Judith Criticism - Essay

Albert S. Cook (essay date 1889)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Cook, Albert S. Introduction to Judith: An Old English Epic Fragment, pp. xv-lxxiii. Boston, Massachusetts: D.C. Heath & Co., 1889.

[In the following excerpt, Cook analyzes the literary qualities of Judith, including its character portrayals, narrative structure, and use of poetic devices.]

The modes in which the poet's art [in Judith] is displayed may be considered under the four heads of Selection, Arrangement, Amplification, and Invention. To these might be added his mastery of language and skill in the handling of metre.


The characters are limited to three,—Judith, Holofernes, and...

(The entire section is 1833 words.)

B. J. Timmer (essay date 1952)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Timmer, B. J. Introduction to Judith, edited by B. J. Timmer, pp. 1-16. Exeter, Eng.: University of Exeter, 1978.

[In the following essay, originally published in 1952, Timmer surveys previous scholarly perspectives on Judith and offers his own theory regarding the work's date as well as comments on its literary merits.]


Judith is a good example of the difficulty of assigning a date to Old English poetry, for it has been put at various dates from the seventh to the tenth century or even later. Some of the earlier editors ascribed it to Cædmon, others to Cynewulf or his school. Both these theories may now be rejected...

(The entire section is 3350 words.)

Elliott Van Kirk Dobbie (essay date 1953)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Dobbie, Elliott Van Kirk. Introduction to Beowulf and Judith, edited by Elliott Van Kirk Dobbie, pp. ix-lxxiv. New York: Columbia University Press, 1953.

[In the following essay, Dobbie offers an overview of the scholarship on Judith, discussing its biblical source, fragmentary nature, date and circumstances of composition, and poetic elements.]


[T]he 349 lines of Judith which are still preserved are no more than a fragment of what was once a much longer work. The original length of the poem may be estimated from two bodies of evidence: (1) the relation of the extant text to the poet's source, and (2) the...

(The entire section is 3046 words.)

Bernard F. Huppé (essay date 1970)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Huppé, Bernard F. “Judith.” In The Web of Words: Structural Analyses of the Old English Poems Vainglory, The Wonder of Creation, The Dream of the Rood, and Judith, pp. 114-90. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1970.

[In the following excerpt, Huppe reviews the historical and biblical background of Judith.]

The beginning of the Judith is lost, but how much is lost is a matter of debate. On the one hand the amount of loss is assumed by A. S. Cook to be negligible, the poem being “virtually complete as it now is.” On the other hand, B. J. Timmer considers that the surviving lines constitute merely the last fourth of a poem...

(The entire section is 6075 words.)

Jane Mushabac (essay date spring 1973)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Mushabac, Jane. “Judith and the Theme of Sapientia et Fortitudo.Massachusetts Studies in English 4, no. 1 (spring 1973): 3-12.

[In the following essay, Mushabac discusses the defining traits of heroism as embodied in the eponymous protagonist of Judith.]

The Apocryphal Book of Judith is adjudged to have been written during the last two centuries B.C. by a learned Jew1 considerably influenced by Hellenistic style and motifs.2 Since then the story it tells has been the subject for many interpretations and retellings which as we would expect reflect the concerns of the particular age in which they were written. Among...

(The entire section is 5487 words.)

Burton Raffel (essay date 1975)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Raffel, Burton. “Judith: Hypermetricity and Rhetoric.” In Anglo-Saxon Poetry: Essays in Appreciation, edited by Lewis E. Nicholson and Dolores Warwick Frese, pp. 124-34. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1975.

[In the following essay, Raffel reflects on the reasons for his “disquiet” while translating Judith into modern English and explores some of the problematic aspects of the poem.]

I hope it will not seem sententious if I explain that the validity of literary criticism depends, for me, on there being some substantial connection between the critic's criticism and his own interior world. My purpose in this essay, in...

(The entire section is 4600 words.)

John P. Hermann (essay date winter 1976)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Hermann, John P. “The Theme of Spiritual Warfare in the Old English Judith.Philological Quarterly 55, no. 1 (winter 1976): 1-9.

[In the following essay, Hermann argues that the controlling principle underlying much of the characterization and selection of narrative events in Judith is the theme of spiritual warfare and not, as many scholars have argued, moral rectitude.]

When Judith, recently returned from the decollation of Holofernes, formulates strategy for the upcoming battle with the Assyrians, it is clear in the Vulgate that the daybreak sortie she orders the Bethulians to make is not intended to bring victory in and of itself. It is...

(The entire section is 3218 words.)

Elizabeth M. Tyler (essay date March 1992)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Tyler, Elizabeth M. “Style and Meaning in Judith.Notes & Queries 39, no. 1 (March 1992): 16-19.

[In the following essay, Tyler provides a brief study of the relationship between style and theme in Judith.]

Even the most casual reading of the Old English poem Judith cannot help but reveal the poet's repetition of key words and phrases. In this paper I will consider the poet's use of heroic language and language which describes the state of the mind or spirit in the light of the importance of style for conveying meaning in Old English poetry. Close attention to the style of Judith, which brings to the surface levels of meaning the...

(The entire section is 2176 words.)

Peter J. Lucas (essay date 1992)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Lucas, Peter J. “Judith and the Woman Hero.” Yearbook of English Studies 22 (1992): 17-27.

[In the following essay, Lucas maintains that the character of Judith in the Old English poem transcends interpretations of her as a seductress, virgin beauty, and figure of the church, claiming that she illustrates the theme of the power of faith that could not have been achieved in a male hero.]

Who yaf Judith corage or hardynesse
To sleen hym Olofernus in his tente,
And to deliveren out of wrecchednesse
The peple of God?(1)

According to Christina of Markyate Judith, the chaste widow celebrated for her victory over the devil of lust, was a...

(The entire section is 5744 words.)

Alfred G. Litton (essay date fall 1993)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Litton, Alfred G. “The Heroine as Hero: Gender Reversal in the Anglo-Saxon Judith.CEA Critic 56, no. 1 (fall 1993): 35-44.

[In the following essay, Litton examines what he views as a fascination with gender role reversal on the part of the anonymous author of Judith.]

Few literary scholars, when asked to cite examples of works containing complex male-female relationships or works presenting intriguing issues concerning gender roles, would immediately summon to mind the poetry of the Anglo-Saxon period. Indeed, most readers are accustomed to viewing the typical female character in Anglo-Saxon poems as the sort of stoic helpmate who, as Tacitus...

(The entire section is 4045 words.)

Christopher Fee (essay date September 1997)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Fee, Christopher. “Judith and the Rhetoric of Heroism in Anglo-Saxon England.” English Studies 5 (September 1997): 401-6.

[In the following essay, Fee maintains that the heroism of Judith in the Old English poem was altered from the Vulgate original to conform with Anglo-Saxon cultural ideals and expectations.]

The Old English Judith differs from the Liber Iudith of the Vulgate at several crucial points, and in one particularly important way. In the Vulgate version of the story, Judith is a heroine in every sense of the word: she is a tropological symbol of Chastity at battle with Licentiousness, an allegorical symbol of the Church in...

(The entire section is 3211 words.)