Learning Expedition

From Chaucer to Shakespeare and Beyond
Pre-class survey:
Click here to take survey

Project Overview
John Fletcher and William Shakespeare's play, The Two Noble Kinsmen, 1613-1614, draws on Geoffrey Chaucer's Knight's Tale, one of the stories from The Canterbury Tales, written circa 1386. But Chaucer's tale was not original, he draws from the Italian writer Giovanni Boccaccio (1313 - 1375) who wrote The Book of Theseus (1340 - 1341) as well as The Decameron. As writers we draw from many sources, and our stories are based on a combination of experience and mythology. This Learning Expedition will delve into the world of these three writers; one play and two poems with an emphasis on Chaucer and Shakespeare -  two writers, two hundred years apart. Emphasis will be on close reading and the dialog that occurs between the two pieces. What happens when a poem becomes a play? And what happens when that play is produced by different companies? How do our experiences and unique outlooks combine with literature? This expedition is research heavy and allows students to make their own contributions to a work of Shakespeare that is not well known. Opportunities will be given to explore character motivation in the play as well as different interpretations by actors. We will explore the language of Medieval poetry as well as some more modern examples. This unit is meant to be part of a larger unit on Shakespeare and modern playwrights.

Common Core Standards

  • CCS Literature  #9a: Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research. Analyze how an author draws on and transforms source material in a specific work (e.g., how Shakespeare treats a theme or topic from Ovid or the Bible or how a later author draws on a play by Shakespeare).
  • CCS Grades #10.5: Compare and contrast the presentation of a theme or topic across genres to explain how the selection of genre shapes message.
  • CCS Writing Grades  #6:Use technology, including the Internet, to produce, publish, and update individual or shared writing products, taking advantage of technology’s capacity to link to other information and to display information flexibly and dynamically.

Content Areas
Reading - complex text (play and poetry) with an emphasis on close reading 
History - the texts vary from 14th to 18th century
Writing - essay and short writing assignments, comparing and contrasting the different renderings of the same tale 
a daily journal is kept for quick writing assignments and notes on characters
Technology - research on the internet as well as viewing multimedia and creating a project using film and /or presentation software

Multiple Intelligences:
Visual (close readings, presentations)
Auditory (hearing examples of the work)
Kinesthetic (Reader's theater)

The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer with an emphasis on "The Knight's Tale," in original Middle English as well as translated.
Two Noble Kinsmen by William Shakespeare and John Fletcher with emphasis on the acts written by Shakespeare: I. i-v; III. i, ii; V. i, ii -v, probably II i and IV. iii.
The Book of Theseus by Giovanni Boccaccio

Week 1
What do we know about knights?
Learning Targets:
I can analyze scholarly text.
I can discuss the implications of new ideas.
I can use my knowledge to start building an argument.
I can reflect on a scholarly article in a journal entry.
I can identify imagery from literary texts.

Building Background Knowledge
List characteristics and knowledge you have of the Medieval knight.
A selection from the book, Medieval Europe: a short history, by Judith M. Bennett.
This chapter explores the actual knight, "an armed thug" (Bennett 162), versus the knight as a character in poetry, ie "in shining armor." Chretien de Troyes, the Medieval creator of Arthur and the Round Table, was in effect, a marketing specialist. Through his tales of Lancelot and Guinevere, he transformed the knight into a noble character, when in fact most knights were young angry aristocrats, wandering the countryside, killing and pillaging. 
We will then read a "modern" take on the knight, Tennyson's poem.
A poem by Tennyson, Sir Launcelot and Queen Guinevere

Book Club Questioning Protocol from EL Commons - Students will be broken into small groups, each with a close reading task. One group is responsible for the rhyme scheme, another imagery, another story line.
Questions: What is the story? How are men and women portrayed? What imagery arises? How does the rhyme move the poem?

Creativity doesn't happen alone

1973 Roberta Flack 
1996 Fugees

Building Background Knowledge 

The story of Palamon and Arcite across the decades:
1700, John Dryden translated this tale, embellishing it a bit.
1613, William Shakespeare and John Fletcher, The Two Noble Kinsmen
1386, Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales (The Knight's Tale)
1340, Giovanni Boccaccio, The Book of Theseus
What was Boccaccio's source? Is there any "original" material, stories that do not spring from myth, archetypes or fairy tales? Who holds the copyright to "love at first sight"?

