Background on Chaucer and THE CANTERBURY TALES
Lesson 1 of 9
Objective: SWBAT demonstrate understanding of background on Geoffrey Chaucer and THE CANTERBURY TALES through writing and discussion.
I explore the hero's journey with my students throughout the year by exploring works from Beowulf to Macbeth. This lesson originally appears in a unit for The Canterbury Tales on CC.BetterLesson.
My classes are held in 100 minute block sessions. The lesson below outlines background activities on Geoffrey Chaucer and The Canterbury Tales.
I explain to students that we will be studying The Canterbury Tales in this next unit. I introduce the Big Idea, "Life is a quest," by discussing how we have studied the hero's journey and how it reflects the challenges and growth of life. Just as the hero goes on a quest, life itself is a quest full of opportunities for development.
I inform the class that today we will be exploring background on Geoffrey Chaucer, the author of The Canterbury Tales, and how his life experiences informed his writing. I use my adaptation of a PowerPoint, "Geoffrey Chaucer and The Canterbury Tales" (PowerPoint: Chaucer and THE CANTERBURY TALES) (Greenville, South Carolina School District) a colleague shared with our team. I require students to take notes as I am presenting; they must list details about Chaucer (Student Work: Sample One - Background Notes) and The Canterbury Tales (Student Work: Sample Two - Background Notes) they believe are significant.
As we explore the PowerPoint, a few important details I point out are as follows:
- Chaucer precedes Shakespeare.
- Chaucer is known as England's first great writer because he was among the first writers to show English could be a respectable literary language when French was widely spoken in educated circles.
- The wide variety of jobs Chaucer held allowed him to meet people from various cultural and socio-economic backgrounds.
- Religion held a prominent place in society during the Middle Ages.
- Chaucer wrote The Canterbury Tales in English, which meant ordinary people could enjoy it.
- Canterbury is a pilgrimage site due to the martyrdom of the Archbishop of Canterbury who became a saint. People from all walks of life would go on religious pilgrimages to pray for healing, help with financial issues, or aid with other problems. I explain contemporary references to make the pilgrimage concept relevant to students: (a) how individuals of the Jewish faith may go to Old Jerusalem to pray at the Wailing Wall; (b) how Christians may make pilgrimage to Jerusalem to follow the Way of the Cross; and (c) how muslims are obligated to make a pilgrimage to Mecca during their lifetime if physically and financially able.
- In The Canterbury Tales, 29 pilgrims from various walks of life are on a pilgrimage to Canterbury. The text begins at the Tabard Inn. To make the journey more entertaining, the pilgrims engage in a storytelling contest.
To provide students with a preview of the literature, I play a video interpretation of "The Wife of Bath's Tale" (6:09) from The Canterbury Tales (Beryl Productions, 1998), also available on YouTube as posted by Beryl Productions.
After collecting student notes, we complete a class ticket out. I give students five minutes to work with a partner and write down what they learned in today's lesson. We debrief as a class, and volunteers state the following:
- I learned that Chaucer met people from all walks of life before he became a writer.
- Twenty-nine pilgrims make the pilgrimage to Canterbury.
- The Canterbury Tales was enjoyed by the masses.
- The Wife of Bath was not the typical woman of her time period.
- Thomas Becket was an outspoken Archbishop, and the king had him killed because of it.
- Poor people took offense at Becket's murder because they had a common Saxon heritage.