Sleeping after the feast: Deathbeds, marriage beds, and the power structure of Heorot

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Abstract

Previous examinations of the power structure of Heorot discuss the poem in terms of Hrothgar's admonition to Beowulf about reversal, loss of strength, and avoidance of pride. However, such discussions often fail to take into account the effects of specific events in the narrative and also overlook the subtle role that Wealhtheow plays in the power structure of Heorot. In this essay, I examine the military and sexual aspects of power changes in Heorot, which depend on the deathbed of the old king or the marriage bed of the peaceweaver. At every change of power in Hrothgar's court (Grendel's attack, Beowulf's arrival and defense of Heorot, Hrothgar's selection of Beowulf as protector of his chosen heirs, Grendel's mother's attack, and Beowulf's departure), the word bed, rœst, or a compound containing one of the words appears as a poetic clue that power is shifting.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)629-646
Number of pages18
JournalNeophilologus
Volume84
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2000

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