Week 2
Journey into the text
Questions: What is a pilgrimage? Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales is a collection of stories told by various characters on pilgrimage. What does it mean to be on a journey, either a physical, mental or spiritual? What happens when a story is taken out of its context (as the Knight's Tale is)? What is the relationship between storyteller and listener? 

Learning Targets:
I can locate concepts of pilgrimage within literary texts.
I can draw evidence from literary texts to analyze.
I can compare passages in different genres of literary texts. 
I can identify sources of a literary texts.
I can make an argument using evidence from a literary text.

Synopsis of The Two Noble Kinsmen from the Shakespeare Resource Center:
"The Two Noble Kinsmen is essentially an adaptation of Chaucer's Knight's Tale. In this story, the two kinsmen are Palamon and Arcite; they are captured while fighting for Thebes against Athens. While imprisoned, the two cousins find themselves attracted to Emilia, who is the sister of Hippolyta, wife of Theseus. Their professed "eternal friendship" takes a beating as the two vow to woo her. Theseus exiles Arcite from Athens and leaves Palamon in jail.

Arcite has other ideas once he is freed; he disguises himself as a peasant in order to keep an eye on Emilia. Meanwhile, the jailer's daughter has fallen in love with Palamon. She helps him to escape and aids him once he's hiding in the nearby forest. There Arcite encounters him. The two men resume their argument over Emilia and finally decide to duel for her that night. However, as they prepare for the duel, the two are discovered by Theseus. At first he condemns both to death; at the behest of Emilia and Hippolyta, however, the duke attempts to banish them both. Both Palamon and Arcite refuse, so Theseus asks Emilia to choose between them, with the loser being put to death. Emilia, however, can't decide, so Theseus declares that the matter will be settled by combat after all—in one month, Palamon and Arcite will fight for Emilia's hand, with the loser to be executed.

In the meantime, the jailer's daughter has gone mad as a result of her unrequited love for Palamon. Theseus absolves the jailer, who had no part in Palamon's escape, and gives a pardon to his deranged daughter. A doctor attempts to help her by getting the man to whom she's engaged pretend to be Palamon in order to restore her sanity. The time for the contest comes about, and Arcite defeats Palamon. However, fate twists dramatically as Palamon awaits execution; a messenger arrives bringing news of Arcite's mortal wounding suffered in a horse riding accident. Arcite gives Emilia's hand to Palamon before he dies."

Synopsis of The Knight's Tale from Wikipedia (usually not a great primary resource, but it gives a general synopsis):

"Cousins Arcita and Palamon, who are nephews of King Creon of Thebes, have a close brotherly bond. They are captured and imprisoned by Theseus, duke of Athens following his intervention against Creon. Their cell is in the tower of Theseus's castle which overlooks his palace garden. In prison Palamon wakes early one morning in May, to see Emily (Emelia) in the courtyard; his moan is heard by Arcita, who then too wakes to see Emily, and falls in love with her as well.
The competition brought about by this love causes them to hate each other. After some years, Arcita is released from prison through the good offices of Theseus's friend Pirithoos, and then returns to Athens in disguise and enters service in Emily's household. Palamon eventually escapes by drugging the jailer and while hiding in a grove overhears Arcita singing about love and fortune.
They begin to duel with each other over who should get Emily, but are thwarted by the arrival of Theseus, who sentences them to gather 100 men apiece and fight a mass judicial tournament, the winner of which is to marry Emily. The forces assemble; Palamon prays to Venus to make Emily his wife; Emily prays to Diana to stay unmarried and that if that should prove impossible that she marry the one who really loves her; and Arcita prays to Mars for victory. Theseus lays down rules for the tournament so that if any man becomes seriously injured, he must be dragged out of the battle and is no longer in combat. Because of this, the story seems to claim at the end that there were almost no deaths on either side. Although both Palamon and Arcita fight valiantly, Palamon is wounded by a sword thrust from one of Arcita's men, and is unhorsed. Thesus declares the fight to be over. Arcita wins the battle, but following an intervention by Saturn is wounded by his horse throwing him off and then falling on him before he can claim Emily as his prize. As he dies, he tells Emily that she should marry Palamon, because he would make a good husband for her, and so Palamon marries Emily. Therefore all prayers were fulfilled by the gods for those who asked for their assistance."

