Mini-Lecture 12 Beowulf Judith and the Binary Narrative

Mini-Lecture 12 Beowulf Judith and the Binary Narrative -...

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Mini-Lecture 12: Beowulf , Judith , and the Binary Narrative In ML 5, I said something in the final paragraph about the bipartite structure of the OE poem Judith and how I feel this finds a parallel in the structure of The Two Towers and The Return of the King . While I sort of preempted myself in that earlier lecture, I will strive to say a bit more about this here. You will have observed (and perhaps you’ll want to reread Judith ) that the poem fundamentally tells two separate stories: Judith’s encounter with and victory over the evil leader Holofernes; and the Hebrew army’s encounter with and rout of the Assyrian forces. Let me remind you that, in the original biblical text, there is NO battle. Rather, the Assyrian army flees once they discover the beheaded corpse of their leader. Also, in the original text, Judith is portrayed as a piously deceptive (deceptive, but for God’s purposes) chaste widow who, in beheading Holofernes, acts much more the passive instrument of God than the active avenger of her nation. The OE poem recasts the entire narrative in the heroic epic mode. While it can be presumed that Judith is still a chaste widow, the poet completely de-emphasizes this aspect of her, as if it is not particularly relevant. What is much more salient to the Anglo-Saxon poet is that Judith is the savior of her people, just as Beowulf was the savior of the Danes vis-à-vis Grendel. Consider the scene in which she slays Holofernes. While she does pray to God before acting, in acting, she is both deliberate and controlled. Notice the parallel between Beowulf’s spying the magic sword with which he is able to kill Grendel’s mother and the way in which Judith notices Holofernes’ sword. And, once she’s grasped it, she then positions herself and grasps Holofernes’ hair so as to achieve an effective stroke. After the first blow, she repositions him for the fateful blow. The
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This note was uploaded on 03/01/2011 for the course ENG 320 taught by Professor Bollermann during the Spring '10 term at ASU.

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Mini-Lecture 12 Beowulf Judith and the Binary Narrative -...

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