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Geoffrey Chaucer, Tale of Sir Thopas, Rape narratives


Considering the tale’s placement between two narratives of violence—the Prioress’s Tale and the Tale of Melibee—it is surprising that the Tale of Sir Thopas has not merited more discussion of the potential for violence against feminine bodies. I argue that Chaucer the author introduces significant changes to the typical medieval romance, with the result that Thopas’s actions in the name of “love” conceal a rape narrative that engages late fourteenth-century debates as to what exactly constituted rape. As the transfer of property was a significant portion of such discussions, the 1382 Statute of Rapes prompted concerns about the ability of men and women to manipulate rape and abduction laws to select their marriage partners, and I argue that the Tale of Sir Thopas reflects these concerns. Sir Olifaunt is a protective warden rather than a destructive rapist, and Thopas, despite his seemingly non-threatening demeanor, is the true threat.