I spend 3 days on The Knight's Tale and approximately three weeks on The Canterbury Tales, each year highlighting just a few of the stories, depending on the students in my class and which tales I believe will resonate best with the group I am teaching.
Day 1: Background Lecture and Discussion
Day 2: Exploration of Literary Technique and Story Telling
Day3: Finish the story and introduce public speaking about friendship and love
You can find a list of my questions in the resources of the specific section of each lesson.
My main objectives are to analyze the text with my students and to establish the major themes of the story because they will deliver an expository speech on the theme of friendship vs. love after we are done with the story. At this point I want them to have clear references to text that they can go back to and use in their speeches.
I understand that my students struggle with the poetic syntax even though we are using a modern translation, so I prefer to ground my analysis/explication with discussion.
We begin class by reviewing the middle and ending of the story. Most of the students agree that Palamon and Arcite are a big headache for Theseus and they all wonder why he doesn't just kill them both and be done with it. I remind them of the code of chivalry and Palamon and Arcite's status before they were captured.
Why do you think Theseus told them to gather an army of fifty men? I ask them.
"So it would be more likely that one or both of them would die." one of the students responds.
"There are ways around the chivalric code," I wink at them.
I then direct the students attention to the knight's behavior the morning before their big battle.
Why does Palamon go to Venus' temple while Arcite goes to Mars'?
The students respond that they think it shows their different temperaments, and their different devotions.
Then I ask them, Why does Emily go to Diana's temple? The students can't remember who Diana is.
"She's the goddess of the hunt," I respond. "And also protector of virgins. So would it make sense for Emily to pray to her?"
"What happens when she prays to Diana, does she get the answer she wants?"
The students agree that Emily doesn't want to get married at all, and that Diana's cryptic 'you're going to get married, but I won't say to who', reinforces how little control women have over their own destiny.
For most of the class this isn't about romancing a fair maiden, but a ruthless competition between two former friends for the object of their lust.
At this point the student's think that Palamon and Arcite live in a kind of misogynist cloud cuckoo land. They are a little frustrated with the story, particularly the students who have finished the whole tale.
But then I ask them the question:
What if Palamon and Arcite are fated to fall in love with Emily? What if they can't help themselves?
The students look at me like I'm trying to pull one over on them.
"Wait a sec," I say. "Go back to your notes and remember what I said about medieval thinking. Was life a series of choices and consequences for medieval people, or is there an idea that what happened to you, what you did was the result of forces beyond their control."
I then hand out the following graphic organizer and ask them to go back through the story and identify sections where characters and The Knight reference fate, destiny or any kind of astrological planets and signs.
I give them the rest of class to work on this.