The Canterbury Tales Illumination Project Stage 2:

Marginal Commentaries and Illustrations

This stage of the process will allow students to get creative with the text, showing their understanding in a unique way.

Introduction: In this stage, I allow students to either illustrate with their own hand; to use copies, tracings, or computer-designed images; or to "commission" another student artist to aid them. I have found that it is important to stress the creative aspect over the level of talent; I'm looking for originality, not the next Rembrandt!

Text: Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales

Grade: Sophomores

Difficulty: Difficult (I only do this with Honors students)

Applications: You could use any middle English text for the basis of this project.

After medieval students were able to understand Latin grammar and had a grasp of its basic vocabulary, they moved on to a study of figures of speech—including metaphors, similes, and so on. This kind of study would be taken up in the margins of a text. Images accompanying a text often participated in this commentary as well; sometimes these illuminations took the form of visual riddles, which, when solved, provided a pictorial representation of one of the text’s key messages.


For part two of this assignment, provide your excerpt with the following:


1) A marginal commentary that explains figures of speech in your stanza. Example:  His berd as any sowe or fox was reed,
                             And therto brood, as though it were a spade.

          The beard is as broad as a spade, so one might draw a

          face with a gardening spade in place of the beard itself.

         Otherwise, you might just explain the metaphor in words.


2) An illustration (or illustrations) of some kind: a drawing of your own or an image cut out from a magazine—or anything else you can think of. The illustration(s) should bring out, elaborate on, or comment on some aspect of the text. (This might be an illustration of the character being described, but it does not have to be.)


When you hand in your marginal commentary and illustrations, the text will be passed on to another one of your classmates for the final layer of glossing.


For the next stage, click on the link below:

Illumination Project: Stage 3: Contextualizing, Glossing Over, and Talking Back