Medieval 'Special Victims Unit' FREN 4250

Spring 2020
MWF 12:00 - 12:50pm
Professor: Charlie Samuelson

medieval painting of two people laying in bed

“Law and Order: Special Victims Unit” is the longest running live action series on television. Yet, the fascination with stories of sexual deviancy hearkens back much further in time. Like “Law and Order: SVU,” medieval literature is obsessed with the most appalling, disturbing, intricate, and downright bizarre stories about desire. As in “Law and Order,” moreover, these stories are often taken from the headlines, paralleling the issues felt to be most pressing to society.

Many of the medieval stories we will encounter will seem very foreign—and some eerily similar to 21st century concerns. We will read, for example, about an adulterous queen, who has an illustrious affair with the King’s nephew; about two children, one Christian and one Muslim, who fall in love at the age of seven—and decide to get married, despite their parents’ objections; and about a married couple where the husband likes sex with his wife too much. We will discuss how medieval society treats such issues as impotence; consent; or marital separation in different circumstances (such as when one spouse is infected with leprosy). In sum, we will ask why medieval and modern audiences seem drawn to stories of sexual deviancy and explore how notions of unacceptable sexual behavior have and have not changed over time. What do stories of deviant sexual behavior tell us about medieval society and about modern society? What do they tell us about the nature of desire and about gender and sexual politics?

This course is taught in French.

For more information contact Professor Charlie Samuelson