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On Motherhood and Masculinity

Beowulf is not a hero spawned out of a nameless void (or a vat of toxic waste). He is a man, who was once a child, brought into the world by his mother. And, the Beowulf poet makes this clear. Hrothgar praises the hero's slaying of Grendel by acknowledging his mother. "Whoever she was / who brought fourth this flower of manhood, / if she is still alive, that woman can say / that in her labor the Lord of Ages / bestowed a grace on her" (941-945). Admittedly, this woman is never named or mentioned again. She is certainly not a primary or even secondary character within the text. But, the honoring of motherhood is primary in this culture. And, this can be seen in the instinctive response of a king who, upon learning that a monster who has ravaged his mead hall for twelve years is dead, honors the mother of the man who slew the monster.