’I’m gonna git Medieval on your ass’: Pulp Fiction for the 90s – the 1190s
By Dan Terkla and Thomas L. Reed, Jr.
Studies in Popular Culture, Vol. 20:1 (1997)
Introduction: Rarely does contemporary film offer any zippy ephemera to grace the office doors of medievalists, since film-makers like Quentin Tarantino do not often look to our discipline’s corpus for inspiration. Imagine, then, the mix of incredulity and delight we two professors felt while taking in the pawn-shop scene of Pulp Fiction. After being painfully violated – anally raped, to be precise – and then rescued in a most chivalric manner by one of his minions, Marsellus Wallace swears an oath to Zed, his ‘hillbilly boy’ rapist: “I’m going to git Medieval on your ass”. What? we thought: “Medieval”? Why, we asked “Medieval”? Had we heard correctly? Was this a critical mandate? After discussing this at some length behind close office doors (still sans Tarantine ephemera) and after trying it out on our team-taught undergraduates, we decided to allow ourselves the guilty pleasure of investigating ways Quentin Tarantino might indeed have gotten medieval on us.
What justification might we offer for such an enterprise, though? Even allowing that Tarantino has likely spent more time apprenticing in video stores than browsing the medieval sections in university libraries, we feel confident in asserting that there are any number of telling informative analogies between Pulp Fiction and medieval chivalric literature, particularly Arthurian romance. We address a number of these lesser, if intriguing, resonances in this essay, but our main focus is on larger socio-cultural synchronicities: the role vengeance plays in keeping the peace: the ‘homosocial’ – to use a concept from Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire – parallels between feudal and gangster cultures; and, most importantly, the centrally paradoxical role women play in these societies.
Here is the scene from Pulp Fiction (warning, it contains violence and language that may not be suitable for all viewers):