In-Class Exercise: Scholasticism and “Melibee”

Through comparative analysis, this lesson plan explores Chaucer’s authorial personae. The lesson acquaints students with medieval scholasticism, which they use as a frame of reference for reading “The Tale of Melibee.”
1. The lesson begins with a tutorial on medieval scholasticism. Students first view example passages (projected on the board). Excerpts from Abelard’s Sic et Non and from Aquinas’s Summa Theologica serve to illustrate characteristics of scholasticism. Students inductively develop a list of such characteristics (e.g. an emphasis on dialectical reasoning and disputation as modes of thought; an interest in reconciling the contradictions within Christianity and between Christianity and Classical philosophy; a process of making careful distinctions).
2. Students look at examples of vernacular works that show the influence of scholasticism, including passages from “The Owl and the Nightingale” and Julian’s Shewings, and “The Way of Paradise.” Students examine these excerpts and locate scholastic features.

3. Students turn to “Melibee.” Students locate scholastic features in the poem, and they consider how Chaucer presents these features. This comparative analysis segues into an open discussion about the poem’s authorial persona and in particular about the ways in which Chaucer indicates that the poem operates as satire.