The Genre's the Thing: Understanding Satirical Structures in Chaucer's "The Canterbury Tales"

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SWBAT analyze Chaucer's satire through their knowledge about genre structure in the epic, Arthurian Romance, literary confessional, and exemplum.

Big Idea

Satire builds on genre.

Teacher to Teacher: Lesson Context and Time Frame

Today's lesson is the one in which I give students structural and historical notes on The Canterbury Tales. For the most part, the lesson follows the lecture format. Students have worked with "The General Prologue" the past 2-3 days and are now ready to learn more about Medieval life and about the structure of the tales. Today, students will

  • take notes from the Power Point I have created.
  • continue working on their SOAPSTone analysis of "The General Prologue"

“And gladly wolde he lerne, and gladly teche.” Putting Chaucer's Tales in Their Social Context

30 minutes

This Power Point contains 22 slides. The Canterbury Tales Structure and Techniques. Rather than lecture students all period, I like to present the first 12 slides in this lesson and save the others for the tales that they reference. 

At this point, I want students to understand the idea of frame narrative more thoroughly. They know the concept applies to "The General Prologue," but they'll see "frames" for both "The Pardoner's Tale" and "The Wife of Bath's Tale." Thus, I begin with this slide. As students take notes, I remind them of the frame in "The General Prologue." 

Next, we move to a discussion of "Estates." First, we define the term and then break it down into the three estates. I take care to clarify that the feminine estates are not separate but are estates within the peasantry and the nobility. There is only one estate w/in the Church, and that's "Virgin." As we work our way through the notes, I take time for discussion. For example, I want to hear students respond to the question: "Which estate did Medieval society most admire?" Next, I want to hear their thoughts as to why the Middle Ages privileged "Virgin" over the other feminine estates. Satire Student Notes shows that we also revisit satire

I also include the slides on characterization, direct characterization, and indirect characterization in the presentation. This sets the scene for students understanding of "The Pardoner's Prologue" and "The Wife of Bath's Prologue" in subsequent lessons as these two pilgrims give direct information about themselves. 

Additionally, we discuss foil and archetype. I ask students to think about the pilgrims' descriptions in "The General Prologue" and to think about which characters contrast with one another. Then we talk about why an author uses foils. One student says, "To show what a character is really like." I say that's a good response because opposites do help clarify one another since they draw attention to ideas and details via contrasts. Characterization, Foil, Archetype  shows one student's notes from the lecture. 

The students know that the Power Point has many more slides, but I tell them that I want to save those notes for application to specific tales. 


How "gladly would he lerne"? Checking for Understanding

15 minutes

After ending the lecture, I like to ask students to share their learning with the class. Thus, volunteers share their notes by processing their learning in a share-around. 

Doing this allows students to help one another fill in gaps and gives an opportunity to fill in gaps. It also shows students where then need more and less in their notes. 

For example, several students needed clarification about estates, both in terms of the definition and in terms of their understanding of the feminine estates in relation to the three main estates. 

Finally, I reminded students that these notes and their newly acquired understanding of the social context of the tales would serve them as they work on their SOAPSTone analysis of "The General Prologue."SOAPSTone Reading Strategy for Primary Docs.