Building Background Knowledge
Oral tradition versus written. 
Questions: What happens when we read a story as opposed to listen to a story?
What happens when a poem is made into a play? What gets lost? What must the playwright show that a poet can tell?
Activity. Listen to a portion of The Knight's Tale after reading it. What was different about the act of listening? How much did it depend on the reader? Was a part funny when read that didn't seem funny while reading? How does it change your understanding of the work? This will play a large part when studying and reading plays. 
Text Comparison:
From Chaucer:
Arcite goes into the woods alone and sings a song in praise of May.
"Maie, with all thy floures and they grene
Welcome be though faire fresh Maie
I hope that I some grene get maie."
In translation.
" O Month of May, with all thy flowers and green,
Welcome be thou, O fairest, freshest May,
Give me thy green, in hope of happy day!"

A few lines later Arcite recollects Emily in a comic way (he doesn't know Palamon is hiding in the bushes listening.)
"Into a studie he fell sodenly
As doen these lovers in their quieint gires
Now in the crop and now doun in the brires
Now up now doune, as boket in a well
Right as the fridaie, sothly for to tell."
In translation:
"And fell into a study all at once
As do these lovers in their quaint desires,
Now on the spray, now down among the briars
Now up, now down, like buckets in a well,
Just upon a Friday, truth to tell."

From Shakespeare:
Act III scene i (4-11)
O queen Emilia,
Fresher than May, sweeter
Than her gold buttons on the boughs, or all
Th' enamell'd knacks o' th' mead or garden, yea
We challenge too the bank of any nymph
That makes the stream seem flowers; thou O jewel
O' th' wood, o' th' world, hast likewise blest a place
With thy sole presence.

From John Dryden's piece Palamon and Arcite, published in 1700:

"Then turned his face against the rising day.
And raised his voice to welcome in the May

' Por thee, sweet month, the groves green liveries wear.
If not the first, the fairest of the year

For thee the Graces lead the dancing hours, 
And Nature's ready pencil paints the flowers

When thy short reign is past, the feverish sun
The sultry tropic fears, and moves more slowly on.
So may thy tender blossoms fear no blight,
Nor goats with venomed teeth thy tendrils bite, 
As thou shalt guide my wandering feet to find
The fragrant greens I seek, my brows to bind."

Again, Palamon is listening in:

"And loudly sung his roundelay of love

But on the sudden stopped, and silent stood,
As lovers often muse, and change their mood

Now high as heaven, and then as low as hell,
Kow up, now down, as buckets in a well

For Venus, like her day, will change her cheer,
And seldom shall we see a Friday clear.
Thus Arcite having sung, with altered hue"

The Tale of Arcite and Palamon from m proudfoot on Vimeo.

Text Comparison #2 Shakespeare, Chaucer and Boccaccio, Prayer to Venus
Arcite prays to Mars (war), Palamon prays to Venus (love) and Emily prays to Diana (chastity)
Arcite wins the battle but dies right after. Love conquers in the end.

