Against their Will

Against their Will: Deconstructing the Myth of the Heroic Rapist in Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso and Machiavelli’s La Mandragola

by Scott Nelson

There are no words that encapsulate the idea of the heroic rapist better than the ones used by Susan Brownmiller in her book Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape. She writes: “As man conquers the world, so too he conquers the female.” Throughout history no theme rules the masculine imagination more often and with less honor than the myth of the heroic rapist. In Ludovico Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso and Niccolò Machiavelli’s La Mandragola, fortune is always seen from a male point of view. The term fortune, meaning chance or luck as an external or arbitrary force affecting human affairs, is often used in these works yet neither Angelica nor Lucrezia—the two principal female characters—is able to control her own destiny. Each woman’s life, and its set course, is controlled by feelings of weakness, fear and intimidation that stem from being seen, not as a woman, but as an object to be possessed. Objectification, a notion central to feminist theory, has been roughly defined as the perceiving and/or treating a person, almost always a woman, as an object. For Angelica and Lucrezia, it is the result of sexual objectification that terrorizes and objectifies them. The objectification of these two women and how that sustains the privilege and power of the heroic rapist is what this article examines. It arrives at this conclusion through the exploration of renaissance gender roles and how each group uses its available resources in an attempt to better its situation. It also documents how the literature serves to perpetuate and decimate these defined roles in popular culture.