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Raptus By Spencer Todd Hirsch By Spencer Todd Hirsch.

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1 Raptus By Spencer Todd Hirsch By Spencer Todd Hirsch

2 Raptus was the term for a singular medieval crime, with multiple meanings. It signified either rape or abduction, and within the realm of Chaucer’s social dilemma, the meaning is unclear. The Meanings of a Word

3 Its use as a label for a kidnapping, or abduction, suggests a common scenario to the age. For example, raptus was a typical means of securing a minor’s inheritance with abduction and subsequent marriage. The abuction could also be stemmed from a debt, or a property value. The second meaning for raptus marks rape, more or less, as we understand it today.

4 In 1380, Geoffrey Chaucer found himself mixed in with a blurry case of raptus. Unsure of the actual circumstances of the situation, all theorists can do is speculate. Chaucer’s Raptus

5 Here are the facts, possibly with some speculations weaved into them: A signed document released Chaucer from any potential charges, without actually stating whether or not he was indeed guilty. “Omnimodas acciones tam de raptu meo tam de aliqua alia re vel causa.” => Actions of whatever kind either concerning my rape or any other matter.

6 The document was signed by a Cecily Champain. And Cecily Champain was not a minor, which rules out much of the possibility for the first definition of raptus, the lighter definition--abduction. Champain is also thought to be the stepdaughter of an old friend of Chaucer’s.

7 “While I was young, I put hir forth in press,” proclaims Chaucer of his youth. “It is reasonable to suppose some seductions or affairs in his early years, perhaps many. He may have had an intimate relationship with Cecily and she may, when things went wrong, have threatened to accuse him of rape. Or in the heat of passion or exasperation he may indeed have raped her. Whatever the mitigating circumstances there were, Chaucer did not want the matter to go further: in the law of his day, the accused was not allowed to testify in his own behalf, so there was a grave risk that the whole truth, whatever it was, would not emerge. Hence he settled: “rape” was allowed to be named in the release but what it cost him was kept silent.” (Donald Howard 317) What one scholar thinks--

8 Other Scholars’ Opinions In the Late 1940s, T.F.T. Plucknett explained, more or less in Chaucer’s defense, that-- “Rape is a brutal crime and implies a degree of depravity which should make us cautious in fixing such a charge. There is really no evidence for it. That he seduced Cecilia we may well believe; that she was angry with him, and still more with herself, is extremely probable. She may have honestly thought that because it all happened against her better judgment, that therefore it was without her consent. Her scandalized family would naturally treat that as an irrebuttable presumption. But there is nothing to suggest that Cecilia could have convicted Chaucer of felony.” (Robertson & Rose 255)

9 In his essay titled Chaucer and Rape: Uncertainty’s Certainties, Christopher Cannon explains issues of language pertaining to raptus: “Although I have argued elsewhere that this word must refer to forced coitus in the Chaumpaigne release, central to that earlier argument was the claim that mention of a ‘raptus’ in fourteenth- century law was itself an attempt to achieve clarity in the face of a legal tradition that had become hopelessly confused about the naming of sexual violence and its punishment. That confusion will always make it possible to say that “raptus” might have been used to describe an “abduction” in the Chaumpaigne release, as has been said in the past, although, I think, not because the term has always had wide reference in Latin, but because, first, a legal document in the fourteenth century as well as now is necessarily an instrument at some remove from “what happened” and, second, because sexual violence is itself a crime where “what happened,” the very act that might constitute the crime, can be variously defined even by those who have identical “facts” in hand.” (Robertson & Rose 256)

10 I agree most with Donald Howard, though I also think he plays the safest argument. I find it unlikely that such a big deal was made over a mere abduction, and like Cannon, I think the word raptus, as it has consistently held vast reference in its Latin form, is almost historically, if not inherently sexual. And while I think the definition of raptus may have been loosely sculpted by the conversations of Geoffrey and Cecily outside of the courtroom, I believe it likely that it would be a better fit for our modern definition of rape, and not our definition of a kidnapping. Howard reminds us that “All we really know is that on May 1 there was a possibility Cecily Champain would accuse Chaucer of “rape” and he saw to it that she made a public disclaimer before five powerful witnesses of his acquittance” (320).

11 Chaucer’s Advice “Redeth Ovyde, and ther ye may it leere” (118).

12 Reading of Ovid The Story of Tereus, Procne, and Philomela

13 Violence, violence on Tereus’ behalf, and violence on the sisters’ behalf. Broken promise among kings. Animalistic side of Tereus’ dominance, Procne’s murder of Itys, and Tereus’ subsequent cannibalism Evolution into birds. It is suggested that the following transformations took place. Philomela a swallow, Procne a nightingale, Tereus a hoopoe, and Itys a goldfinch. The swallow has since been a literary image of rape, forever traced back to Philomela and her plight. Discussion of Ovid’s story

14 Tereus’ rape of Philomela is made more extreme with the cutting out of her tongue. He not only defiles the young woman, but also silences her permanently. This could be compared to the physical or violent version of the way in which Chaucer silences Cecily Champain. Raptus for Ovid would not merely include abduction and/or rape, but would add onto those crimes a sense of physical violence and dominance. The Violence of Raptus

15 Important Notes It’s no secret that Chaucer admired Ovid, likely his favorite and most influential author. Ovid is often referenced within Chaucer’s works, including his own place in the Wife of Bath’s Tale (118). It is also worth noting that the content and relevance of Ovid’s story would have been, more or less, common knowledge in the Middle Ages.

