Rape, Possession and the Law in Thomas Middleton's 'Women Beware Women' and 'The Changeling'


  • Annaliese Beth Piraino




Patriarchal constructsordain male dominance over female lifestyle and livelihood, additionallydetermining feminine value: more specifically what should happen with, and to, awoman's body.  Outlined within Renaissanceproductions such as Thomas Middleton’s WomenBeware Women and The Changeling, possessiveinequality lies behind each woman taken by her rapist.  Early laws such as the 1275 Statute of Westminster liken rape to theft and help fashionthe practice to be resultant of female Edenic flaw.  Thus, both culture and law reveal the trivializationof rape through the necessity of possession. Rape and other sexual inequities become justifiable as a requisite rightof the man, and part of the natural order to satisfy the woman. Throughout culture and law, rape and chastity expectations demonstratethe need for men to “purify” male dominated societies of women that "drivemen" to sexual compulsion.  Women arerepresentative of societal atrocities--manifestations of patriarchal fearspertaining to the loss of power.  Purgingsociety of supposed forces proves a valuable service to patriarchal order, as aloss of these controls over the woman could prove disastrous.  Thus, in order for the familial and societalpatriarchy to maintain stability, it is the right of the man to exercise his jurisdiction.  Because women are possessions, theirviolation directly relates back to their possessors; therefore, the woman’snatural propensity to be ravished, elicits a man’s cultural predisposition topossess.            Ultimately, these texts expose possession as the factor used to justify man’s desire to rape, and denote the woman’s fault in her own rape.  The act of rape is a political means of advancement in a culture filled with women in need of being ruled.  Thus, patriarchal construct requires rule over sexuality, which must be regulated to protect women, the men that possess them, and the patriarchal society as a whole.