full grasp the purpose of the actions taken throughout the epic.
Written for The Domestic Beast by S.R. Stewart