Strong “medieval” women on film




Alfred the Great (1969)


Depictions of female figures in epic and “dark ages” material in films have always fascinated me.

Probably due to the easy recurrence in these portrayals to well-known tropes of supposedly female behaviour, stereotypes that abound in modern film that are transposed to the uncertain historical context—whatever the middle ages may mean in that particular film for that particular adaptation—and that betray our own dispositions towards “strong” women—whatever that may mean in our own historical and cultural context. Modern expectations and anxieties can be projected unto the revisiting projection of formatting a new image that can then be used to justify and reiterate the existence of the very stereotypes that have been projected, never knowing exactly if it is a kind of re-feeding or if indeed we can juxtapose the same stereotypes in the historical context of the middle ages. My main concern are images of women as they can be used to perpetuate the role of passive victims, silent and angry women or soft motherly figures unable to go further than hollowed rethoric; and these explorations into the strong women prove problematic when patriarchal structures are juxtaposed (arguably, how can we not do it?) on these supposedly positive portrayals of female agency and power.


I have decided to start taking notes of such portrayals, probably as I will need them for my afterthoughts whenever I research on these type of portrayals for the Anglo-Saxon women (if the gods be willing to let me keep researching and writing even without any support, not exactly complaining, buuut) as I have in mind a project for such type of research.

This is just the very first notes for this, so expect a lot of typos and mistakes, rewordings and first impressions gone wrong. This is not a work of research in itself but of being aware of what anxieties are tickled (?) when watching the films.


By the way, if anyone is interested you can find my reseach on Zemeckis’s take on Beowulf (2007) in my page. Forthcoming (hopefully!) another one taking the figures of Grendel’s mother in zemeckis’s and Modthryth in the poem for an exploration of gaze dynamics and femme fatale associations.




sources on female authority Anglo-Saxon, Beowulf, early Medieval

some references and sources for FEMALE AUTHORITY in Anglo-Saxon (Beowulf) context or early Medieval. Not much seems to appear around, this is just a google scholar search that I will need to redefine more.


Female power in Viking Age Iceland:


Bloomfield, Josephine. “Diminished by kindness: Frederick Klaeber’s rewriting of Wealhtheow.” The Journal of English and Germanic Philology (1994): 183-203.

Breen, Nathan. “The King’s Closest Counselor: The Legal Basis of Wealhtheow’s Comments to Hrothgar, Beowulf 1169–87.” The Heroic Age 14 (2010).

Cruz, Sara. “Monstrous Mothers and Objectified Daughters.” Afternoons of Alterity: 81.

Davidson, Mary Catherine. “Speaking of Nostalgia in Beowulf*.” Modern Philology 103.2 (2005): 143-155.

Earl, James W. “Beowulf and the Origins of Civilization.” Speaking Two Languages: Traditional Disciplines and Contemporary Theory in Medieval Studies (1991): 65-89.

Horner, Shari. The Discourse of Enclosure: Representing Women in Old English Literature. SUNY Press, 2001.

Kliman, Bernice W. “Women in Early English Literature,“Beowulf” to the “Ancrene Wisse”.” Nottingham Medieval Studies 21.1 (1977): 32-49.

Klinck, Anne L. “Female characterisation in old english poetry and the growth of psychological realism: Genesis B and Christ I.” Neophilologus 63.4 (1979): 597-610.

Porter, Dorothy Carr. “The Social Centrality of Women in Beowulf: A New Context.” The Heroic Age 5 (2001).

Procházková, Petra. “Female Characters in Beowulf.” (2007).

Ross, Margaret Clunies. “Concubinage in Anglo-Saxon England.” Past and Present (1985): 3-34.

Sarmiento, Catori. “Reevaluating the Role of Women in< em> Beowulf</em>.”Student Pulse 4.09 (2012).

Troy, Jessica E. Gender Roles in Beowulf: An Investigation of Male-Male and Male-Female Interactions. Diss. Youngstown State University, 2010.

Underdown, David E., and Anthony John Fletcher. The taming of the scold: the enforcement of patriarchal authority in early modern England. Cambridge University Press, 1985.

Klein, Stacy S. Ruling Women: Queenship and Gender in Anglo-Saxon Literature