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This essay traces medieval representations of intoxication and consent and links them to contemporary cases, including Brock Turner’s 2016 rape trial and the 2017 slew of lawsuits filed against Baylor University. Through an examination of medieval texts from a range of genres, including the Biblical stories of Lot and Noah, the Digby Mary Magdalene play, proverbs, Geoffrey Chaucer’s Wife of Bath’s Prologue, the 1292 legal case of Isabella Plomet, and Robert Mannyng’s Handlyng Synne, this essay explores past views of gender, perpetrators, culpability, alcohol, and consent. It argues that victim-blaming those who have been assaulted while intoxicated has a long history, and that cultural recognition of their harm has a history that is equally long.


This essay was completed with the support of a Temple University Summer Research Award. It benefited from generous feedback and questions from audiences at Manhattan College, Chestnut Hill College, Colby College, the 2018 New Chaucer Society Biennial Congress, and the Intoxicating Bodies II panel at the 53rd International Congress on Medieval Studies. I am grateful to Tekla Bude, Jennifer Garrison, Monica H. Green, Min Ji Kang, Jeanette Patterson, and Elly Truitt for sharing sources and ideas with me; to Kinohi Nishikawa, Rebbeca Tesfai, Claire Falck, Marissa Nicosia, and Thomas Ward for their writing group partnership; and to MFF’s two anonymous readers for providing important insights and suggestions for revision. Thanks are also due to Gwen Seabourne for discovering Isabella Plomet’s case and to Jami Ake for first teaching me about the concept of intoxication-facilitated sexual assault.


rape; sexual violence; alcohol; intoxication; consent; Mary Magdalene; Handlyng Synne

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Copyright © 2019 Carissa M Harris