A Comparative Analysis: Beowulf and Decameron

A Comparative Analysis: Beowulf and Decameron

This paper aims to do a comparative analysis on the significant roles of the images of women depicted in Beowulf and Boccaccio’s Decameron.

The epic poem, Beowulf, is notable for its length. It is about the struggle and success of the epic hero, Beowulf. This work is to be compared to Boccaccio’s Decameron, which, on the other hand, is a frame story. It is considered as such because it is a compilation of 100 stories contained in one single long story.

As a whole, women in Beowulf depict strong personalities, while in Decameron, women, generally are not treated well. However, there are also some women in Decameron who are treated well; one of them will be discussed later in this paper. To further give proof to this argument, some women characters will be compared throughout this paper.

The characters of two significant women; Wealhtheow of Beowulf and Griselda of Decameron show vital roles in the progress of the stories where they belong. Wealhtheow, Hrothgar’s wife, the gracious Queen of the Danes, fulfills the importance of the role of a hostess in the poem.

This is given proof by the cup carrying practice which she performs. To further show her great fulfillment of her role, she gives a speech and praises Beowulf for slaying Grendel. This is not far from Griselda’s character. Griselda, as the wife of Gualtieri, fulfills her role as loyal wife to her husband.

Her loyalty is proven when she shows no complains even if her husband tells her that her children shall be put to death. However, this act by her husband is just to test her loyalty. Griselda can be considered as an ideal woman as well as Wealhtheow. Both women depict how an ideal wife should act. The mere cup carrying practice by Wealhtheow shows her dedication to her role as a wife.

A mediocre wife would not care even if her husband’s plan succeeded, but Wealhtheow is not that kind of wife. She supports her husband’s decision and makes merry out of the success of that particular decision. Griselda, on the other hand, also shows no complain about her husband’s decision. Even it means losing her children, she still does not complain because she believes that a man’s decision is always right. Because of these acts by both women, they can be considered as ideal wives who are obedient, loving, and most of all, loyal to their husband.

However, there are also flaws in their character. As stated earlier, both of them are obedient wives to their husbands. Therefore, both women are submissive. Being submissive, in my opinion, cannot be considered as a positive characteristic of women. A woman’s submission of herself to a man is a selfless act.

I am not saying that women should not be selfless; however, women should always save something for themselves. They should learn not to give their all to a man. Women should be strong enough even without men. Based on my own perspective about Wealhtheow and Griselda’s character, it is very obvious that both women give their all to their husbands which is shown by their mere act of consistent obedience to whatever their husbands tell them.

These women, in my own point of view, should have a character of their own. They should be able to stand on their own and be strong enough to fight for themselves. They should make their voices heard. Being obedient is such a great act; however, women should also learn to put limitations when it comes to being obedient.

In line with being a strong woman, this characteristic, though not possessed by Wealhtheow and Griselda, is illustrated by other women characters in Beowulf and Decameron. If Wealhtheow and Griselda are submissive and somewhat weak, Grendel’s mother in Beowulf and Monna Giovanni of Decameron, are strong women, in my opinion.

Grendel’s mother, whom many consider as a monster who is also the antagonist in the story, is actually a loving mother. She fights for her son. Though Grendel is defeated by Beowulf, Grendel’s mother plots revenge for him. This act illustrates that she fulfills her role as a mother. This also proves that she is a strong woman who does not stay quiet and defeated.

Unlike Wealhtheow and Griselda, she establishes herself as a “somebody”. She does not follow orders. She does not obey anyone; she follows her own rules. Opposite to the role of Wealhtheow and Griselda, Grendel’s mother is considered as a “monster-woman”. This is because of the fact she is a fighter and this term is also somewhat a literal description of who she really is.

Like Grendel’s mother, Monna Giovanni, a character in Boccaccio’s frame story, Decameron, also establishes her own identity. She is not the type of woman who is submissive and very much obedient just like Wealhtheow and Griselda. She, in fact, is the one to be obeyed and pleased. This is the character she tries to establish.

Monna Giovanni is the type of woman whom you should please, show respect with, and put on the pedestal. Sir Federigo, the man who falls in love with her, gives her all she needs and pleases her because he knows that it is what she wants. This Character of Monna Giovanni depicts a different kind of woman. She proves that women can also be demanding. She also proves that not all women are submissive and are easily influenced by men to fall in love with them. She shows that women are also strong and that women can have a personality of their own; a life which is not driven and influenced by men alone.

The women in both works, Beowulf and Decameron depict different personalities. Through this analysis, we learned that not all women act and think the same. Through the characters of Wealhtheow and Griselda, we learned about the type of women who are submissive. They fulfill their roles as wives to their husbands. They obey whatever the men in their lives tell them even if it meant suffering from something in return.

On the other hand, we also learned that women can also play the role as an authority. Women like Grendel’s mother and Monna Giovanni are women who are strong. These women also have established their own personalities. They are not easily influenced by other people, especially by the men in their lives. Through this analysis, we learned that women are women. They will still fulfill their roles as women; be it being submissive or being a fighter.

Works Cited

Irving, Edward B. Rereading Beowulf. Philadelphia. University of Pennsylvania Press, 1992

Damico, Helen. Beowulf’s Wealhtheow and the Valkyrie Tradition. Madison, Wis.: University Press, 1984

Hill, Thomas D. “‘Wealhtheow’ as a Foreign Slave: Some Continental Analogues.” Philological Quarterly 69.1 (Winter 1990): 106-12.