Feminine monstrosity, monsters, Beowulf, Judith, motherhood
Monstrosity has always been a recurrent topic in literature, especially during the Anglo-Saxon period, as people were fascinated by what was considered as abnormal, such as monsters, marvels and miracles. Definition of monstrosity is intricate and is profoundly associated with the viewer's perception of difference, which is subjective. Highly associated with the notion of the self to create the other, the judgment of someone or something as being monstrous is deeply ingrained with societal norms and beliefs. Moreover, the etymology comes from the Latin word monstrum, which means to reveal or to warn. Therefore, the readers understand the significance of monsters within literature and more generally in society, as a harbinger of plausible dangers and threats. Heroic society, was like most other societies, a gendered one. That is to say that gender, defined as the "social condition of being male or female" (Cambridge Dictionary) played a great part in shaping one's identity and to integrate within or to marginalize beings from the social group, creating thus outcasts and monsters.
This essay seeks to investigate the monstrous in relation to genders, in both Beowulf and Judith, with an emphasize on feminine monstrosity.
[...] Indeed, describing her as a woman consequently implies clichés and prejudices about her physical condition and what it entails to be a woman in a heroic society. While she attacks, and despite the fact that she is strong, she is portrayed as weaker than a man for the only reason that she is not one of them. In the Biblical narrative of Judith, Judith is also the subject of stereotypes associated with female beings: she beautifies and perfumes herself before meeting Holofernes. [...]
[...] Such powerful characters cannot be reduced to their gender, and therefore, they are considered as two feminine antitypes and monsters, who threaten the established order. II. The characters' active roles, strength, feelings and morals Secondly, through their roles in society, both characters are positioning themselves once again as outcasts, on the margins of society. It is worth investigating how their position in the latter, their expression of feelings and their morality influence their image of monsters. As noted earlier, heroic societies had clearly defined roles for males and females to fulfil. [...]
[...] Therefore, several elements such as their strength, their demonstration of feelings or their morality can come into play to shape and to reflect on Grendel's mother and Judith's monstrosity. III. The symbolism of motherhood and legitimacy of both Grendel's mother and Judith's actions Thirdly, another aspect which can add to Grendel's mother's monstrosity, is her lack of identity, which can be analysed through the symbolism of the mother. Indeed, the depiction of Grendel's mother through her motherhood is no coincidence. [...]
[...] Faber and Faber Print. Secondary sources Acker, Paul. ‘Horror and the Maternal in “Beowulf”'. PMLA, vol no Modern Language Association pp. 702–16. JSTOR. Accessed on Monday 6th April 2020. Cooper, Tracey-Anne. “Judith in Late Anglo-Saxon England.” The Sword of Judith: Judith Studies Across the Disciplines, edited by Kevin R. Brine et al., 1st ed., Open Book Publishers, Cambridge pp. [...]
[...] During the fight, the poem mentions that "the shining blade refused to bite" (line 1523), leaving Beowulf distraught. Grendel's mother also has a sword in her armoury, which is not what a female would be expected to have. Also, it is worth reminding that Beowulf chooses to arm himself, suggesting that he expects the mother to have knowledge of arms and weapons, whereas he did not arm himself to fight Grendel. In addition, Judith also knows how to use and handle a sword, she is a competent warrior- maiden, leaving the readers full of questions. [...]
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