What gender roles do the major female characters in Beowulf embody?
The strongest female character in Beowulf is Grendel’s mother. She avenges Grendel’s death by attacking the hall while the men sleep. She is like the mother bear defending her cubs. She does not think of danger, and in her anger is very strong. Beowulf follows her into the earth, a metaphorical maw like a womb. He is reborn after fighting her, and emerges triumphant and stronger.
Another female role is that of loyal wife. Hrothgar’s wife Wealhtheow is described as “mindful of ceremonies.” She fulfills the role of keeper of the household, welcoming guests.
[She] greeted the hall's guests in her golden garb, and handed the cup first to the sovereign of the Eastern Danes, bidding him be blithe at the banquet, as he was dear to all in the land. (ch 9, p. 15)
Unlike the darker character of Grendel’s mother, who is not even civilized enough to have a name, Wealhtheow is a noble and gentle queen. This dichotomy shows that women can be both supportive and destructive.