Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California


Sponsored by the New Chaucer Society, New Chaucer Studies: Pedagogy and Profession offers essays, news, and resources for teachers and scholars of Geoffrey Chaucer and his age. Published twice per year, this peer-reviewed, open-access journal is dedicated to our work inside both the classroom and the institution, as well as to our outward-facing work contributing to the public discourse. In these ways, the journal seeks to advance a broad and embracing conception of medieval literary studies.


Editors’ Introduction: The Presence of the Medieval Past—Retellings and Social Value

This issue consists of two special clusters: “Retellings of Medieval Literature in the Classroom,” edited by Eva von Contzen and Sophia Philomena Wolf, and “The Social Relevance of Medieval Studies,” edited by Gregory Sadlek.

Cluster: Retellings of Medieval Literature in the Classroom

Introduction Special Cluster: Retellings of Medieval Literature in the Classroom

This special cluster focuses on the role of contemporary retellings of medieval literature in classroom contexts, thereby providing a platform for a largely neglected topic of research. It features articles on a diverse range of retellings—including, for example, fanfiction and an interactive novel—and displays the various re-reading adventures students embark upon as they engage with contemporary adaptations or pen their own personal version of a medieval tale. Retellings consequently prove useful and democratic educational tools that allow for a more expansive student engagement with medieval material.

The Wife of Bath, Fanfiction Writer: Teaching “The Seconde Tale of the Wyf of Bath”

Fanfiction offers a rich and accessible framework for teaching on topics of adaptation and reception in medieval literature. This article outlines a course that teaches the reception history of two canonical medieval texts—the Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight—through fanfiction, with a detailed example of a text taught in this course, a 2008 fanfiction short story which reimagines the Wife of Bath as a fanfiction writer.

Re-Telling Chaucer in Zadie Smith’s Wife of Willesden

This paper studies the co-articulation of the transhistorical issues of gender, race, and sex in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Wife of Bath’s Tale and Zadie Smith’s debut play, The Wife of Willesden. It argues that despite an over 600-year gap, the medieval text and its recent adaptation invoke similar forms of sexual assault and feminine abuse while undermining analogous abstractions and ideological conjectures of anti- feminism: Jamaican-born Londoner Alvita and her medieval foil Alisoun of Bath uncover the ingrained myths of Western phallocentrism and wittily discredit its claims. This paper also examines Smith’s generic and cultural remodeling of the source text and the linguistic and aesthetic interventions she uses to shift a canonical medieval all-white text to a contemporary globalized and transnational London.

Choice of Chaucers: Teaching Kate Heartfield’s Interactive Novel The Road to Canterbury

Kate Heartfield’s 2018 interactive novel invites a contemporary audience to join Chaucer and his fellow pilgrims on their way to Canterbury. This text-based game—or game-like text—enables the reader to make choices about the direction of the narrative in the fashion of earlier hypertext literature and the old Choose Your Own Adventure novels for young readers and other so-called ‘gamebooks.’ Based primarily on my experiences teaching The Road to Canterbury in an upper-level English course at a large public university, this essay reflects on how one might teach Heartfield’sinteractive fiction alongside Chaucer in mutually illuminating ways and in a variety of course settings.

Student Retellings: Adapting Middle English Literature in Singapore

This article discusses a creative assignment in which students make their own adaptations of Middle English texts. Using three examples of student work, I argue that adaptation encourages students to pay close attention to the medieval text, while also allowing them to build personal and intellectual connections with the material.

Collaborative Teaching and Creative Assignments Using Contemporary Adaptation

In this article, we share our perspectives (as teacher and student) on the role of modern adaptations of Chaucer in teaching and assessment, with a particular focus on the role such adaptations play in supporting the use of creative writing-based assignments in a medieval literature course. We describe our experience of an assessment composed of a creative exercise combined with a critical commentary, and discuss how the incorporation of modern adaptations of medieval texts into the medieval literature curriculum underpins and supports this assessment type. Our account demonstrates that the process by which the meaning of literary texts is generated is iterative and collaborative, a point we hope to underscore through our collaboration on this piece. We hope the experience we describe will foreground the value of dialogue in the processes of teaching, assessment, and feedback, and also highlight the role of modern adaptations in supporting students to recognise and articulate the value of their own creative and critical work within a longer tradition of literary and scholarly responses to medieval literature.

Creating Interior Mayhem in The Castle of Perseverance

This article examines the fifteenth-century morality play The Castle of Perseverance in conversation with the 2015 Disney/Pixar film Inside Out. The film certainly serves as a contemporary afterlife of the psychomachia, externalizing the turmoil of a young girl into the epic journey and struggle of her embodied emotions like Joy, Sadness, and Disgust. I discuss how I teach Inside Out and The Castle of Perseverance together to undergraduate students and argue that the film also offers an entry-point into potential immersive performance practices of The Castle of Perseverance; audiences may have followed both a central linear arc (the journey of Mankind) while exploring the narrative tools of the playing-space on their own.

Is There a Source Text in This Class? Teaching Medieval Literature through Contemporary Retellings

In this article, we outline the lesson plan and pedagogical approach underlying a seminar we taught in the summer term of 2023 at the University of Freiburg titled “Retelling, Rereading, Rethinking—The Afterlife of Medieval Texts in Contemporary Literature.” Using Stanley Fish’s essay “Is There a Text in This Class?” as its springboard, this essay discusses how the absence of the source material affects students’ engagement with medieval literature. We decided to make the absent source the catalyst for discussing how the meaning of the source text is filtered through and inextricably linked with reception, i.e. translations, retellings, and the readers/students themselves. Taking into special consideration the particular knowledge our students brought with them into the class and how this influenced their reading of medieval literature, we argue that the instability and absence of the source can make for a better learning outcome and a more profound understanding of medieval literature, (medieval) literary practices, and the role of reception.

