Race, Gender, and Sexuality Symposium

Document Type

Identity and Culture

Publication Date



When Beowulf was composed, the gender norms of the masculine and feminine were strict and unmoving. The poem, written down between 900 and 1100, defies these by introducing the reader to Grendel's mother, a character who equates the feminine with the monstrous while simultaneously treading normatively masculine waters. This essay looks at the fight between Beowulf and Grendel's mother in her hall and how it illustrates Grendel's mother's shift along the gender scale in order to avenge her son's death and protect her home. This assertion of power by an attempt to strip Beowulf of his manhood summarizes his, and this society's, fear of a woman undefined by stereotype.