Drawing on feminist and historical criticism, Karen Bamford examines the use of sexual assault in a wide range of Jacobean drama, including Shakespeare's "Pericles", "Measure for Measure" and "Cymbeline", Middleton's "The Revenger's Tragedy" and Heywood's "Rape of Lucrece". She explores the verbal and stage imagery that is used to dramatize the threat to chastity the scapegoating of the victim, who is both sanctified and demonized and the tension between overt values and implicit exploitation of sexual assault as erotic entertainment. What emerges is an early modern definition of chastity as a specifically physical state, unrelated to spiritual purity and the woman's consent or lack of consent to sexual intercourse. While chastity is a woman's chief virtue, it is beyond her moral control, and Jacobean drama repeatedly embeds the assumption that the woman has brought the assault upon herself.
KAREN BAMFORD is Assistant Professor of English at Mount Allison University in New Brunswick, Canada.