Hiding Behind a Mask: The Critique of Heroic Masculinity in "The Wife’s Lament"
Scholarship on "The Wife’s Lament" has concentrated on the notion of voice, particularly the construction of the feminine voice in the poem, its relation to other texts of a similar secular nature in other Germanic languages, and its overall form. It would seem surprising then that scholarship has not examined the poem for what it seems to be about: the critique of heroic masculinity. The linguistic mask is an important tool in the text for the critique; in fact, it is the only way that such an image of masculinity can be critiqued. At the same time, however, that the poem seems to be supporting an image of heroic masculinity, it also shows the gaps and fissures in the construction of gendered identity.
This paper asserts that "The Wife’s Lament" provides one of the most highly articulated critiques of heroic masculinity in the Old English period. At the same time, the poet speaker attempts to record masculine images that challenge the stability of an heroic presentation. This paper will examine the lyric in light of studies of masculinity in OE and other Germanic texts. Seen in context of Old English heroic poetry, The Wife’s Lament clearly is one of the most usual lyrics in the canon of Old English poetry. The spirit of masculinity takes on new dimensions in this poem: intrigue, wish fulfillment, and transference.