The Language of Wealhtheow’s Speech

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The two speeches of Wealhtheow in Beowulf (ll. ll. 1169–87, 1216–31) contain various features that differentiate the speech of the queen from the speech of other characters in the poem. She is the only character in the poem who uses thirteen imperatives in thirty-five lines, who uses the word hyse (‘young man’), and who uses the phrase mē man sæġde (‘I was informed’) to report the speech of another character. We argue that these features are used to characterize Wealhtheow as a politely aggressive speaker, whose language is superficially courteous but fundamentally imperious. Assuming sapiential authority over Hrothgar and Beowulf, Wealhtheow peremptorily vetoes the king’s plan and ensures that the hero will be rewarded with treasure rather than kingship.