Teaching the Harley 2253 King Horn with a Reader’s Theatre Script

Teaching the Harley 2253 King Horn with a Reader’s Theatre Script

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Charmae Cottom

English Teacher, Pioneer Career and Technology Center, Shelby, Ohio Adjunct Instructor, Lorain County Community College, Elyria, Ohio

 

Written in three languages over six hundred years ago, MS Harley 2253 provides insights into fourteenth-century devotional interests, romance narratives, and politics. When presented in a twenty-first-century format, some of its texts, such as King Horn, can inspire and motivate today’s students. With the help of social media such as Twitter and Facebook, computer games such as Kahoot and Jeopardy, and recent reality television shows such as Dr. Phil, our students are primed to analyze the characters of King Horn in a modern setting. Transforming King Horn into a play allows this medieval romance to come alive for high school students, who can then imaginatively inhabit its characters and understand their conflicts, emotions, and responses. It is also possible to relate the romance’s lessons to today’s growing orphan mentality, which may plausibly be seen in the behavior of Horn as a vulnerable child, then knight, and then adult king. Such a romance may therefore inspire relevant comment and reflection upon the current staggering epidemic of orphans in our schools, a situation fostered, unfortunately, by the absence of parents through opiate abuse and drug-related imprisonments.[1]

 

Teaching Environment

I have devised a reader’s theatre script of the Harley 2253 version of King Horn for implementation in the College Credit Plus class at Pioneer Career and Technology Center in Shelby, Richland County, Ohio. This Center is Ohio’s fifth largest vocational school, serving the area around Richland and Crawford Counties. Pioneer CTC offers a seamless educational path with advanced college prep courses designed for students who plan to continue their education at a college or technical school. Students may earn college credits while at Pioneer CTC through articulation agreements with area colleges and tech schools. Approximately 45% of the graduating class pursues further education after graduation. The student population is 90.1% white and 9% Hispanic. Almost 40% of Pioneer CTC families are below the poverty level.

Having taught 11th and 12th Grade Language Arts, College Credit Plus English, and Speech classes at Pioneer for eight years, I have learned that the general public sometimes has a misperception of students who attend vocational or technology schools. There seems to be a societal preconceived notion that these students do not plan to attend college, or that they may not be bright enough to continue on to higher education. Neither conception is accurate. The vocational school atmosphere is comparable to that of a junior college; students are motivated to learn a skill they may take with them immediately into the work force or that will provide a financial stability to support their secondary schooling. I teach the full texts of Beowulf, Frankenstein, and Macbeth without hesitation, and I am confident that my students can relate well to the orphan-hero, King Horn.

 

The Plot of King Horn

After his father King Allof of Sudenne is killed by a Saracen and his mother is driven into hiding, young Horn is captured by pagans. He is so beautiful that they cannot kill the young Horn, so they set him afloat in a rudderless ship with his twelve companions. They row to Westness where King Aylmer welcomes them into his court. Aylmer’s beautiful daughter, Rimenild, falls in love with Horn. When Horn temporarily rejects her, she and Athelbrus (the king’s steward) arrange for Horn and his companions to be knighted. Rimenild gives Horn a magic ring. Determined to prove his prowess before their marriage, Horn defeats a ship full of Saracens.

The next day, Horn finds Rimenild crying about a dream in which she has caught and lost a fish. He comforts her, but in interpreting the dream, he also predicts unhappiness. Fikenild, one of Horn’s companions, maliciously tells Aylmer that Horn has seduced his daughter and is planning to kill him. The king banishes Horn, who entrusts Rimenild to his closest companion Athulf. Horn asks Rimenild to wait seven years before taking a [?]  husband. He sails to Ireland, where he serves in King Thurston’s court under a false name. When a Saracen giant challenges Thurston, Horn undertakes the fight and slays his enemy, who had just revealed himself as the slayer of Horn’s father. Thurston’s men defeat the other Saracens, and when his own two sons die in the battle, Thurston offers Horn his kingdom and his daughter. The knight gives an ambiguous answer to the proposal but promises to remain for seven years.
           

He does not contact Rimenild, whose father has promised her to King Mody of Reynes. She sends out a messenger to bring Horn the news, but this messenger drowns before he can return to his beloved. Horn explains his situation to Thurston and sails to Westness with an Irish army, arriving on Rimenild’s wedding day. He exchanges clothes with a pilgrim and attends the feast, where he makes puns about Rimenild’s drinking horn, alludes to her dream, and drops his ring into her drink. Finally, after testing her loyalty by claiming that her lover is dead, Horn reveals his identity and his army slays the wedding guests. Horn then marries Rimenild but vows not to sleep with her until he is the King of Sudenne, his birthright. He departs with Athulf and the Irish soldiers, and, with the help of a Christian knight (Athulf’s father), they regain his patrimony, reinstate Christianity, and rescue Horn’s mother.

