Date of Award

5-2018

Degree Type

Honors College Thesis

Department

English

First Advisor

Christopher Foley, Ph.D

Advisor Department

English

Abstract

Although Arthurian Romance is a genre often thought to provide a somewhat idealized portrayal of the relationship between the sexes, there are a surprising number of instances of sexual assault represented in Middle English texts. In a genre styled towards women, it is appropriate to consider what cultural or social function the representations of such episodes serve. How, then, do such imaginative representations relate to the historical record of sexual assault accusations and adjudication? As this thesis demonstrates, examining past literary representations of the adjudication of sexual misconduct in Middle English romances such as Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur and Chaucer’s “Wife of Bath’s Tale” sheds light on important aspects of widespread gender oppression in the medieval era. It also deepens our perspective on contemporary debates concerning the normative legal processes adjudicating sexual violence. Given the long-standing influence of English common law on modern legal systems in England and the United States, the Anglo-Norman period in English history is particularly crucial to understanding the entrenched patriarchal privilege that continues to influence the adjudication of rape (and public discourse concerning sexual assault) in our contemporary moment. The legal dismissal or discrediting of a woman’s grievance due to a variety of reasons, including the assailant’s social status, the victim’s resulting sexual climax or pregnancy from the encounter, is common in Malory’s text and still all-too-frequent in the modern adjudication of rape.

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