Then Wealhtheow stepped forth, mindful of courtesy. The queen of Hrothgar, adorned in gold, greeted the men in the hall. The noble woman first offered the ale-cup to the lord of the land of East-Danes.
Wealhtheow is one of the few women named in Beowulf, and she is the only woman with a substantial speaking part. Her role as queen is largely ceremonial. The poet describes her first appearance at Beowulf’s welcome feast. She is adorned in gold, as a queen should be, and she begins her ceremonial ale giving by offering the cup to her husband.
And many strong-minded men proceeded onward to reach the high hall to see the curious wonder; and the king himself, …walked from his wife’s chamber with his band of warriors—and with him his queen went to the mead-hall with her own troop of maidens.
The poet provides a glimpse of the customs that prevailed within a court like Hrothgar’s. As queen, Wealhtheow was attended by a body of maidens, just as her husband was accompanied by his warriors. In this scene the entire group is going to view the arm and hand of Grendel.
She then turned to the bench where her sons were seated, Hrethric and Hrothmund, among young warriors’ sons, Youths gathered together. The great hero sat with them, Beowulf of the Geats, alongside the two brothers.
The poet observes Wealhtheow and notices clues as to what she is thinking. She looks at her sons, who are seated, like Beowulf, among other young warriors. The poet is hinting that this seating is deliberate, so that Wealhtheow’s sons can share some of the hero’s glory.
Be ever blessed while you live, a noble lord. I promise to give liberally to you from our treasure-hoard. O happy man, I ask of you that you always act kindly toward my sons!
This excerpt is part of Wealhtheow’s ceremonial speech to Beowulf, after the hero’s defeat of Grendel. Beowulf has already been showered with treasures as his hero’s reward. Now Wealhtheow is asking the hero for a reciprocal favor. Married to an aging ruler, the queen naturally turns to the strong hero for protection of her sons in the future.