Role of Women: Oedipus the King Essay

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Role of Women: Oedipus the King and Beowulf

Ancient literature is always interesting in terms not only of what it can still teach the audience even today, but also in terms of what it reveals regarding the society of the time. Plays such as Oedipus the King, for example, provide the reader with particular insight regarding the view of fate and its role in human life. Others, such as the epic poem Beowulf, provides insight into the juxtaposition of good and evil in the ancient mind. In addition, these works also provide insight into the societies of the time, and in particular into the subtleties in class and gender relationships. In both works, for example, the roles of the various women serve, to a greater or lesser extent, to either compliment or challenge the positions and roles of the men in the respective worlds represented.

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When comparing the general presentation of the female role in Oedipus and Beowulf, the first contrast that becomes apparent is the difference in complexity level. This can be seen in both the nature and number of roles assigned to important female characters. In Beowulf, there are six notable female roles, four of which denote the paradigm of "good" in the play, with the other two representing "evil." The nature of these roles echo the duality of good and evil throughout the poem. Oedipus is not so much concerned with good and evil as with the inevitability of fate. As in Beowulf, this theme is also fortified by the female gender. There are much fewer notable women in the play than in the poem; only Jocasta and her two daughters, Ismene and Antigone are notable female figures. Concomitantly, the play also features fewer male characters than the more complex poem. The female figures in Oedipus then play the dual role of the fulfillment and victims of fate.

Essay on Role of Women: Oedipus the King and Assignment

The four women Wealhtheow, Hygd, Hildeburh and Freawaru represent the good side in the epic of Beowulf. In terms of the poem, the "good" woman in society may mean a variety of things. Generally, such a woman is expected to be feminine and physically submissive to the male. However, this does not necessarily mean mental weakness as well. Wealhtheow and Hygd for example play the role of hostess while also wielding considerable but subtle power in the process. After Grendel is killed, for example, Wealhtheow actively protects her own interests by encouraging Hrothgar to keep the Danish kingdom in the family, while urging Beowulf to accept her gracious gift to him. The poem appears to indicate her acceptance in the role of hostess and concomitant advisor to the men at "her" table. Her words shows Wealhtheow's confidence in her status as hostess; she has the power at the table she serves: "the troop, having drunk at my table, will do as I bid" (line 1231).

Hygd also wields similar power, but appears to do so rather as an extension of her husband. It is notable that both women wield power by advice and words, while leaving physical action and rulership to the men.

In terms of today's viewpoint, Hildeburh and Freawaru represent female victims of a patriarchal society. They found themselves in arranged marriages that were to bring peace between the respective tribes on either side of the couple. These however failed most poignantly for Hildeburh, who lost her husband, brother and son in the tribal conflict. She returned to her original status with her birth people, the Danes. Hildeburh's position is one of being pulled between two opposite sides, perhaps demonstrating the complexities of the larger conflicts between the good represented by Hrothgar and Beowulf, and the evil represented by Grendel and his mother. Fraewaru plays much the same role, with more conflict resulting from an intended arranged marriage than the peace it was supposed to bring. In both cases, conflict and unhappiness result, foreshadowing the evil that is Grendel's mother, the ultimate representation of evil in the poem.

In Beowulf, Grendel's mother shares her status as evil monstrosity with Thryth. Both women are described in… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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