Date of Award

1-2020

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

College/School

College of Humanities and Social Sciences

Department/Program

English

Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair

Lee Behlman

Committee Member

Naomi C. Liebler

Committee Member

Alison Beringer

Subject(s)

Beowulf -- Characters, English literature -- Old English, ca. 450-1100, Femininity in literature

Abstract

This paper endeavors to trace the Anglo-Saxon literary figure of the waelcyrge through all twelve references to her throughout the Anglo-Saxon corpus, and culminates in an application of the waelcyrge trope to two problematic heroines in Beowulf, Modthryth and Hygd. Given the critical history associated with the waelcyrge, this paper attempts to write against the dominant assumption in Anglo-Saxon scholarship that the waelcyrge is a derivative of the Norse valkyrie. Instead, this paper is predicated on the notion that the waelcyrge represents uniquely Anglo-Saxon values that volley between the cultural shift that occurs in the mid-ninth century through the emergence of the comitatus.

Throughout the various analyses of the waelcyrge source material and, also, its application to Beowulf, one sees an emergence of feminine mythological constructs, in which the waelcyrge demonstrates tremendous elasticity. Throughout these texts, we see an amalgamation of the warrior woman motif with supernatural tethering to nature. We also see a symbolic veneration of gynecological and obstetric biological processes, including menstruation, conception, and birth, through the incorporation of warrior and military metaphors. To this end, the waelcyrge emerges as a complex didacticism regarding feminine bodily autonomy, and the various anxieties associated with sexual freedom and repression.

This paper concludes with the suggestion that the readings of the Anglo-Saxon woman as relegated to one end of a peaceweaving/monstrous binary need not exist. The waelcyrge demonstrates, throughout her sources, the subjective and elastic fidelity to real-life female experiences. For this reason, the paper concludes with a discussion on Beowulf's problematic heroines. Hygd is frequently interpreted as the ideal-queen, whose peaceweaving passivity ensures the survival of her tribe. Modthryth, conversely, is associated with feminine monstrosity and wanton violence. Examining these women within the context of the waelcyrge illuminates the lack of polarity in these figures, and the way in which both demonstrate political and militaristic cunning that greatly exceeds their male counterparts.

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