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