Meanwhile, Fikenild has built a sea-bound stronghold and begins to woo Rimenild, who is imprisoned there. When Horn dreams that his companion is about to defile his wife, he returns, arriving just as Fikenild and Rimenild are about to be married. He attends the wedding disguised as a beggar, and when Rimenild faints, he slays Fikenild and his men. Horn makes Athulf’s cousin king of Westness and gives Athelbrus Mody’s kingdom. He marries Athulf to Reynild (the princess of Ireland) and makes him king of Ireland, before returning to Sudenne to rule with his queen.

 

Modern Rationale for the Unit on King Horn: The Orphan Mentality

All generations have an orphan-hero. It has been said that there are no new stories, just retellings of old ones. In “From Folktales to Fiction: Orphan Characters in Children’s Literature,” Melanie A. Kimball provides a comparison of orphan tales from around the world.[2] She shows that although the details of orphan stories vary, they share common elements. These elements include the orphan’s isolation; his mistreatment; helpers and companions (human, animal, or supernatural); adventures and ordeals; and punishments of those who wronged him; happy rewards. All these elements are present in the Harley King Horn. After all students complete an “Orphan-Hero Elements Chart” so that they identify and understand these elements, their answers will readily facilitate classroom and small group discussion.[3]   

Susanna Fein, editor and translator of MS Harley 2253, suggests that “clues embedded in the Harley context for Horn exhibit a clear understanding that this romance is here being preserved as a performance piece” (Fein et al, 449).[4] To recreate this experience in a contemporary dramatic format, students will read King Horn from a reader’s theatre script, which I have adapted from Fein’s translation. I have managed to maintain much of Fein’s rendition while also adding a five-act structure, stage directions, and performed dialogue and narration. I have also included a character list, scene changes, and a summary of events at the beginning of each of the five acts.

     One clue that our scribe wanted King Horn to be a performance piece lies in its first lines:                        

Alle heo beo blythe

                        That to my song ylythe.

                        A song Ychalle ou singe

                        Of Allof the gode kynge.  (ll. 1–4)

 

                        (They’ll all be glad

                        Who listen to my song.

                        I’ll sing you a song

                        Of Allof the good king)

Interpreting these lines as a call to the audience, I assign them in my reader’s theatre script to a narrator. To create a large cast and benefit a large class, I incorporate a new narrator for each of the first three acts. In Act 4, to focus on the action and dialogue, I remove the narrators. To build suspense in Act 5, I include all of the narrators, who will end the play in a vocal harmonic “Amen” performed in a musical C-chord. I have added instrumental strumming and melodic verse to the narration periodically throughout the reader’s theatre.

            Once the class has read aloud the King Horn reader’s theatre script, the students follow up by creating their own Dr. Phil-type episode by adopting the roles of Dr. Phil, King Horn, Rimenild, Athulf, and Fikenild. Students then use the information they have gathered on their “Orphan Hero Element” worksheets plus what they have acquired from class discussion to portray the characters in a Dr. Phil-style setting, with the teacher acting as the facilitator and the students portraying the characters, attempting to resolve the emotional and social conflicts that plague the King Horn characters. This role playing promotes the characters to be identified in a realistic setting and it is a fun activity for the students.

            The MS Harley 2253 version of King Horn represents Horn maturing from “a frightened noble child who develops a love life, achieves several military victories, becomes a sophisticated strategist with his use of disguises and coded statements to Rymenhild, and ultimately wins back his love and his kingdom, both of which have been taken away from him unjustly.” (Herzman, 12).[5] Just as King Horn provided relevant life-lessons in its own time, its hero’s adventures, disappointments, and decisions can prove instructive for the millennial student, who might or might not be impacted by the harrowing outcomes of drug abuse and childhood trauma. Orphaned folk-tale protagonists experience fear, loss, and abandonment. Until the day when war, disease, and drug addiction are obsolete, such orphan protagonists will continue to exemplify how one can overcome shortcomings and, in the process, become a hero for society.

 

The Teaching Process

  1. Assign the Fein translation to the students, and distribute the “Orphan-Elements Worksheets” for students to complete while reading (see Appendix).

 

  1. After the students have read King Horn individually, discuss the characters and how students believe they ought to be performed.

 

       III. Discuss the relevance of King Horn today.  Would he still be considered a hero?

 

  1. Assign the characters to students.

 

  1. As time and resources permit, students can be responsible for costumes and props.

 

  1. Again, as time permits, present the play or sections of the play in class. A favorite   character is Rimenild, so if selections must be made, I suggest that students perform her scenes with Horn. Teenagers will have fun over-acting Rimenild’s scenes.

 

 VII. For greater impact, students can next ad-lib a talk-show scenario, with key characters  reacting to current situations.

 

Annotated Bibliography

Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Princeton: Princeton University Press,

  1. Print.

 

The Hero with a Thousand Faces was published in 1949 and then revised in 1968. Joseph Campbell examines different mythologies in order to get at the similarities found in all or most mythologies, hence the term “comparative mythology.” Going step by step, and using examples pulled from all over the world, Campbell constructs the monomyth, a universal structure found in mythologies, folk tales, and fairy tales, commonly referred to as “the Hero’s Journey,” but the monomyth does not concern only the hero, but the society in which the hero operates. The Hero with a Thousand Faces, therefore, is Campbell’s exploration of just one aspect of myth, the hero’s journey. In this “composite adventure,” as he calls it, the author relates “the tales of a number of the world’s symbolic carriers of the destiny of Everyman.” Even focusing on just one aspect of myth is a heavy undertaking, and Campbell acknowledges that he is only describing “a few striking examples from a number of widely scattered, representative traditions” to illustrate the common elements of the hero’s journey appearing in many cultures around the world. Part I, “The Adventure of the Hero,” delineates the hero’s journey in three basic phases: Departure, Initiation, and Return. Part 2, “The Cosmogonic Cycle,” explores myths about the world’s creation and destruction, a macrocosm of the hero’s journey.

