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.
Volume 2, Issue 1, 2021
#MeToo, Medieval Literature, and Trauma-Informed Pedagogy
This issue explores best practices for confronting issues of sexual violence in medieval literary texts with a generation of students attuned to identifying and condemning sexual harassment and assault. Because many of our students—whatever their gender identification—have histories with many kinds of sexual harm, articles by Carissa M. Harris, Sarah Powrie, and Sara Torres and Rebecca McNamara offer thoughtful, trauma-informed pedagogical approaches to aid us as we approach these difficult texts. Our fourth article, by Holly A. Crocker, illuminates the deep-rooted systems that feed women’s vulnerability and work to silence even the strongest among us.
Students’ familiarity with the #MeToo movement, with its emphasis on multiple narratives of different kinds of violations, creates a valuable opportunity for educators to use medieval pastourelles to teach about long histories of power and sexual consent. Focusing specifically on the undergraduate medieval literature classroom, this essay argues for the importance of teaching pastourelles—a genre frequently overlooked by instructors—and outlines concrete strategies for doing so with knowledge, sensitivity, and care. It discusses multiple frameworks for teaching pastourelles, including connecting them to street harassment, intersectionality, or contemporary survivor narratives. It closes by discussing larger-scale strategies for cultivating a supportive classroom atmosphere and providing students with resources to navigate these difficult but important texts.
Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde features prankish sexual humour wrapped into a romantic comedy love-plot, in which sexual misconduct is coded as harmless fun. Generations of readers have interpreted book three’s consummation scene as a delightfully humorous, entertaining escapade. But in order for the episode to be interpreted as comedic, the reader must be willing to accept certain premises about gender norms and sexual violence. The cultural misconception of rape as an attack perpetrated by a stranger as well as social norms giving license to male aggression with “certain kinds” of women have resulted in benign interpretations of the sexual encounter in book three. Our students, the #MeToo readers of the 2020s, will be attuned to the assumptions of rape culture expressed in Troilus and Criseyde. The #MeToo movement offers instructors a contemporary repertoire of narratives for discussing gender biases of past and present and for considering how the persistence of those biases fueled a cultural reckoning in 2018.
This essay offers several pedagogical strategies for teaching medieval romance in the time of #MeToo. Drawing on the robust feminist tradition that has focused on women’s compromised consent in romance narratives, as well as on the insights of trauma-sensitive pedagogy, we offer a range of approaches for addressing literary representations of sexual violence in the classroom, with a focus on Geoffrey Chaucer’s Knight’s Tale and Franklin’s Tale, on Thomas Malory’s Le Morte Darthur, and on romances and novelle within larger story collections by John Gower, Giovanni Boccaccio, and Marguerite de Navarre. These teaching approaches seek to position students as critical co-investigators and to open up ways in which sexual and social consent participate in the formation of gendered subjects. We aim to problematize the power hierarchies dramatized in medieval romance texts, while also encouraging students to attend to women’s resistance and their survival.
Since March 2020…Rethinking Vulnerability, Taylor Swift’s Pandemic Records, and Piers Plowman’s Women
Our shared sense of vulnerability during the pandemic provides a valuable lens for considering the ways women’s vulnerability has been used to undermine women’s authority. Even strong women, such as Taylor Swift, find themselves subject to loss of authority due to the systemic oppression that works to devalue women in positions of social power. Swift’s career creates an unconventional, but potent, link to the female figures in William Langland’s Piers Plowman who are depicted as being vulnerable no matter their status. Building off the work of numerous feminist scholars and taking inspiration from Taylor Swift’s music, this paper explores how vulnerability can become a resource for political and personal connection in a time of alienation and crisis.