Palamon, Shakespeare Act V scene i. Prayer to Venus


Our stars must glister with new fire, or be
To daie extinct; our argument is love,
Which if the goddesse of it grant, she gives
Victory too: then blend your spirits with mine,
You, whose free noblenesse doe make my cause
Your personall hazard; to the goddesse Venus
Commend we our proceeding, and implore
Her power unto our partie. [Here they kneele as formerly.]
Haile, Soveraigne Queene of secrets, who hast power
To call the feircest Tyrant from his rage,
And weepe unto a Girle; that ha'st the might,
Even with an ey-glance, to choke Marsis Drom
And turne th'allarme to whispers; that canst make
A Criple florish with his Crutch, and cure him
Before Apollo; that may'st force the King
To be his subjects vassaile, and induce
Stale gravitie to daunce; the pould Bachelour--
Whose youth, like wonton Boyes through Bonfyres,
Have skipt thy flame--at seaventy thou canst catch
And make him, to the scorne of his hoarse throate,
Abuse yong laies of love: what godlike power
Hast thou not power upon? To Phoebus thou
Add'st flames hotter then his; the heavenly fyres
Did scortch his mortall Son, thine him; the huntresse
All moyst and cold, some say, began to throw
Her Bow away, and sigh. Take to thy grace
Me, thy vowd Souldier, who doe beare thy yoke
As t'wer a wreath of Roses, yet is heavier
Then Lead it selfe, stings more than Nettles.
I have never beene foule mouthd against thy law,
Nev'r reveald secret, for I knew none--would not,
Had I kend all that were; I never practised
Vpon mans wife, nor would the Libells reade
Of liberall wits; I never at great feastes
Sought to betray a Beautie, but have blush'd
At simpring Sirs that did; I have beene harsh
To large Confessors, and have hotly ask'd them
If they had Mothers: I had one, a woman,
And women t'wer they wrong'd. I knew a man
Of eightie winters, this I told them, who
A Lasse of foureteene brided; twas thy power
To put life into dust; the aged Crampe
Had screw'd his square foote round,
The Gout had knit his fingers into knots,
Torturing Convulsions from his globie eyes,
Had almost drawne their spheeres, that what was life
In him seem'd torture: this Anatomie
Had by his yong faire pheare a Boy, and I
Beleev'd it was him, for she swore it was,
And who would not beleeve her? briefe, I am
To those that prate and have done no Companion;
To those that boast and have not a defyer;
To those that would and cannot a Rejoycer.
Yea, him I doe not love, that tells close offices
The fowlest way, nor names concealements in
The boldest language: such a one I am,
And vow that lover never yet made sigh
Truer then I. O, then, most soft, sweet goddesse,
Give me the victory of this question, which
Is true loves merit, and blesse me with a signe
Of thy great pleasure.

[Here Musicke is heard, Doves are seene to flutter; they fall
againe upon their faces, then on their knees.]

Chaucer, The Knight's Tale, Palamon's Prayer to Venus

"Fairest of fair, O lady mine, Venus,
Daughter of Jove and spouse to Vulcanus,
Thou gladdener of the Mount of Citheron,
By that great love thou borest to Adon,
Have pity on my bitter tears that smart
And hear my humble prayer within thy heart.
Alas! I have no words in which to tell
The effect of all the torments of my hell;
My heavy heart its evils can't bewray;
I'm so confused I can find nothing to say.
But mercy, lady bright, that knowest well
My heart, and seest all the ills I feel,
Consider and have ruth upon my sore
As truly as I shall, for evermore,
Well as I may, thy one true servant be,
And wage a war henceforth on chastity.
If thou wilt help, thus do I make my vow,
To boast of knightly skill I care not now,
Nor do I ask tomorrow's victory,
Nor any such renown, nor vain glory
Of prize of arms, blown before lord and churl,
But I would have possession of one girl,
Of Emily, and die in thy service;
Find thou the manner how, and in what wise.
For I care not, unless it better be,
Whether I vanquish them or they do me,
So I may have my lady in my arms.
For though Mars is the god of war's alarms,
Thy power is so great in Heaven above,
That, if it be thy will, I'll have my love.
In thy fane will I worship always, so
That on thine altar, where'er I ride or go,
I will lay sacrifice and thy fires feed.
And if thou wilt not so, O lady, cede,
I pray thee, that tomorrow, with a spear,
Arcita bear me through the heart, just here.
For I do not care, when I have lost my life
That Arcita may win her for his wife.
This the effect and end of all my prayer,
Give me my love, thou blissful lady fair." 

Boccaccio, Book of Theseus, Palamon's Prayer to Venus
Devoutly he uttered this prayer: "O beautiful goddess, fair spouse of Vulcan, for whose sake Mount Cithaeron rejoices, I implore you to be merciful to me for that love which you bore Adonis. Satisfy my loving desire for your sake. Make my right arm powerful tomorrow so that I might be the one to rejoice. No one knows how much I love. No one can realize how much I yearn for beautiful Emilia, lady of my heart, whom I invoke night and day ever and again, except you and your son the god. You know how much Love causes me, my Lady's servant, to suffer within me on her account. I could not show in word the affection I have, nor tell how much I feel. You alone know it, and you, O goddess, can supply eventual satisfaction where it is now lacking, and change my suffering into delight, if you grant what I here attentively request, that is, that I may possess my lady Emilia..."

