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The Participation of Women in the Anglo-Saxon World: Judith and The Wife’s Lament

Jennifer Brookbanks

The ‘terrestrial, secular experience of the Anglo-Saxon world’ can be interpreted as the heroic society of the Anglo-Saxons, based upon earthly relationships between lords and retainers and governed by heroic codes of behaviour. Whilst the Judith poet transforms his poem’s biblical source to present a text that is located in the Anglo-Saxon world, he also suggests that it is a patriarchal society in which women are unable to participate fully. This is conveyed as the poet undercuts Judith’s warrior role and presents her as dependent upon male agency; he depicts God as responsible for her war-like behaviour and suggests that Holofernes’ self-destructive conduct removes the need for Judith to act heroically. Contrastingly, the poet of The Wife’s Lament portrays female inclusion in the heroic AngloSaxon world. Although he presents a woman who is physically excluded from the social structure following male abandonment, the poet portrays a reversal of the female’s subservience to her husband as the poem progresses. The female gains power through her authoritative speech, which can be interpreted as a form of revenge on her husband. In independently performing this heroic duty, the female can be considered as achieving liberation from the patriarchal hierarchy and participating fully in heroic society.

Click here to read this article from The University of Nottingham