Department or Program

Medieval and Renaissance Studies

Primary Wellesley Thesis Advisor

Cord Whitaker


"Slut" is not inherently a "bad word." "Slut" is, however, a great label; it labels one's sense of promiscuity and autonomy as an aspect of sexual identity. This label, used extensively in modern sexual politics, is anachronistic, yet describes much of the behavior of the women of late medieval literature. Thus the medieval slut’s sexual identity focuses on the proliferation of sex and sexuality that seems shameful within her patriarchal narrative, and yet says something truly powerful about who she is in addition to her sexuality. This study examines the stories of specific medieval sluts in order to destabilize traditional readings of the Decameron and Canterbury Tales in favor of a more accurate display of women’s desire. A reading in the style of the medieval slut reinforces the ethical framework with which the sluts are already working in order to demonstrate the power that comes from the reclaimed term “slut.”