 

Fein, Susanna, ed. and trans., with David Raybin and Jan Ziolkowski. The Complete Harley

2253, Volume 2. Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 2014.

 

MS Harley 2253 is dated ca. 1340 and housed in the British Library, London. It features  religious and secular lyrics in Middle English, Anglo-Norman (a form of French), and Latin. The translations are easy to read. This edition contains an introduction and explanatory notes. The manuscript’s contents encompass many genres, including saints’ lives, lyrics, and the romance King Horn, which I use for the reader’s theatre script.

 

Herzman, Ronald B., Graham Drake, and Eve Salisbury, eds. Four Romances of England:

King Horn, Havelok the Dane, Bevis of Hampton, Athelston. Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 1997.

 

In this volume, Herzman and Salisbury provide another Middle English text of King Horn along with the romances Havelok the Dane, Bevis of Hampton, and Athelston, which all deal with the Matter of Britain, that is, accounts of actions and adventures taking place in the British Isles. Each text is accompanied with an Introduction, Synopsis and Bibliography of the story. Featuring the hallmarks of the medieval romance genre and spanning the mid-thirteenth to the late fourteenth century, these works include disinherited nobles, thrilling battles, love stories, dragons, and all sorts of marvels and adventures. They provide a  cross-section of the Middle English romance genre.

 

Kimball, Melanie A. “From Folktales to Fiction: Orphan Characters in Children’s

Literature.” Library Trends 47.3 (Winter 1999): 558-78.

 

Orphan-heroes and heroines are familiar characters in children’s literature, particularly in the fiction of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This type of protagonist is rooted in folktales. Kimball provides an analysis of fifty folktales from different cultures, which shows that, while details vary, there are some universal elements in orphan stories.

 

Thompson, Stith. The Folktale. 1885-1976 New York, The Dryden Press, 1946.

Stith Thompson was an American folklorist. He is the “Thompson” of the Aarne-Thompson classification system, which indexes certain folktales by their structure and assigns them AT numbers. He also developed an alpha-decimal motif-index system (A~Z followed by numeral) for cataloging individual motifs. Thompson discusses folklore motifs and their patterns from all over the world. The chapter most helpful for this lesson is Chapter IV, “Test and Hero Tales.” The chapter is divided into the regions of the American Indians, but the information is interesting to compare with the motifs that are common with the Medieval heroes. Thompson does discuss other similar motifs such as the birthmark, the quest, and children afloat in boats.

 

APPENDIX. Orphan-Hero Elements Worksheets

  1. Orphan-Hero Plot Elements

Mistreatment

Passage

Meaning

Speaker

PAGE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

         

 

Helper(s)

Passage

Meaning

Speaker

PAGE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

         

 

Quests

Passage

Meaning

Speaker

PAGE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

         

 

Obstacles

Passage

Meaning

Speaker

PAGE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Supernatural Elements

Passage

Meaning

Speaker

PAGE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

         

 

Encounters with Nature

Passage

Meaning

Speaker

PAGE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

         

 

Punishments for Opponents

Passage

Meaning

Speaker

PAGE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rewards for Protagonists

Passage

Meaning

Speaker

PAGE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Orphan-Hero Dysfunctions (for example: alienation, poor self-esteem, feelings of unworthiness, inability to recognize others’ emotions, indiscriminate friendliness)

Passage

Meaning

Speaker

PAGE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] “Ohio is among the top five states with the highest rates of opioid-related overdose deaths. In 2016, there were 3,613 opioid-related overdose deaths­­­ in Ohio—a rate of 32.9 deaths per 100,000 persons and more than double the national rate of 13.3 deaths per 100,000. Since 2010, the rate has tripled from 10 deaths per 100,000. In the same period, the number of heroin-related deaths increased from 355 to 1,478 deaths, and deaths related to synthetic opioids rose from 175 to 2,296 deaths.” See ” Ohio Opioid Summary,” National Institute of Drug Abuse,

https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/opioids/opioid-summaries-by-state/ohio-opioid-summary

 

[2] See the Annotated Bibliography, above, for reference.

 

[3] See also Stith Thompson in the Annotated Bibliography.

 

[4] Susanna Fein, ed. and trans., with David Raybin and Jan Ziolkowski. The Complete Harley

2253, Volume 2. Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 2014.

[5] Ronald B. Herzman, Graham Drake, and Eve Salisbury, eds., Four Romances of England: King Horn, Havelok the Dane, Bevis of Hampton, Athelston, TEAMS Middle English Texts Series (Kalamazoo, 1999).