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The Return of Silence: Gender, Narrative, and Medieval Heritage

Project title

The Return of Silence: Gender, Narrative, and Medieval Heritage


Project activities and outcomes

The medieval story of Silence tells of a gender-swapping descendent of King Arthur, a warrior maiden, a minstrel, a knight, who upturns a society in which women are subordinate to men. The central character in this tale, who is given the gender-neutral name ‘Silence’, is a child assigned female at birth but raised as a boy for reasons of inheritance. Silence goes on to excel as a minstrel and a knight in a series of adventures that threaten to reveal the family’s secret. What messages might this thirteenth-century legend have for us today, and for new, inclusive approaches to teaching medieval history and culture?

When acclaimed spoken word artist Rachel Rose Reid found a scholarly edition of the Roman de Silence in the basement of a second-hand bookstore in New York, she found within it the voice of someone who shared her art of performance storytelling, still ringing fresh across the centuries. This discovery set her off on her own quest to renew this adventure which has so much to say about 21st-century sexual politics, identity, and freedom. Support from the Connecting Cultures GRP and from the Arts and Humanities Impact Fund enabled Rachel to develop an original interpretation of the middle section of Silence in partnership with Emma Campbell and Liam Lewis, two specialists on medieval French literature based at Warwick. Rachel performed this part of the text in the splendid medieval surroundings of St Mary’s Guildhall, Coventry, on 28 April 2023. The public storytelling performance was followed by an after-show discussion and Q&A chaired by Liam Lewis, and involving Rachel Rose Reid and Emma Campbell. On 29 April, Rachel led a storytelling workshop at the Guildhall connected to her performance work.


Links to information related to the project

Rachel Rose Reid’s website:

Rachel Rose Reid: Silence, on YouTube: 

Workshop website: Teaching Medieval French (

Press release: Silence speaks a thousand words - Press Releases (

Coverage of the event:


Quotes from project team and partners

‘Support from the Connecting Cultures GRP was crucial to this collaborative project. In addition to supporting the work of one of Britain’s most talented young storytellers, working with Rachel taught us a lot about the power that ancient stories still have today and the importance of a past that belongs to all of us.’

Emma Campbell and Liam Lewis, organisers


‘St Mary’s Guildhall was thrilled to host a performance of Silence Speaks; A Performance by Rachel Rose Reid in April 2023. In doing so we were very lucky to work with the University of Warwick [...] We had a good turnout, with 45 tickets sold. [...] This is a good number for an event such as this, and is better than the turnout for some events of its kind. We also appreciated that it brought a different audience into the Guildhall. There was a mix of people interested in the historic storytelling and those who were interested in a different perspective on history. The topic of the poem, focusing on gender, identity and the discussion of nature vs nurture, also helped to attract a different audience to the Guildhall. We are always looking to expand our public programming to include really interesting events like this, and it was a fantastic addition to the projects we have going. We got good engagement on our social media posts about the event, with several different audiences engaging with it, including a Queer Writing Group that is hosted at the Guildhall.’

Niamh Carton, Community Engagement Manager, St Mary’s Guildhall


‘Collaborating with UoW on this project has helped me to regather momentum on my adaptation of this work, and my desire for it to be better known as a great and powerfully relevant piece of British literature. Being in partnership with UoW has enabled me to reach a wider audience, not only within related academia, but also the general public who attended our performance in Coventry.’

Rachel Rose Reid, spoken word artist