That's What the Farmer's Chicken Said: "The Nun's Priest's Tale" as Parody

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SWBAT analyze Chaucer's use of parody to critique Medieval social norms.

Big Idea

A parody of "What the Fox Said" has parallels to Chaucer's "Nun's Priest's Tale."

Teacher to Teacher: Lesson Context and Time Frame

In today's lesson, I introduce students to the third story from The Canterbury Tales they have the option for using as the basis of their interactive summary, an example of which (including directions) is in the document Pardoner's Prologue Interactive version. So far students have studied "The General Prologue," "The Pardoner's Prologue and Tale," and "The Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale." Students have become fairly familiar with interactive summaries and are now ready to study the most complicated of the three tales, "The Nun's Priest's Tale." In this lesson students...

  • View a parody of "What Does the Fox Say,"
  • Take notes on the genre of "The Nun's Priest's Tale,"
  • Compose summary chunks of the tale, 
  • Continue working on SOAPSTone analysis of "The General Prologue" and the tales they chose for their interactive summaries.

A Crop of Parodies: Introducing "The Nun's Priest's Tale"

10 minutes

To introduce "The Nun's Priest's Tale" I took advantage of the plethora of parodies of "What Does the Fox Say" and used the parody "What Does the Farmer Say." This parody works on several levels: 

  • It uses a farm setting,
  • It uses the genre of "The Nun's Priest's Tale,"
  • It draws on students' prior knowledge of "What Does the Fox Say."

I tell students these things before playing the video:

From Beowulf to Chanticleer: Chaucer's Mock Heroic Epic

15 minutes

Student's know the definition of parody at this point as we have continued to use and define the term throughout our study of satire and of Chaucer. Still, returning to the Power Point The Canterbury Tales Structure and Techniques.ppt and redefining the term further reinforces the idea that "The Nun's Priest's Tale" is a parody, but of what? 

Next, students take notes on the term beast fable. I tell them to see if they can find a moral in the story as they work through it as this is something we will discuss when they present their interactive summaries.

Next, I tell students that "The Nun's Priest's Tale" also contains a framing device, so we look at the frame narrative slide again before moving on.  Genre Student Notes (1) and Genre, Satire Student Notes show the progression of student notes throughout the unit.

Interpretation of Dreams: Chaucer's Chicken Argument in "The Nun's Priest's Tale"

30 minutes

To assist students in their understanding of the tale, I draw their attention to several things:

  • Chaucer frames the tale by telling us about the farm and the human inhabitants;
  • Chanticleer and Pertelote are the main characters. They have an argument. 
  • The tale contains many allusions that serve as evidence for both Chanticleer's and Pertelote's claims in their argument. 
  • One of the chickens is led to believe his/her position is correct. Look for the shift in plot following the argument. 

Next, I read the opening lines to students and ask them what they have learned about the setting and the characters. They respond:

  • The setting is a farm.
  • A widow lives there with her daughters.

I ask students what estate the widow belongs to. Someone says, "Widow." 

I say, that's correct in terms of the feminine estates, but what about the social estates.

A student responds, "Peasant." 

I ask, "How do you know?" 

"She is poor," offers a student. 

Next, we talk about the basic structure of an argument. I put the following notes on the board so students understand: 

Argument=Reason Giving

A=Assertion (a claim, an opinion)

R=Reasons (Why does each chicken have the belief s/he does?)

E=Evidence (What support does each chicken give for believing as each does?)

I tell students they can actually outline both chickens' positions as one would a formal or legitimate argument. 

At this point, I suggest, once again, that students read small portions of the tale and summarize using the chunking method we discussed earlier in the unit. This means, read a small section of the text and compose a one-sentence, 20-word summary before moving on to the next section. Student Summary Notes NPT show one student's progress working through the tale. 

I know that understanding the argument and the evidence each student uses will be challenging, so I circulate around the room as they work and allow them to work with a partner. 

It's Not Soap on a Rope: SOAPSTone Analysis Continues

5 minutes

As with the other lessons in the unit, I remind students to work on their SOAPSTone analysis of "The General Prologue" and the tale they chose for their interactive summary.SOAPSTone Reading Strategy for Primary Docs. Today, I asked them to look at the "P" and consider why Chaucer might use chickens to tell his version of a "Mock Epic." What commentary might Chaucer be giving about the epic as a form of literature?" and "What issue might Chaucer have with both the epic and the romance?" 

These are complicated questions, and students are not yet ready to answer them as they have not finished reading "The Nun's Priest's Tale" yet.