Tag Archives: The Black Prince

Week 36 – A Pop Essay to Make You Foam at the Mouth


As the year is winding down, I’ve been wanting to assess my students on the writing process when left totally up to them.  I also wanted to know what they took from the movie “A Knight’s Tale” that we watched in class as part of our unit on the middle ages.  (We watched a safer, denuded, and cleaned up “airplane” version.)   So when they came back from recess, I said, “Okay, Pop Essay!  Get out binder paper and your notes.”


Using your notes and the True/False list you made while viewing the A Knight’s Tale, outline and write a first draft of an expository essay.  You have one class period only.

 Here is your prompt:  How historically accurate is the movie “A Knight’s Tale”?  Describe the most important moments that are accurate and explain why, and then describe the most interesting  moments that are inaccurate and explain why.  What conclusions can you draw about our popular notion of the middle ages based on the film?

Do your outline here.


The students never batted an eye.  They all got out paper and their notes, and we looked at the prompt.

We took a minute to “deconstruct” the prompt.  First I asked them where we would find our thesis statement.  We underlined the first question.  I explained that they would need to turn it into a statement, but clearly I need to go over it again because one student used the question as it was written.

Then we numbered the jobs that the prompt was asking to be answered.   We put a 1 at “describe” and drew an arrow to what we were to describe and circled it: the important moments.  Then we put a 1a at the word “why” to remind us to give examples and reasons.  Then we put a 2 at the second “describe” drew a circle around the words “interesting moments” and drew a squiggly line under the word “interesting” to make it clear that “important” and “interesting” are two different concepts.  Then we put a 2a at the word, “why”.

Then we looked at the last sentence, and students were relieved to see the word “conclusions”. They accurately connected the word to a conclusion paragraph.  You don’t need to do it that way, but it does make a nice way to wrap up your thoughts.

Then I introduced the idea of the magic number 3.  They need two sets of moments.  Emphasis on the plural.  I told them that it is always useful to pick three ideas to support their thesis.  This meant that with a topic sentence they would be looking at about seven sentences for their body paragraphs.  Each moment must be supported.  The three moments plus three examples plus one topic sentence equals about seven sentences.  That gave them an idea of the length of the paper.

I wanted them to give me strong outlines, and so I told them that they needed to make the outline specific enough that if they didn’t finish the paper, I could still give them credit based on what they were planning to say as shown in their outline.  One the other hand, I warned them that they didn’t want to make the outline so specific that they didn’t have time to write it.  Only one didn’t get to write.  But his outline is amazing.  (We’ll work on it.)  Some finished early.  I told them that in this case, they need to check that they were on topic, then do as much revision as possible before the essays are picked up.  They needed to think about legibility, grammar and mechanics, idea and content, organization, word choice, and voice.

It takes time to master timed writing. They should not beat themselves up because they didn’t finish, but to consider why they hadn’t.

Instead of posting several essays, I thought I could get more student’s work up if I cherry picked some paragraphs and moments that I found to be most interesting.

Here are some openings:

The movie “A Knight’s Tale” focuses on medieval times.  But is the movie accurate to history?  In this paper:  What is accurate?  What is inaccurate? and why?

How accurate is the movie “A Knight’s Tale”? This movie is about a squire, the helper of a knight, named William, and how he changed his stars.  Which means that he went from squire to knight.

Is “A Knight’s Tale” historically inaccurate? Or is it both?  Let us find out.

And some 1st body paragraphs:

This will be the accurate section of my paper.  Training daily is a huge part of a knight’s  life.  That is how they have lots of power to hold these huge swords (not always big swords, but heavy).  Courtly love is love in the nobility.  One of the rules is when you speak to your lover, you will foam at the mouth.  The Black Prince is a real character.  His real name is Prince Edward.  He is famous for his victories.  He does help other kings and, yes, he does tournaments.  There is still many more. 

First of all, this movie had a lot of accuracies, some unexpected.  There was, in fact, daily training for all knights.  William wasn’t doing a lot of extra training. All the rules of jousting and the stuff that happened (including getting hurt) did happen.  This is important because it was actually unwarped despite how silly it sometimes seemed.  William also followed the rules of courtly love.  That is very important because to some people could see that it would be crazy how one would follow and constantly think about another.

Now I will describe a few accurate parts.  Most of the dances were accurate, but not all of them were.  This was important because William got closer to the girl he liked.  Only widows having men’s job (blacksmithing) was accurate.  William needed a good blacksmith.  People were hanged.  Roland uses this to show William what could happen to him.

First, I will discuss the accuracies of this movie. First on accuracies is Knights.  Knights had to have people pay them taxes so they can go to a tournament.  Also, in Europe, if you are not of noble birth, you cannot be a knight.  Next is Ulric von Lichtenstein.  Ulric was an actual character from history who was a knight.  Next is apprentices.  Most children were apprenticed around the age of 7.

And some 2nd body paragraphs (I didn’t give the whole paragraphs for some of these because there was a lot of repetition.)

This next paragraph is about how inaccurate it is.  They filled the lances with pasta.  The makers did that so they could have an effect.  The blacksmith put a Nike symbol on the armor.  First, they didn’t have Nike, and second the blacksmiths did not put a symbol on armor (as far as we know).  They did not know what people looked like back then.  For example, the Black Prince, we don’t know what he looks like.

Now I will explain three false moments.  One of them is that David Bowie did not exist then.  He was born very recently.  The outfits for women were very inaccurate. They looked like “Star Wars” clothes!  The lances broke.  They wouldn’t have been able to afford so many.

