Re-reading Rape in The Changeling

Some critics have argued that Middleton and Rowley's play The Changeling depicts a rape. This article engages that argument by re-reading the play, first in relation to Janet Halley's proposal that we "take a break" from the feminist project of "carrying a brief for" the feminine; and second in relation to recent historical research that deepens our understanding of the available ways of describing and assessing sexual coercion in seventeenth-century England. Placing particular emphasis on Beatrice-Joanna's strategic, even exploitative, self-assertions, this article argues that the play does not depict rape as defined by statutes. Yet, as this article shows, the play participates in the history of sexual coercion and consent nonetheless. This is a history that motivates feminism. It is also a history from which we cannot take a break, however much we might wish to do so. We can, however, take a break from trying to reach a verdict on Beatrice-Joanna's culpability in order to see how complexly the play depicts her agency.