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Judith’s Necessary Androgyny: Representations of Gender in the Old English Judith

Judith - Anglo-SaxonJudith’s Necessary Androgyny: Representations of Gender in the Old English Judith

Elizabeth Shaughnessy

Emergence: A Journal of Undergraduate Literary Criticism and Creative Research, Vol. 3 (2012)

Abstract

The Old English poem Judith explores Anglo-Saxon representations of femininity and masculinity by constructing a double-gendered hero who differs from the biblical version of the same woman. Described with contrasting images of a virginal maiden versus seductress, Christian versus pagan elf, and wise leader versus youthful girl, Judith encompasses a vast array of feminine characteristics in order to remind an audience of her initial femininity. However, her violent beheading of Holofernes contrasts so starkly with her femininity that, rather than preserving it, the poet constructs an image of Judith that encompasses each gender. The moment she violently usurps Holofernes’ power and his head, Judith undergoes an androgynous transformation.

Her descriptions change from her initial femininity to the traditionally male role of hero and leader of a people. A crucial characteristic is her specifically Christian defeat of the heathen Holofernes. Judith’s Christianity is what distinguishes her gold-wearing, sword-wielding androgyny from sheer monstrosity. As the feminine seductress, she possesses the obscure but potent power in controlling her situation, while as the masculine leader she possesses the physical manifestation of power in her wealth. Rather than a blatant transformation from woman to man, Judith’s transference of power is fluid; her innate femininity and addition of masculine representations of power are intrinsically linked in her androgyny.

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