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Nexus: The Lion in Winter & THE MIDDLE AGES



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1. THE PLAY’S THE THING: This chapter explores the functions of a play and introduces The Lion in Winter, its plot and characters: Eleanor of Aquitaine, Henry II, Richard the Lionheart, John, Geoff, Philip II and Alais. [THEATER]

2. GOTHIC ARCHITECTURE: This chapter examines the birth of Gothic architecture and the blend of religion and politics that made it possible in the Ile de France. [Eleanor of Aquitaine was on hand for the opening of the first Gothic cathedral, St. Denis, in 1144. Her first husband’s advisor, Abbot Suger, invented the new architectual form.] [ARCHITECTURE & HISTORY]

3. CHARTRES: A sister story to “Gothic Architecture,” this chapter takes students inside the great cathedral of Chartres. [Several of the characters in the play helped pay for the cathedral, and, according to legend, the faces of two of Chartre’s Royal Portal statues were modeled on Eleanor and Louis VII when they returned from the Second Crusade.] [ARCHITECTURE & HISTORY]

4. PILGRIMAGE TO CRUSADE: The Crusades are often taught in the abstract. This chapter explores the Crusades in terms of characters in the play who participated in them—characters kids know and care about. [Eleanor of Aquitaine went on the 2nd Crusade; her son Richard the Lionhearted and King Philip II of France led the 3rd.] [HISTORY]

5. FEUDALISM: Feudalism, too, is typically taught as an abstract concept. Here we examine it in relation to the central conflict of The Lion in Winter. This approach gives students a much deeper understanding of both the play and the medieval world. [HISTORY]

6. MAGNA CARTA: This chapter looks at the significance of the Magna Carta, then and now. [Students, of course, know the signer of the Magna Carta, King John, from The Lion in Winter and the Robin Hood legend.] [HISTORY]

7. GREGORIAN CHANT: This chapter explores chant and its influence on later music, including a Simon & Garfunkle hit. [MUSIC]

8. MUSIC FOR THOMAS BECKET: Medieval motets—written in honor of Thomas Becket, Henry II’s chancellor and later archbishop of Canterbury—are examined in this story (links are made to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and to The Lion in Winter). [MUSIC]

9. FALCONRY: To give students a better feel for the period, we examine this medieval sport, which is alluded to in The Lion in Winter. [SPORTS & HISTORY]

10. COURTLY LOVE, AN ATTITUDE TOWARD WOMEN: This chapter explores the tradition which, beginning with the Provencal poets, reaches across the centuries, influencing Sir Walter Raleigh, Shakespeare, Shelley, the Pre-Raphaelites, Rostand. Courtly love was disseminated throughout Europe from the courts of Eleanor of Aquitaine and her daughter Marie, the Countess of Champagne. It was also promoted in the Arthurian romances of Chrétien de Troyes, one of which, Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart, was commissioned by Eleanor’s daughter, Marie. It is the first known story of Lancelot. [LITERATURE & HISTORY]

11. THE LOVE POETS: A companion piece to “Courtly Love, An Attitude Toward Women,” this chapter looks at the lyrics and culture of the troubadours. Together the two stories give students a thorough understanding of the courtly tradition later used by Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet and Edmund Rostand in Cyrano de Bergerac. [Many of the historical personages represented in The Lion in Winter were immersed in the troubadour tradition. Eleanor’s grandfather, William IX of Aquitaine, is credited with being the first troubadour; Eleanor, the great patron of troubadours, was celebrated in song by the famous 12th-century love poet, Bernart de Ventadorn; Richard the Lionheart was a trouvere, and troubadour Betran de Born wrote about and participated in the Plantagenet family feuds.] [LITERATURE]

12. RELIC CULTS & THE GUELPH TREASURE: To understand the Crusades, one must first understand relic cults. In this chapter, we focus on the Guelph Treasure, a medieval collection of elaborate reliquaries, many of which were acquired by Eleanor and Henry’s son-in-law, Henry the Lion, duke of Saxony. [Several American museums own pieces of this treasure, which was dispersed shortly before the rise of Hitler.] [HISTORY & ART HISTORY]

13. MEDIEVAL MEDICINE: This chapter explores the first experiential science, medieval medicine, which paved the way for modern experimental science. [Links are made to the medieval physician in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Friar Lawrence. Students understand the Friar’s philosophies and medicinal practices much better when they have a background in medieval medicine.] [SCIENCE, HISTORY & LITERATURE]

14. ARAB ASTRONOMY: In the 12th century most astronomical advances were made in the Arab world. We look at some Arab contributions and offer several possible reasons why the West lagged behind. [ASTRONOMY]

15. PHYSICS OF THE CROSSBOW: Leonardo da Vinci’s studies of the aerodynamics of the crossbow paved the way for his invention of a flying machine. (We examine Leonardo’s flying machine in our Romeo & Juliet and the Renaissance volume.) This chapter takes students through the steps of some of Leondardo’s aerodynamics-related discoveries. Leonardo also discovered and anticipated other laws of mechanics from his crossbow studies, including vector addition, Hooke’s spring law, and the neutral plane. All these are explored in this chapter. [PHYSICS]

16. TROUBADOURS OF ROCK: To show students the relevance of troubadour culture today, we examine the lyrics of rock-and-roll poet/singers, who, to an extent, continue the medieval performance tradition. [LITERATURE & MUSIC]

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