Canterbury – Part One
I have been – rather deliberately – NOT blogging about work this year. What’s there to say? It sucks. They’ve completely broken our school and won’t listen when we try to tell them. The number of people who are looking for a way out…. but I don’t want to talk about that.
I’d rather talk about Chaucer. RIVETING, RIGHT?
Except that it is. I was so horrified that I would have to teach The Canterbury Tales this year, now that they’ve got me teaching juniors and seniors. I remembered “reading” them in high school myself and never wanting anything more to do with them. Blech.
But I’m actually completely falling in love with them (which, of course, is what I do with all of these pieces of literature that I failed to appreciate as a student). Before we began reading, we watched the hilarious (and fairly inappropriate, but hey – Chaucer) Canterbury Tales lecture by Mark Steel. Then we read the Prologue together, using a chart to track characterization for each of the people mentioned.
Afterward, they split into pairs and chose stories. I provided them with a modern English verse translation, very true to the Middle English version, and asked them to read it together and annotate. I warned them that they would be presenting their stories to the class, and I warned them that they’d be having more fun reading than one might ordinarily expect from 14th century literature.
“Mrs. B,” said one of my favorite students – a brazen, fearless young lady – “I would just like you to know that I read out loud, and I just read, out loud, the phrase ‘He grabbed her by the twat.’ In class. To a group of boys.”
“Congratulations,” replied I.
“Uhm,” said a boy, flagging me down with an uncertain expression on his face, “Does this, uh, say what I think it says?”
“What do you think it says?”
“Uh…”. His face reddened.
I smiled. “Ah. I see. Probably.”
Today, I upped the ante (and hopefully their comprehension) by giving them another version of their stories. This proved to be A LOT of work for me. This summer I’d acquired Peter Ackroyd’s prose retelling of The Canterbury Tales from my local floundering Borders store. It’s profoundly readable. Or did I mean profanely readable? I’ll tell you what – I read paranormal romances, and this book still made me blush. Mostly because you just don’t expect to see quite that many f-bombs and c-words in fourteenth century literature. Anyway, I desperately wanted them to read the story in a more approachable format, but I certainly couldn’t hand them that, so last night I went through the entire book and ferreted out all of the Big Naughty Words. I used tiny rectangles of Post-It to censor the over-the-top language (yes, I know, I hate censorship too, but seriously, I could NOT hand out packets sprinkled with THAT word!), which involved about six hours of skimming/speed-reading, plus an hour of censoring. Then I came into work very early this morning and photocopied, ooohhhhhhh, the entire book. FAIR USE, beeches!
So to cut to the chase… today I handed out the stories and my kids are rolling in the aisles. The fart jokes, in particular, seem to appeal to their 18-year-old senses of humor. I haven’t seen the girl I mentioned earlier yet – she’s in my last period class – but I’m eagerly anticipating her exclamations of astonishment as she inevitably puzzles out what words I’ve cut out…. That class is the one that will really enjoy this version, I think, beyond the flatulence. The morning seniors are a more serious group of kiddos, and more innocent – they undoubtedly missed some of the worst of it. “Innocent” would not describe the afternoon seniors…
For Monday, they’ll be putting together approximately 5-minute long presentations to tell their tales. I’m imploring them to do something creative, funny, memorable – something that will keep the rest of the class engaged and entertained, as well as informed. So far, it sounds like I won’t be disappointed. I’m not entirely sure how the gorilla suit fits “The Manciple’s Tale,” but I’m eager to find out on Monday…
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