Powerful Words: Wealhtheow’s Use of Imperatives in Beowulf


  • Kat Kolby


 How powerful were the women in Old English poetry, particularly in the well-known poem Beowulf? There are few female characters within the poem, and only one of them has a speaking role. Wealhtheow, queen of the Scyldings, is a peace-weaving wife to Hrothgar, one of the primary characters alongside Beowulf. Discussions of the specifics of her role as peace-weaver between her home nation and that of Hrothgar are mired in gender role assumptions on the parts of critics throughout the ages. Some have viewed this title as one denoting property: Wealhtheow is traded to Hrothgar as a gift to create peace between nations. Others acknowledge that peace-weaving is more of an active position, wherein Wealhtheow is a diplomat between nations, weaving peace herself. I argue that her power as a leader is best exemplified by her use of the imperative case. By examining the frequency of this case and the choice of imperative verbs within Wealhtheow’s speeches, I demonstrate that she issues commands more often than any other speaker, often with long-standing expectations on those to whom she speaks.