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Modern Irish Literature, P. 6
26 January 2016
The Mead Hall Womb
The mead-hall was a place of joviality as well as civility. An area of government as well as a room of celebration. It was a place of light, warmth, joy, and happiness. Most importantly however, it was home. Seamus Heaney makes the importance of the masculinity of Heorot very clear in his translation of Beowulf: A New Verse Translation. What isn’t mentioned throughout this very masculine text is how femininity is interwoven throughout the words. Femininity is needed to give some form of emotion to this overly masculine poem, especially in the use of the mead hall Heorot.
In Beowulf, Heorot is written as a great hall built by the Danish Kind Hrothgar for his thanes and villagers. People would go to drink, be merry, converse, and occasionally work on village matters. Heorot translates almost exactly to “Hall of Hart.” A hart is a male deer. It is a fitting name for the room where masculine warriors gather, as a stag is a major symbol of masculinity, strength, and pride, all intertwined with gracefulness. The hall itself is representative visually of a hart. During the Grendel’s attack on Heorot, “no Shielding elder would believe There was any power of person upon earth Capable of wrecking their horn-rigged hall” (Beowulf 779). The horns of the hart are also symbolic especially in the fight against Grendel. Horns, and antlers on a male deer represent regeneration and new life. During his fight with Grendel, the two, monster and man experience a death and rebirth. With the physical death of Grendel, Beowulf experiences a death and resurrection into the underworld of is mind and soul according to the cosmogonic cycle. With so many Masculine encounters in the poem, there is little room for feminine characters.
Few women have a role in this poem, and of those few, half are unnamed. Of the women that are named, their main jobs are to be good hostesses, and even better peacekeepers. Women like Queen Wealhtheow are successful in their attempts to embrace femininity. She serves through her words of encouragement to her people and handing out of treasure to her heroes. Her happiness was found in the helping of others, and serving the masculine figure. “Then the grey-haired treasure-giver was glad; The feast continues until Wealhtheow, Hrothgar’s Queen, comes in and serves mead to the warriors” (Beowulf 607,611). The jobs that the women perform are jobs that require heart, an inherently feminine trait. The heart represents love, caring, and life giving. Women who embrace or contain the heart, are like mother figures. On the other hand, failures at the womanly role such as Queen Modthryth, and Grendel’s mother are either shunned or take on more masculine roles. Grendel’s mother in particular, is depicted as a masculine avenger character for Grendel rather than the visa versa. “She is an outcast because of her ancestor Cain who killed his own brother” (Beowulf 974-75). She never even starts with the ability to contain a heart, having been born into evil. Because she is not fully masculine and is a mix between both gender roles, she fails in her attempts at revenge. The mead hall itself can also be shown as a mother figure
Heorot, while translating to stag, stems the word heart. The heart is the feminine part that bleeds into all the masculinity. Thinking of Heorot as a heart, it is considered the mystic center for all warriors, as well as their home. As a mother figure, Heorot is a figure of security, happiness, and warmth that all warriors want to return to. As the mother to the warriors, Heorot represents the womb of regeneration and new life that all men want to return to. Beowulf’s fight with Grendel is all the more symbolic having been fought in Heorot. As a womb symbol, the death of Grendel, as well as Beowulf’s mind lead to his rebirth the dark side of his journey. Grendel’s mother’s death also taking place in Heorot leads to another death and rebirth of Beowulf but this time from darkness into light. Just like women aren’t treated highly in the poem, neither in Heorot as a mother figure.
Heorot the womb figure of safety is violated as soon and Grendel decides
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Beowulf, Geats, English-language films, Monsters, Anglo-Saxon paganism, Grendel, Heorot, Hrothgar, Wealheow, Modthryth, Masculinity, Deer in mythology
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