Nexus: The Lion in Winter
and the Middle Ages
The Lion in Winter and the Middle Ages unit is an ideal vehicle for linking great literature and medieval history and for making both subjects much more engaging. For example, instead of teaching medieval history in the abstract, which many students find dull, this unit personalizes the Crusades, Gothic architecture, Magna Carta, feudalism, and courtly love because the play’s historical characters (Eleanor of Aquitaine, Henry II, Richard the Lionhearted, Prince John, Prince Geoffrey, Philip II, Princess Alais) figured prominently in all of these: Eleanor of Aquitaine and her husband King Louis VII led the Second Crusade; Richard the Lionhearted and Philip II led the Third Crusade; Abbot Suger, the inventor of Gothic architecture, was Eleanor’s personnel confessor and served as regent of France while she and Louis crusaded; Eleanor and Louis attended the opening of the first Gothic cathedral, Saint Denis; Richard, Philip II, and Eleanor’s granddaughter Blanche of Castile helped pay for the great Gothic cathedral Chartres; John signed Magna Carta; and the principal struggles in the play showcase feudalism. The sections on medieval relic cults, Thomas Becket, and courtly love prepare students for Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and the Arthurian romances (Eleanor of Aquitaine and her daughter Marie of Champagne commissioned the earliest and arguably best Arthurian romances, which were penned by Chrétien de Troyes). The play’s colorful figurative language is an ideal springboard to Shakespeare’s figurative language. This NEXUS volume also explores the often neglected Arabic scientific revolution of the Middle Ages, including Arabic contributions to astronomy and medicine. The musical sections examine medieval music and modern rock and folk troubadours. In the science chapter students investigate principles of physics that Leonardo da Vinci discovered from his studies of the crossbow.
The text in each chapter-lesson is LACED WITH CAPTIVATING ANECDOTES & MINI NARRATIVES THAT GRAB & HOLD STUDENTS’ ATTENTION (see text samples below in green).
NEXUS CROSS-CURRICULAR CONNECTIONS in each Lesson Deepen Students’ Understanding of the Play and Period.
MULTICULTURAL CHAPTERS: ARABIC Contributions to Medieval Culture: Advances in Astronomy, Medicine, and Science
CONTRASTING THE ROLES OF WOMEN: The play and the NEXUS chapter “Courtly Love, An Attitude Toward Women” examine the medieval roles of women, especially by contrasting the brilliant and wily twice-crowned queen Eleanor of Aquitaine with the submissive Princess Alais, who is used as a feudalistic bargaining chip throughout the play.
“CURRENT STUDIES are revealing that adolescents undergo major developmental changes in their BRAIN NETWORKS — that is, in how the different regions of their brains “talk” to one another, co-regulate, and coordinate….It is the networks’ interdependence that strengthens the rationale for a whole learner approach to education, and likely explains why, when done well, such an approach is so powerful. – EDUCATIONAL LEADERSHIP, May 2020
The Educational Leadership article goes on to state that the brain has three interdependent networks, one of which is driven by emotions. When this emotional network is NOT stimulated, which is often the case in academic learning environments with traditional textbooks, the other brain networks do not function as well. “One can think of the kids’ emotional engagement…as fueling motivated thinking, either concrete or abstract, like the outboard motor that both pushes the boat and steers it.” Part of the reason the NEXUS approach is so effective is because it not only connects disciplines, it also connects learning to students’ emotional and experiential brain networks (see The Harlem Renaissance text samples in green, the Julius Caesar text sample under “Lesson on Shakespeare’s Language and the Writings of Julius Caesar,” Antigone text samples: “Antigone’s Challenge: Democracy or Dictatorship” and “A Recipe for Tragedy: Aristotle and Oedipus Rex,” and the Macbeth sample text under “Lesson on Macbeth Themes: Fatal Passion and the War Within.”)
“The play is accessible and often funny. The teenage sons of Henry II will appeal to students, and the fine Hepburn/O’Toole film is widely available on dvd. The play is decidedly modern: witty anachronisms and ironic asides make that fact impossible to forget. Even if the play is not your principal focus, this unit is a good introduction to medieval life and literature.” – THE COLLEGE BOARD
“Chapters in The Lion in Winter & the Middle Ages provide any creative teacher with a cornucopia of ideas from which to draw lessons that cross the lines that usually separate subjects.” Breaking Ranks, NASSP (NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF SECONDARY SCHOOL PRINCIPALS)
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Aligned with COMMON CORE STANDARDS. For secondary students.