ReMixing Chaucer in a 21st-Century Undergraduate Classroom

I am a medievalist who is interested in post-medieval afterlives of medieval texts. In this piece, I offer an imaginary conversation between myself and the texts that feature on a final-year Undergraduate Module that I teach in a UK university. The conversation is modelled on those that are regularly being had in the seminar rooms for this module, giving a sense of the various harmonies and counterpoints that arise when Chaucer is placed alongside adaptations of his work with a heterogeneous student cohort.

Musings on the Medieval: An Interview with Caroline Bergvall

This interview focuses on Caroline Bergvall’s medievalist works: Meddle English (2011), Drift (2014), and Alisoun Sings (2019). Bergvall discusses interrelations between her own work and medieval (literary) practices, her handling of medieval source material, and how the term ‘retelling’ relates to her texts.

Cluster: The Social Value of Medieval Studies

Introduction: Cluster on the Social Value of Medieval Studies

The Introduction sets up the professional context, the extremely difficult job market for new medievalists, that motivated the creation of this cluster of articles. It then reflects on the typical position allocation process and underscores the importance of adding qualitative arguments, especially those highlighting the social value of Medieval Studies, to the quantitative data usually required in official position requests. The cluster, then, seeks to help individual faculty members, chairpersons, and deans to articulate those qualitative arguments. It includes six essays offering six different approaches to defining or illustrating the social value of Medieval Studies. The Introduction concludes with a summary of the contributors’ major insights.

The Relevance of the Middle Ages—Revisiting an Old Problem in Light of New Approaches and Teaching Experiences in a Non-Western Context

It ought to be an ongoing effort by all scholars/researchers to question the validity, legitimacy, and purposes of their own discipline because we live in an ever-changing world. This also applies to the field of medieval studies that faces considerable difficulties and challenges today with declining numbers of students enrolling in respective classes and lacking support by university administrators. This study begins with a general reflection on where we are today in terms of justifying the humanities at large, that is, of the study of literature particularly, and hence of medieval literature. Then this paper focuses on two universal themes, love and tolerance. While love has been associated with the courtly world since the twelfth century, tolerance does not seem to fit within the medieval context. However, the discussion of tolerance can be utilized as a catalyst for further investigations of medieval culture and literature within the framework of modern and postmodern responses to the Middle Ages. The exploration of this theme as it emerged already at that time offers intriguing opportunities to make the study of medieval literature relevant and important for us today.

On Not Wasting Time

This essay considers the value of thinking about the strangeness of the medieval past. It explores how varied human subjectivity can be across time and thinks about how accessing radically alien subjectivities from the medieval past can have a value for us in our present. It takes three examples of attitudes to particular concepts––genius, technology, and love––that demonstrate both the difference of the medieval past and how our social norms and values have their roots in that historical period. Reading medieval literature requires us, at times, to make imaginative leaps––where do they take us?

The Social Value of Cross-Cultural Medieval Studies

Medieval studies offers insights into the human condition that are distinct to the period yet crucial to comprehending our twenty-first-century moment. As the dissemination of medieval studies and modern ‘medievalisms’ widens, we gain new insight into the extent to which ideas about literature and the arts, science and the environment, racial and cultural difference, and cross-cultural interaction are grounded in the thinking of past centuries. This article highlights four new books that expand the traditional setting of medieval European studies: Geraldine Heng’s Teaching the Global Middle Ages, a handbook for teachers; Peter Haidu’s The Philomena of Chrétien the Jew, a radically new assessment of a canonical author; Andrew D. Turner’s Códice Maya de México, a pictorial, forensic, and literary presentation of the oldest surviving book of the Americas; and Larisa Grollemond and Bryan C. Keene’s The Fantasy of the Middle Ages, a lavishly illustrated survey of medievalism.

Refugee Tales (UK) Meets Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales: An Australian’s Historical Perspective

There are and have been Australian voices strongly raised against the now long-running mandatory detention of refugee boat arrivals to Australian waters. Yet just as Indigenous Australians exist as part of an impersonal category for most Settler Australians, the absence of any widespread community protest against the brutal treatment of boat arrivals has in part fed off the lack of a broader cultural and historical frame within which to tell and hear individual refugee stories. These victims occupy a narrative space whose moral dimensions are blanked out, as an integral part of their maltreatment. For those who want change, pressing questions arise. What kind of stories could let these refugees be admitted to the category ‘Australian,’ in a more inclusive version of our actual and potential inhabitants? In this context, might Australia find a version of the model of national community that England has long drawn from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales?

Politics, Identities and the Contemporary Medieval

This essay seeks to draw attention to the central place of the medieval in both the production of knowledge in the broader social sciences and in contemporary politics. Specifically, I do so through a series of examples that show how a concept of ‘the medieval’ is central in both the production of analytical notions of community, and in contemporary political debates about community and identity formation. Both in the social sciences and modern politics, this uniformized and monolithic concept of ‘the medieval’ works not only to constrain how we understand the period but also to limit our ability to imagine and understand politics beyond the nation-state. This centrality, I argue, calls for increased dialogue between scholars of medieval studies and those in other humanities and social science disciplines.

Archives and the Middle Ages: Materials for History

Archivists and rare-book librarians, necessarily well trained in Medieval Studies, work every day to preserve critical historical documents. They make these documents freely available to scholar researchers and to the general public, whom they assist by reading old manuscripts, explaining the medieval languages, and sharing historical information. But they are also careful to collect new documents, even ones that were undiscovered, and to restore them when necessary. By means of their publications or the exhibitions they create, they contribute deeply to the general knowledge of the past. They are the custodians of the memory of humanity.