Next,  the inaccurate moments.  They had no trial for criminals.  When William got arrested, he went straight to public humiliation.  They also filled the lances with linguini.  I would not expect to see that in the middle ages, but it did add pop to the jousting.  Finally, the women used hair dye.  We know that women would dress their hair elaborately, but did not color their hair. 

Finally, roses were pink and white, not deep red.

They did not eat turkey legs.

First, in the middle ages, there was no hair dye and women would have worn their hair up and covered.  I know this because we have watched many middle ages documentaries and they said exactly that.

And for some conclusions:

Not thinking historically, this movie was funny and exciting.  If we had not learned about the middle ages, everyone in the class would think that the middle ages wasn’t all that bad.  They also would think most knights were mostly too snobby and proud to congratulate anyone else.  If everyone had thought these things, they would be totally wrong.

I learned that some movies are accurate and some aren’t.  Example, this one was more accurate.  I learned and saw some of the rules of courtly love. Like when the two lovers, William and Jocelyn, are talking and William is tripping over his words and you can hear him.

I am very pleased with the results.  The students’ voices come out loud and clear while strongly reflecting what we learned in class.  They also had little problem transferring the writing process to a quick essay test.  So, yay, yay, and yay.

So, here’s to Heath Ledger (god rest his soul), people having fun with History, and whoever created the essay.  Add them all up, and you get statements like “when you speak to your lover, you foam at the mouth.”



Week 32 – The Medieval World (It’s only a flesh wound!)


It’s been such a long time since I’ve written about what’s going on in our History classes.  Let’s catch you up.

The Middle Ages has got to be one of the most difficult units to teach. (I’ll admit that, mentally, I add the word “properly” as an addendum.)  Historically, the age varies by country in Europe depending on when the Romans left, if they left, when the Renaissance started, etc., so you have to be specific about who and when you are talking about.  Not even this is simple.  People moved a lot and one group invades another with astonishing rapidity.  You really can’t say the English fought the French because of the moments when the king of England was French, and vice versa.  Not even the popular monikers make it easy.  Is it the Medieval Period, or the Middle Ages, or the Dark Ages?  Many historians are coming to argue against the idea that there even was a “dark age” despite the History Channel’s gratuitous offering.  (Watch that video with a bucket, because their main idea is to make you vomit from all of the blood, screaming,  and general grossness.)

As a teacher, you are constantly swimming uphill against what the Victorians did to the stories and histories of Medieval England and France.  I have just about out-and-out banned fairy tales at this moment.  Never mind the damage that Shakespeare did.  I’ve explained about thirty times that Shakespeare’s History Plays are more like Shakespeare’s Trying to Get in Good with The Ruling Monarchs and Not End Up Dead or on The Rack Like Christopher Marlow or Thomas Kidd Plays, no matter how much I love him.  Then, there is the question of two major characters of the middle ages who simply didn’t exist except in fiction, King Arthur and Robin Hood.  People have wanted them to exist so badly that they selectively present research to feed into the idea that they did.  Again, enter the History Channel, in cahoots with Ridley Scott (more shame to them).  And let’s not get started on the crusades, all five of them.  Let’s face it, most educators don’t.  Or they talk about them as if some great tragedy wasn’t being played out.  You couldn’t even call it genocide.  It was just killing anybody in the way. And along the way.

I think I understand why teachers focus more on the fairy tales, the castles, and the fictional characters.  The middle ages were without doubt the apotheosis of wildly violent behavior in European history.  As soon as you ask the question, “Why did castle walls have to be so damn thick?” you have fallen down a rabbit hole of bad behavior and bloodshed.  Explaining the arms race of the middle ages is explaining why the armor had to be stronger, and it ain’t because it was pretty.

Sometimes, I really envy my friends who are of Asian extraction.  They get Kong Fu Zi, and Daoism, and the Hundred Schools of Thought.  I know that much of these developments came out of a period of strife, but it seems that the Chinese didn’t seem to absolutely revel in breaking each others’ heads open.  Who have we got?  Charlemagne?  Richard the Lion Heart?  Pope Urban of Cluny?  Bastards to a man.  Especially William the Conqueror.  As a person with almost all Germanic and English ancestors, when I look at all of the bad behavior, I worry that it might be genetic.  (Nobody give me a broad sword, just to be safe!)

Still, it is so exciting.  So fascinating.   My word, there are some wonderful documentaries, and texts, and ballads, and images.  The most exciting part is doing the research to set the record straight.  For example, for Literature, we read one of the very first accounts of Robin Hood from the 1300’s.  It was amazing how different it was from the versions we know today.  Little John could be a better archer?  Little John and Much could murder in cold blood a little page-boy?  Huh?  And then to go back to the documentaries and take them to task.  The History Channel’s The Real Robin Hood states that Robin was put in an oubliette, but we read the story, and although it does say he was put in the deep dungeon, we know he would be expected to stand trial, which is a little difficult if you are forgotten down a hole.  In the words of Poirot, “Non, mon ami, non.”

I’m enjoying studying this unit with my students.  We read from the BBC history magazine about the Black Prince, and we read an article on Hildegard von Bingen from Fordham Universtity.  We are comparing historian Mike Loades’s “Going Medieval” to historian Terry Jones’s “Medieval Lives”.  We watch Brother Cadfael mysteries, and read ballads from the 1400’s.  We will be looking at an ancient Irish poem about a cat written by a monk.  We will look for truths peeking through pop fiction.  But more on that later…

Like all teachers, I’m trying to shield my students from the worst of the violence and mayhem.  But I do not believe that this is a reason to avoid the hard questions.  Questions like, “What’s up with the women wearing traffic cones on their heads!?  Seriously!”