By Patricia Green
Published Online (2005)
Introduction: Teaching medieval literature and history to high school students is a challenge since it is important to make the subject matter relevant to the students’ lives, many of whom think that yesterday is history. Themes and stories can spark interesting class discussions. This curriculum unit can be used in the English or social studies classroom. This unit is especially conducive for teaching cross-curricular units between the two departments. Arthurian legends are taught freshman, sophomore and senior years, so this unit can be used for several preps. Middle and elementary school teachers can modify or simplify the lessons to suit their students. The four-fold method of interpreting a story can give students insight into how medieval people thought. It is customary to use one’s own experiences to interpret a work; however, the realization that medieval people did not think the same way that people in the twenty-first century do can be a valuable lesson in a culturally diverse classroom. Viewing the world through another’s perspective can be enlightening and interesting to the high school students.
The British versions of the Arthurian romances are usually taught to high school students. This curriculum unit concentrates on the French writers. The unit also includes the comparison of women’s and men’s perspectives on similar stories in the stories by Marie de France and Chretien de Troyes. The curriculum unit emphasizes the King Arthur Legends from a female viewpoint in the Lais of Marie de France and the male point of view in Arthurian Romances by Chretien de Troyes. Most Medieval units focus on the time period before the year 1000 with Beowulf and the fourteenth century with Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Mallory’s fifteenth century version of Le Morte d’ Arthur is usually the Arthurian legend found in the high school textbook. Chretien de Troyes and Marie de France bridge the gap with stories that are from the twelfth century when the code of chivalry and knights in shining armor were not a waning phenomenon. French and linguistic teachers could compare the original stories in Old French to contemporary language. Students can gain an understanding of how medieval people thought by trying to interpret literature in the four levels of interpretation. This medieval unit gives high school students the opportunity to widen their horizons and read legends that are different from the traditional curriculum.