Week 3
Exploring text with Close Reading
Use "Three levels of text protocol" for discussion of a passage from each author. This will take more than  one class period.
Begin brainstorming final projects or presentations at the beginning of the week.
Classes visit  Shakespeare and Company or have guest speaker.

An attempt at technology: This is a quick video I made, reading from the two texts used in this expedition, Chaucer's poem, The Knight's Tale, and Shakespeare's play, Two Noble Kinsmen

The Knight's Tale, a 2001 movie starring Paul Bettany as Geoffrey Chaucer. This film takes its title from the same story in the Canterbury Tales although the story is not the same. Chaucer does have a comedic role (he did have a sense of humor.)

Two Noble Kinsmen, an abbreviated version:

The following video is of The Knight's Tale read in the original Middle English. Listening to the language as it was written gives the student an idea of how the poetry sounded in the 14th century. Although still beautiful in modern English, there is nothing like the sound of Middle English.

Geoffrey Chaucer - The Canterbury Tales - The... by poetictouch

Final Student Project Ideas 
Tailored to the group of students.
Create a piece of art, writing, play, video or any other form of multimedia with your own reinterpretation of the story of Palamon and Arcite. Be as creative as you wish. 
Projects should be done in groups with detailed journal entries of each students' contributions to the final piece. The project will be presented or displayed at the open house.
Idea #1
Create a Domo Animation:
DomoNation.com: The Two Noble Kinsmen by mike mccarthy

Like it? Create your own at DomoNation.com. It's free and fun!

Example #2
Create a Cartoon using Toondoo

Example #3
Create a Prezi. Here is an example.

Example #4
A more ambitious project, one act would suffice. Check out Stick Figure Hamlet

Anderson, D. (1988). In (Ed.), Before the Knight's Tale ( Trans.). Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Basham, J. D., Perry, E., & Meyer, H. (2011). It's in the bag: Digital backpacks for project-based learning. Learning & Leading with Technology, 39(2), 24-27.
Bertram, P. (1965). In (Ed.), Shakespeare and the Two Noble Knsmen ( Trans.). New Jersey: Rutgers University Press.
Boccaccio, G. (1974). In (Ed.), The Book of Theseus (B. M. McCoy Trans.). NY: Medieval Text Association.
Chaucer, G. (1966). In Spearing A. C. (Ed.), The Knight's Tale ( Trans.). London: Cambridge University Press.
Chaucer, G. (2003). In (Ed.), The Canterbury Tales (N. Coghill Trans.). NY: Penguin Group.
Donald R. Howard. (1987). In (Ed.), Chaucer: His life his works his world ( Trans.). (First ed.). NY: E.P. Dutton.
Jones, T. (1980). In (Ed.), Chaucer's Knight ( Trans.). Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press.
Kahane, H., & Kahane, R. (1945). A Byzantine Source of Boccaccio's Teseida. Speculum, 20(4), pp. 415-425.
Koff, L. M., & Schildgen, B. D. (Eds.). (2000). The Decameron and the Canterbury Tales ( Trans.). NJ: Associated University Presses.
McMahon, M. (1999). Are we having fun yet? Humor in the English Class. English Journal, 88(4), 70-72.
Pratt, R. A. (1947). Chaucer's Use of the Teseida. PMLA, 62(3), pp. 598-621.
Thompson, A. (1978). In (Ed.), Shakespeare's Chaucer ( Trans.). (First ed.). Liverpool: Liverpool University Press.
Wall, A. F., Thompson, L., & Banbury, M. M. (1997). Shakespeare: A Schoolwide Celebration of the Renaissance. Gifted Child Today Magazine, 20(2), 20.
Webb, A. (2011). In (Ed.), Teaching literature in virtual worlds: Immersive learning in English studies ( Trans.). Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.

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