The Giving and Withholding of Consent in Late Twelfth-Century French Literature
By Kenneth Varty
Reading Medieval Studies, Volume 2, 1986
Introduction: My investigations into the depiction and punishment of rape in late twelfth-century literature in northern France stem from a particular interest in some of the earlier branches of the Roman de Renart. One of these early tales recounts how Renart first committed adultery with the wolf’s wife, Hersent, and then how, soon afterwards, he raped her, and was seen to rape her by her husband, Ysengrin.
There is also a closely related story, a sequel, in which Ysengrin and Hersent complain to Noble, the lion and King of the Animals, their feudal overlord, about this crime, and seek justice at his hand.
In my efforts to see how far these stories reflect or distort relevant legal practice and to assess some aspects of their authors’ art, I have been examining the depiction of rape and the giving and withholding of consent in other tales, and exploring medieval law on serious sexual offences. What follows is in the nature of an interim report on the progress I have made in these areas.