16 Chaucer’s Literary Manifestations of Rape

17 Chaucer’s Wife of Bath A Brief Summary In the Wife of Bath’s Tale, Alisoun tells us of an Arthurian knight, overcome by his own youthful lust. The knight spontaneously rapes a girl, and is brought before the court. She describes her knight as a “lusty bacheler,/That on a day cam ridynge fro ryver,/And happed that, allone as he was born,/He saugh a mayde walkynge hym biforn,/Of which mayde anon, maugree hir heed,/By verray force, he rafte hire maydenhed;/For which oppressioun was swich clamour/And swich pursute unto the kyng Arthour/That dampned was this knyght for to be deed,/By cours of lawe, and sholde han lost his heed--” (117) The queen here overrules the king’s punishment and sentences the knight to a year-long task of uncovering what it is that women want most. After 365 days, his discoveries remain unfruitful, until he comes across many women that turn into one. “And in his wey it happed hym to ryde,/In al this care, under a forest syde,/Wher as he saugh upon a daunce go /Of ladyes foure and twenty, and yet mo;/Toward the whiche daunce he drow ful yerne,/In hope that som wysdom sholde he lerne./But certeinly, er he cam fully there,/Vanysshed was this daunce, he nyste where./No creature saugh he that bar lyf,/Save on the grene he saugh sittynge a wyf--” (118) Discussion: who should the knight find but a “wyf?”

18 The knight is provided with the correct answer, ‘“My lige lady, generally,” quod he,/ “Wommen desiren to have sovereynetee/As wel over hir housbond as hir love,/And for to been in maistrie hym above./This is youre mooste desir, thogh ye me kille./Dooth as yow list; I am heer at youre wille.” (119)

19 The knight’s life is spared, but he is bound to wed the hideous old woman. Discuss: Why does she want to marry him anyway? sovereignty, sees an opportunity to make a broken knight into a loyal husband perhaps. She provides her recessive spouse with an option--He can have her as a loyal and loving wife, true and humble, but also old and ugly. Or, he can have her as a young and fair wife, more comparable perhaps to the Alisoun of the Miller’s Tale. “My lady and my love, and wyf so deere,/I put me in youre wise governance;/Cheseth youreself which may be moost plesance/And moost honour to yow and me also./I do not fors the wheither of the two,/For as yow liketh, it suffiseth me.” (121) It is here that the knight surrenders any marital control he may have expected as a young and lusty bachelor.

20 This tale isn’t just about physical rape or raptus, it is about dominance, specifically in the marital world. Because the rape itself is made to be very casual, and it’s immediately overlooked to an almost offensive extent. The Queen overrides her husband’s desicion, and the old woman gains control of her husband’s future decisions. It seems that the knight is ultimately rewarded for his crime, and maybe he is. He ends up with a wife who is both beautiful and loyal. But he will be forever submissive. He is in her debt for saving his life, and she has made him to know that her decisions are best. And I think the knight’s trial not only proved himself to the queen, but also his worth as a submissive husband to the old woman. Conclusion of the Wife of Bath

21 Ovid vs. Chaucer Brief discussion of the differences between the act of the “lusty bacheler” and of Ovid’s Tereus. premeditation vs. ignorant youth violence and brutality the role of Gods vs. the role of the Kyng and Queene ultimate outcomes--who is rewarded? who is not?

22 The Wife & Not the Tale The wife herself is an interesting character. Having been married five times, she considers herself an expert. But her person is also conflicted--she can be seen as both feminine and submissive, but also masculine and dominant, particularly as she describes her varying marraiges.

23 The Wife of Bath, MS Cambridge GG.4.27 Here, in the Cambridge Manuscript, the Wife of Bath is seen sitting side-saddle as she rides her horse. Though elderly, she looks more feminine, her huge hat/veil is pulled back a bit, and her spurs are hidden beneath the folds of her dress. This is a very feminine interpretation of the Wife of Bath.

24 Chaucer Society woodcut of The Wife of Bath, Based on MS Cambridge Gg.4.27 Here is a second depiction of the same photo, but this version is a woodcut from the Chaucer Society.

25 The Wife of Bath Ellesmere Manuscript Huntington Library However, in the Ellesmere Manuscript, the Wife of Bath is seen riding her horse in the regular forward position. The image is small, but if you look closely, her spurs can be seen, and her attire and hat seem much less feminine--her character is here more alikened with the knight’s.

