Faculty Mentor

Dr. Elizabeth E. Tavares

Subject Area



The expected gender dichotomy of medieval European heterosexual relationships was simple. There was an active male penetrator and a passive female acceptor. This dichotomy is supported by court records from late medieval France, analyzed by Joseph Roelens, in which two women are put on trial for female sodomy and much importance is placed on the masculine character of one woman and the submissiveness of the other. In this paper, I examine two different stories from Arthurian Legend, Sir Thomas Malory’s “Morte d’Arthur” and Geoffrey Chaucer’s “The Wife’s Prologue and Tale” from The Canterbury Tales, that depict sexual relationships between the main male and female characters that function within the social norm of the gender dichotomy. In doing so, I argue that these stories use this active and passive gender dichotomy in an attempt to police men’s actions in their sexual relationships with women. I chose to examine these stories because they demonstrate the societal importance placed on this gender dichotomy in a very concrete way. The men in these stories who refuse to become passive, Sir Lancelot being the most prominent among them, are willing to sacrifice not only their life, but the life of the women they love (whether or not the women agree with this decision), in order to avoid breaking the gender dichotomy.


medieval poetry, English literature, gender and sexuality studies, Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales, The Wife of Bath, Sir Thomas Malory, Arthuriana