Holy Union: The Original Unity of "The Wife's Lament" and "The Husband's Message" in Their Cultural and Ecclesiastical Context
The Wife 's Lament from the Exeter Book has attracted much notice and speculation due to its mysterious origin and its narrator, who represents one of the few female voices surviving from the Anglo-Saxon period. Many scholars speculate that this work is related to The Husband's Message, another piece of equal length and similar subject matter from the same codex. I propose that the two works were originally symmetrical halves to a single work, in the form of a complaint and reply designed to represent the biblical metaphor of the Church as the Bride of Christ. Extensive parallels to biblical writings as well as to medieval theology suggest that the Wife of The Wife's Lament was intended to personify the voice of the waiting Church between Christ's ascension and his apocalyptic return. Similarly, The Husband's Message seems to embody Christ's promise of return and of the coming of the Kingdom of God: words of encouragement to the Church in her suffering. These voices echo the allegory of Christ the Bridegroom found throughout the Old and New Testaments, especially (in the medieval conception) in the Song of Songs, and provide a context in which the structural similarities of the works become more persuasive. Finally, I postulate that the form of the original work derives from remnants of the ancient Scandinavian cult of Freyja still resident in the cultural consciousness of Anglo-Saxon society even after the conversion to Christianity. In comparing the two stories it can be seen that the Wife's tone of lament echoes the mourning of Freyja at Freyr's seasonal death, and the voice of the Husband recalls Freyr's seasonal return with the spring. With evidence of form, purpose, and context, the argument for original unity accounts for the many mysterious elements in the two works.
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Bachelor of Arts (B.A.)
College of Arts and Sciences
Arts and Humanities -- Dissertations, Academic; Dissertations, Academic -- Arts and Humanities
Length of Campus-only Access
Honors in the Major Thesis
McIntosh, Constance, "Holy Union: The Original Unity of "The Wife's Lament" and "The Husband's Message" in Their Cultural and Ecclesiastical Context" (2006). HIM 1990-2015. 545.