College Honors Program

Date of Creation


Document Type




First Advisor

Sarah Stanbury


This thesis examines the relationship between gender and heroism in the Beowulf tale and two of its modern retellings. It includes an exploration of the medieval gender roles of the original epic using Seamus Heaney and E. Talbot Donaldson’s translations. This thesis also addresses the ways in which some characters disturb gender binaries and social roles — especially in the case of Grendel’s mother. The second and third chapters focus on two retellings of the Beowulf text respectively: John Gardner’s Grendel , told from the perspective of the monster Grendel; and Maria Dahvana Headley’s The Mere Wife , which is a modern, feminist retelling that highlights the female voices of the medieval poem. By including these retellings alongside the original story, this thesis analyzes the ways in which female heroism has been represented in modern retellings of Beowulf . This thesis also uncovers the problems and successes of these retelling’s gendered heroics, and whether or not these understandings mimic or alter those of the source text. The overall goal of this thesis is to reflect on the place of the heroine in Beowulf and discern how that position has changed with the story’s modernization.


Departmental Honors thesis for English.

Included in 2020 Virtual Academic Conference.