“Teaching MS Harley 2253 in the High School Classroom: Four Lesson Plans”: Introduction

Teaching MS Harley 2253 in the High School Classroom: Four Lesson Plans: Introduction 

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Susanna Fein

Kent State University

 

In Spring 2017 I led a graduate-level seminar on medieval manuscripts and paleography that focused on the intriguing range of texts found in London, British Library MS Harley 2253. Made ca. 1330-40 in the West Midlands of England, this book is “the most significant trilingual assemblage of secular and religious writing to survive from fourteenth-century England.”[1]  Teaching the assortment of literary and political texts from this manuscript has become newly feasible because important resources have been made available in just the last few years. First, the manuscript can now be examined in rich detail via a full-color digital facsimile, accessible online at British Library Digitised Manuscripts.[2] Consequently, Harley’s folios can be projected before students’ eyes, ready to be examined by zoomed-in focus, or its bold textual juxtapositions can be looked at via an open-book format. Second, all of Harley’s 127 texts—58 in Middle English, 52 in Anglo-French, 13 in Latin, and 4 bi- or trilingual—are now accessible in modern English versions alongside their original texts by means of an edition with facing-page translations: The Complete Harley 2253 Manuscript, Volumes 1-3,[3] published in 2014–15 in the TEAMS Middle English Texts Series.

            Most of the grad students in my seminar (M.A. and Ph.D. level) were, as it turned out, high-spirited, dedicated high school teachers from schools in the broadly diverse, urban-rural region of Northeast Ohio. So our seminar discussions frequently turned to the potentialities of bringing the engaging texts of Harley 2253 to teenage students of varying capabilities. Harley is famous for its romance of King Horn (an adolescent growing to manhood), and for its many secular love lyrics, political songs, bawdy tales, debates on women, comedies, satires, manuals of etiquette and morality, religious poems, and biblical stories. From this unparalleled resource of medieval humor and morality, of literary art mixed with authentic social history, my graduate students spotted many exciting opportunities for the high school classroom.

            As a group, they agreed that their own classes, populated with curious, sometimes rebellious or surly fourteen- to eighteen-year-olds, could richly benefit from the ways that this very rare and startling manuscript delivers an unfiltered glimpse into medieval life and values. In it, the culture of the day was recorded by an eclectic scribe who—among his other duties as a legally-trained clerk—served perhaps as a schoolmaster for a well-off family in Ludlow, which was in the 1330s a thriving wool town situated near the Welsh border. By the end of the seminar, four participants had devised innovative lesson plans for setting some select Harley texts before their own students.

            I am struck by the ingenuity of these plans, which are being tested out in classrooms as I write this. They are not the sorts of lessons likely to be devised by college teachers, though they might be adaptable to any college course on medieval English literature. High school teachers are exceptionally keen to capture the relevance of texts to young minds whom they grow to know well by day-to-day contact. So one of the following lesson plans (by Heather Matoszkia) asks teenage students to engage historically with political protest movements of the 1960s (and in the present day) while also reading some very pointed Harley texts of medieval social protest. Another (by Charmae Cottom) perceives how King Horn can be a text of relevance to modern high school students who face severe challenges at home (deprivation, neglect, or parental opioid abuse) that leave them feeling vulnerable or “orphaned.” In asking students to study King Horn, Cottom offers them a reader’s theater script of this fine romance, so that they may inhabit medieval lives while watching how a youngster’s losses impel the successful arc of his adult life. The third lesson plan (by Stephanie Andrews) selects three highly-teachable texts to explore issues of culture, politics, and gender with students, asking them to reflect upon how these broad social constructs influenced medieval life, and continue to do so in our fraught modern times. The fourth lesson-plan (by Annie Brust) offers a stimulating look at women’s history, combining the uniquely spirited text of Gilote and Johane – a frank debate between two very free-thinking women – with key texts of modern feminism.

            I am pleased to offer this invigorating set of lesson plans designed especially for the high school classroom—but no doubt adaptable to other settings—to readers of The Once and Future Classroom. As I do so, I invite each of you to explore for yourselves the wise and funny, stimulating and surprising texts of MS Harley 2253.

Table of Contents

  1. What do YOU Stand For? Elements of Protest in MS Harley 2253 and in Modern Culture,by Heather Matoszkia
  2. Teaching the Harley 2253 King Horn with a Reader’s-Theatre Script, by Charmae Cottom
  3. Using the Harley Lyrics in the Inner-City Classroom, by Stephanie Andrews
  4. Gilote and Johane: Finding a Medieval Woman’s Voice and Teaching Women’s History, by Annie Brust

[1] J. Fumo, “Review of Susanna Fein, ed. and trans., with David Raybin and Jan Ziolkowski, The Complete Harley 2253 Manuscript, Volumes 1-3 (Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 2014-15),” Speculum 92 (2017): 522-24, at 522.

[2] “Harley MS 2253,” British Library Digitised Manuscripts, at http://www.bl/uk/manuscripts/FullDisplay.aspx?ref=Harley_MS_2253.

[3] Susanna Fein, ed. and trans., with David Raybin and Jan Ziolkowski, The Complete Harley 2253 Manuscript, Volumes 1-3 (Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 2014-15).

 

[1] J. Fumo, “Review of Susanna Fein, ed. and trans., with David Raybin and Jan Ziolkowski, The Complete Harley 2253 Manuscript, Volumes 1-3 (Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 2014-15),” Speculum 92 (2017): 522-24, at 522.