Dissertation Abstract:

Sexual Assault and Masculinity in Chivalric Romance: Destabilizing the Rhetoric of Womanhood as Victimhood in the Middle Ages

This study focuses on the period between the late twelfth century and the late fifteenth century and the changes in perception toward sexual relations and gender politics, especially those pertaining to rape. While there is much to be said about instances of sexual violence in literature of the Early Middle Ages, this project relies on the romance fictions of the high and later Middle Ages because of the genre’s unique position as record and critique of chivalric society. Sexual Assault and Masculinity in Chivalric Romance addresses instances of sexual assault where it does not conform to the binary of woman-as-victim, man-as-perpetrator. Much has been said on women as victims of rape, and there is a growing interest in masculinity studies; what happens when a woman is a perpetrator of sexual violence, however, has yet to be addressed. This dissertation does not solely focus on women as victimizers of men or women, but rather seeks to approach rape as a form of violence with a much more complicated psycho-social and literary implications. In so doing, I hope to complicate the essentialization of gendered identity based on ideations of sexual violence, not only for modern readers of medieval literature, but also for our conceptions of gendered violence in the twenty-first century.