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Rape and Ravishment in the Literature of Medieval England

Rape and Ravishment in the Literature of Medieval England

Corinne Saunders
Copyright Date: 2001
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 352
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  • Book Info
    Rape and Ravishment in the Literature of Medieval England
    Book Description:

    This work explores and untangles the theme of rape, and its counterpart ravishment, in Anglo-French cultural tradition between the disintegration of the classical world and the Renaissance. Tracing debate and dialogue across intellectual and literary discourses, Corinne Saunders places Middle English literary portrayals of rape and ravishment in the context of shifting legal, theological and medical attitudes. The treatment of rape and ravishment is considered across a wide range of literary genres: hagiography, where female saints are repeatedly threatened with rape; legendary history, as in the stories of Lucretia and Helen; and romance, where acts of rape and ravishment challenge and shape chivalric order, and romance heroes are conceived through rape. Finally, the ways in which Malory and Chaucer write and rewrite rape and ravishment are examined. Dr CORINNE SAUNDERS is Lecturer in Medieval Studies, Department of English, University of Durham.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-013-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction: The Contemporary and the Contemporaneous
    (pp. 1-32)

    This is a book about rape, but not about that alone. It is a book written for specialists in medieval English literature, but not for them alone. It stands at the convergence of two streams of scholarly discourse. The first is represented by my previous work on the Forest, which illustrated how a ‘place’, actual and idealised, can be understood only in relation to cultural, literary and imaginative contexts, and as an integral part of a view of the world distinct from that of the modern mind.² This book sustains such an approach and is in this important sense the...

  5. CHAPTER ONE Secular Law: Rape and Raptus
    (pp. 33-75)

    Legal discourse offers a rich source of cultural evidence regarding secular attitudes to rape and ravishment in medieval England. Laws, legal treatises, and in the latter part of the period, case records, can often provide insight into the social constructions of these crimes. Although the development of written law is complex and its relation to practice uncertain, it is clear that a distinctively English law of rape existed. Secular legal material indicates a consciousness of the different ramifications of rape and its counterpart, abduction, and an individuality of treatment in this period. This chapter will consider the development of a...

  6. CHAPTER TWO The Church: Canon Law, Theology and Popular Teaching
    (pp. 76-119)

    While the heightened emphasis on abduction and enforced marriage in secular law of the later medieval period was to a great extent the result of shifting societal concerns, it also reflected the concerns of the Church over the crime of raptus and the issue of virginity. Canon law developed a complex law of raptus, which overlapped with but was not identical to secular law, and the subject of rape arose in different guises in other strands of religious discourse. The ways in which the Church treated rape and the offence of raptus were by no means straightforward, not least because...

  7. CHAPTER THREE The Threat of Rape: Saintly Women
    (pp. 120-151)

    Hagiographic narrative offered the opportunity to explore and dramatise the complex issues of sexual violation and virginity. In the lives of the saints, the theological tenets debated in the summae and sententiae, and in canon law, could be explored in approachable story form, and conveyed not only to scholastic audiences but also to women themselves. As we have seen, manuals and handbooks tend to refer briefly to the stories of saints such as Lucy, and employ them as miniature case studies of the rape victim. While the form of these works does not allow for any development of these miniatures...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Legendary History: Lucretia and Helen of Troy
    (pp. 152-186)

    To find examples of actual rape, we must turn away from hagiography, where an essential quality of the threat of rape is its constant deferral, to other literary genres and, in particular, to classical history. Medieval chronicles provide instances of rape in warfare and employ rape rhetorically to convey the evil of the enemy, but in these works women remain ciphers, objectified as trophies in the patriarchal game of war. Legendary history, by contrast, offers remarkably extended treatments of rape and its counterpart, abduction, from the perspective of both the victim and her society. Indeed, in two of the most...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Middle English Romance: Structures of Possession
    (pp. 187-233)

    The two facets of raptus, rape and abduction, are again inextricably linked in romance. Rape frequently overlaps with abduction, and even in clear-cut instances of rape or abduction, the more general notion of ravishment colours interpretation; in romance as in secular and canon law, the issue of enforced marriage is of primary importance, and the theme of social disorder is prominent. The structures of chivalry to an extent depend on the concept of raptus: the woman is an object to be fought over and won, and the pursuits of love and prowess are interwoven in the knightly shaping of identity....

  10. CHAPTER SIX Malory’s Morte Darthur: A Romance Retrospective
    (pp. 234-264)

    Malory’s Morte Darthur, written about a hundred years after the seminal Middle English romances of the fourteenth century (c. 1470), presents a compelling retrospective view of romance and of the role of rape within this genre. Although Malory writes considerably later than Chaucer, whose writings will form the subject of the next chapter, the Morte Darthur draws much more directly and unquestioningly on the romance tradition in its use of both French and English Arthurian romances. Whereas Chaucer opens out the medieval treatment of rape in ways that more nearly resemble the emphases of the modern period, Malory offers a...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN ‘A Dede of Men’: Chaucer’s Narrative of Rape
    (pp. 265-310)

    ‘Another synne of Leccherie is to bireve a mayden of hir maydenhede, for he that so dooth, certes, he casteth a mayden out of the hyeste degree that is in this present lif/ and bireveth hire thilke precious fruyt that the book clepeth the hundred fruyt. I ne kan seye it noon ootherweyes in Englissh, but in Latyn it highte Centesimus fructus./ Certes, he that so dooth is cause of manye damages and vileynyes, mo than any man kan rekene; right as he somtyme is cause of alle damages that beestes don in the feeld, that breketh the hegge or...

    (pp. 311-318)

    How, if at all, can the preceding study of rape in the thought and literature of medieval England be related to the contemporary theories of rape discussed at the start of this book? Looking back on the medieval dialogue of rape from a consciously ‘modern’ perspective, it is not difficult to discern the causes, characteristics and effects of rape identified by contemporary thinkers as typical of patriarchal society; medieval society, with its frequently restrictive attitudes to sex and gender, might even be considered to comprise precisely the kind of ‘rape prone’ society discussed by Brownmiller or Griffin.¹ Yet the variety...

    (pp. 319-336)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 337-343)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 344-344)