26 I don’t think it should be ignored that the Wife assumes control. I think the Ellesmere Manuscript’s depiction of the Wife is far more accurate. She is, as John has explained, the female foil for the Knight. And in many ways, her marital tale combats that of the Knight. Her veil like a helmet, her spurs, the Ellesmere riding depiction, her character, her introduction of the second wave. In the Knight’s Tale, Emelye is reluctantly bound into a marital contract. In the Wife of Bath’s Tale, a similar action emerges, however, it is the male knight who is bound to marriage, also quite reluctantly. Each tale shows a different gender fulfilling the role of submission, an attribute not far removed from the issue of raptus, particularly in the Mediveal era.

27 But the Wife’s prologue portrays a different state of dominance and marital struggle, because it isn’t set in ancient Athens or Arthurian England- -it is presumably real and current, from the perspective of Chaucer the pilgrim, that is. Her struggle with Jankyn shows the fight for sovereignty, and I think it expresses some of the outlook toward both marriage, and intimate relationships, and it also appropriately sets up her tale, with the physical struggle of dominance in mind. The Wife of Bath’s Prologue

28 Marital Bliss Bible of Manerius Bibliothèque St. Geneviève, Paris. The image shown is a medieval sample from the Bible of Manerius, in which the embodiment of marital bliss is portrayed.

29 Wife-beating Le Roman de la Rose. Bibliothèque St. Geneviève, Paris. As you can see, this image shows marital bliss a bit differently. Alternatively, this illustration shows the physical struggle of Alisoun and Jankyn. It is titled wife-beating, which is accurate, but not wholly accurate. It begins with Jankyn’s verbal torment, followed by Alisoun’s ripping pages from his book, and punching him. He then hit her on the head, causing her to go deaf in one ear, and she lied to persuade him to come near so she could hit him again. And thus the end of the Wife of Bath’s fifth marriage to the younger Jankyn.

30 Chaucer the Pilgrim, Chaucer the Author What to make of this? Assuming Chaucer’s guilt... The obvious question is why does he tell? If it was something he obviously put a lot of effort toward silencing and maintaining discretion, why open up in his prose? Perhaps it was a means of lifting a weight from his shoulders, a way to deal with a burden of guilt around the subject, by actually facing the subject and beginning to work it out a bit within the security of his role as the pilgrim. But I find it unlikely that Chaucer would remain burdened with guilt. It could also be viewed as Chaucer’s attempt at repentance--again, unlikely. There is too much fun being made at the expense of the clergy and the pious among his tales.

31 Assuming Chaucer’s innocence... His work could be viewed as his over- statement of his innocence, like someone falsely-accused, forced to be forever defensive, regardless of acquittal. It could also be his way of proving he’s not ashamed of the event, acknowledging the past, and reminding his peers of his innocence.

32 But the truth of the matter is that Chaucer’s innocence remains unacknowledged, merely his acquittal. We don’t know for sure the details of his crime, or even if a crime did in fact take place. So rather than considering his guilt in one hand, and his innocence in another, I think it is best to consider the hazy history we are left with. Despite any literary ambiguities or distractions, Chaucer apparently had his reasons for rounding up a great powerhouse of support to see to it that his matter with Cecily Champain was put quietly to rest. And as matters of the heart are always complicated, I don’t see why Chaucer’s episode with Champain would have been any different from any examples of blurry rape in his works.

33 Considering that Chaucer the Writer was, in one way or another, mixed up with a case of unspecified raptus, it is safe to assume that the issue left some sort of imprint on him, and likely his writing as well--regardless of his being guilty or not, or somewhere in between (which seems most probable). In his works, it often seems that Chaucer is very casually hinting toward rape and themes of rape, but then quickly turns us away from it with little acknowledgement and by means of plot advancement, as in the Wife of Bath’s Tale, or occasionally leaves us left with ambiguity, as in the Reeve’s Tale. Here is an example from the Reeve’s Tale on page 82-- And up he rist, and by the wenche he crepte./This wenche lay uprighte and faste slepte,/Til he so ny was, er she myghte espie,/That it had been to late for to crie,/And shortly for to seyn, they were aton./Now pley, Aleyn, for I wol speke of John. (82)

34 I don’t think that his literary manipulation of rape and intimacy and sexual dominance could ever be completely unrelated to his personal experience. And I don’t think his themes are meant to prove his innocence, nor are they designed to be written repentance. I think that as a writer, to an extent, you write what you know. You dissect the issues that have interested you or somehow affected you. And I think his inclusion of rape within his works, along with themes of conflicted courtly love, display his own torments and dilemmas, his own questions and misunderstandings. Perhaps the Queene poses the question of what women want most, because he himself has always wondered? Perhaps the Wife of Bath’s struggles for sovereignty represent his own struggles? And maybe the bachelor rapes the unidentified maiden amidst his lustful youth, as a mirror to Chaucer’s own misguided errors. It’s hard to say. But there is a definite difference between Chaucer the Author, and Chaucer the Pilgrim--and the role of Pilgrim certainly held greater security as an environment for talking about the themes that still surround raptus.


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