A major shift has occurred in how higher education understands and confronts rape. This shift is seen most practically in campus life as colleges and universities adopt policies that define rape according to the positive consent (“yes means yes”) model: that is, without the explicit assent of both parties, any sexrelated activity constitutes sexual assault, and any sexual intercourse constitutes rape. It is natural that this shift should be engaged in departments of languages and literature, often a haven for ignored voices, and so enter medieval literature classrooms. Not that talk of rape has even been alien in that environment: Geoffrey Chaucer's “The Wife of Bath's Tale” famously hinges on a rape's aftermath, while Chaucer himself, like Thomas Malory, was accused of complicity in an act of raptus. However, as the campus conversation on rape shifts to new channels, so too the medieval literature classroom may enrich its own conversation about rape with the positive consent model's insights. This essay will apply those insights to the cases of two raped men in chivalric romances: Sir Launcelot of Malory's Morte d’Arthur and Sir Perion of the Spanish Amadis de Gaula.
Medieval Literature in the Gen Eds: A Pedagogical Note
One issue must be raised before we proceed: in order for the positive consent model to enrich our classroom conversations about rape in medieval literature, those conversations need to be happening. And whether they’re happening often hinges on the courses and students in question. The approach this essay takes is shaped by the teaching setting in which I labour, and the methods I’ve found that make conversations of this kind possible in these conditions.
I teach at a small private liberal arts college. Our students are all undergraduates, most of whom are athletes, and many the first in their families to pursue secondary education. Our English majors number (from year to year) a dozen or less. As a result, the bulk of my teaching load is in the general education courses of the English department— composition and sophomorelevel writingintensive literature courses. In these writingintensive literature courses, most students are not English majors, and have no previous literature course work beyond high school (and that usually minimal).