Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index


  • Record Number: 9453
  • Author(s)/Creator(s): Lindley , Carrie.
  • Contributor(s):
  • Title: Wundenlocc and "Hupseax": Gender Expression and Transgression in the Old English "Judith"
  • Source: Old English Newsletter 33, 3 (Spring 2000): Paper presented at the Thirty-Fifth International Congress on Medieval Studies, The Medieval Institute, Western Michigan University, May 4-7, 2000, Session 537: "Old English Poetry III."
  • Description:
  • Article Type: Conference Paper Abstract
  • Subject (See Also): Gender in Literature Judith, Old English Poem Old English Language Puns and Punning Sexuality in Literature Women in Literature
  • Geographic Area: British Isles
  • Century: 10
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  • Abstract: The Old English “Judith” depicts its heroine in terms arguably suited more to an Anglo-Saxon warrior than to an Anglo-Saxon woman. In so doing, the poem worries our understanding of male and female roles in Anglo-Saxon England. If Judith, through her decapitation of Holofernes and her victory in battle, threatens or transgresses the boundaries of Anglo-Saxon gender, then why is her success so seemingly celebrated? While some Anglo-Saxons (such as Aldhelm) expressed an ambivalence toward the Judith figure, most seem to have enjoyed and endorsed the poem and its heroine. This begs the question of how such transgressive behavior could be tolerated. We find the answer in the multivalenced language of the poem itself. By looking at the language of “Judith” in relation to the language of Anglo-Saxon “Riddles,” the double entendre of the decapitation and battle scenes becomes clear. As a result, Judith emerges not as a unique transgressor of ender, as a female become functional male, but instead as a powerful, sexualized woman. Indeed, the Anglo-Saxon Judith expresses rather than simply transgresses her gender. In this paper I analyze the uses of “wundenlocc,” “hupseax,” and other potential metonyms for genitalia which appear throughout “Judith” and the “Riddles.” Through this analysis, I argue that “Judith” participates in the type of verbal economy seen in the "sexual doubleness" of “Riddle 25.” At key moments, the poem describes Judith, and later her male troops, as “wundenlocc” (having curly hair)--a highly connotative, sexually-loaded term. It emerges that Judith is most (sexually) female at the precise moment when she is most (militarily/politically) male. When this coincidence of genders is understood as the product of sexual double entendre, Judith's expression of gender(s) emphasizes the power of the female and undermines the power of the male. She does not transgress her biological and social gender role so much as she fulfills it by being identified as undeniably female (wundenlocc) just as she cuts off Holofernes' head. Finally, although this empowers Judith (and her troops) as a female figure, it restricts her power to the world of riddle and game; the threat of the powerful female remains, but it is necessarily diffused. [Reproduced by permission of the editor Robert L. Schichler and the editors of the Old English Newsletter.]
  • Author's Affiliation: University of Virginia
  • Conference Info: - , -
  • Year of Publication: 2000.
  • Language: English
  • ISSN/ISBN: 00301973
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