Crossing Borders/Breaking Boundaries IV:
The Impact of Islamic Culture on the Arts of the Renaissance

July 19-26, 2004
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Lesson Title: Play Writing: Islamic Fables to Medieval and Renaissance Morality Plays

Name: Cathy James

School: Century High School

Grades taught: 9-12

Discipline(s): Drama, Creative Writing, English, Foreign Languages, History and Humanities.

Duration: It would take approximately five days. The class period is 90 minutes in length. It meets every day. It is a one quarter or 45 day class.

Big idea: Morals and the Treatment of Others


Outcome I
The student will demonstrate the ability to recognize and describe the development of a variety of dramatic forms over time and the aesthetic qualities they reflect.
Outcome II
The student will demonstrate an understanding of the history, traditions, and conventions of dramatic texts and other literature and ways
that diverse theories and forms of theatre satisfy cultural needs, past and present.
Outcome III
The student will demonstrate the ability to explore the creative process through theatrical activities and to apply theatrical knowledge, principles and practices to collaborative theatre presentations.
Outcome IV
The student will demonstrate the ability to identify, analyze and apply criteria for individual and group contributions to the collaborative theatre process, dramatic texts and other literature of the theatre and theatrical productions.

Objectives: Using the Morality play during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, the students will learn about the Islamic culture as it relates to religion, the use of fables in teaching lessons, and the use of teaching morals. The students will:

  • understand background information on Islamic fables and Medieval/Renaissance morality plays.
  • read several Islamic fables.
  • write a sketch/one act play based on a particular fable as a morality play.
  • cast, rehearse and perform the original morality play, which is based on their Islamic fable.
  • critique their performances and the plays they wrote.

Abstract: This lesson encompasses the ability of the students to take an Islamic Fable, read it, understand its moral, and transfer it into a morality play as seen by the Medieval/Renaissance community to teach a lesson, especially to the illiterate of the time.

Lesson Components:

Motivation/Warm up: Read the fable, “The Persian Cinderella”, to the class. Do not give the class the name of the story and see if during discussion they can identify similarities to other fables they know. Have the class discuss the moral of the story.

Transition: I will explain the lesson to the class and tell them that in order to write a morality play from an Islamic fable, they need to understand some background information on the Islamic religion and culture and also the use of the morality play in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.

Historical Background: Through handouts, vocabulary, and pictures, the class will understand several points of the Islamic culture and religion, as well as the use of fables to teach lessons. They will also understand the culture of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance and the use of morality plays to teach lessons. (still to be inserted).

Guided Practice: In groups, the class will read several short morality plays and discuss them as they relate to the fables from the Islamic culture. Then the class will separate into groups of four. They will select several fables to be read in their groups. They will choose one of the fables to write as a morality play. They must transfer the written fable into a dialogue using the fable lesson as their morality lesson. The students must make sure that all of them have a character to act out in the play. Several of the characters may be animals depending upon what fable they chose. They must have a copy of the morality play for each of the actors. They should also have one copy for the teacher. Plays will be between five and ten minutes in length.

Independent Practice: The groups will cast the parts, memorize the lines and rehearse the play in order for it to be performed for elementary students or other high school classes. As homework, each student must be ready the following day with his or her part fully memorized. They will then rehearse the memorized script using costumes and props.

Assessment: The class will be assessed on the final written play and their performance of it. There will be two separate assessments, one for the written element and one for the performance. There will also be an informal assessment as they read, write and rehearse their play that will help them they stay on task and make sure they have each element of the assignment due when expected.

Closure: The class will have a written critique of all of the plays performed so that the writers and actors can learn what worked and what did not work for future assignments.

Extensions/Modifications: The time frame can be adjusted. Also, the length of the play can be changed according to either the length of the fable or time constraints in the class. If there is a major problem with the memorization of the script, it can be retold as a morality play, improvised, or a script can be used, as in reader’s theatre.

Materials/ Resources:

Teacher Text Sources
Arts of the Islamic World. Washington: Freer Gallery of art Teacher’s Guide.

Atil, Esin. Kalila Wa Dimna: Fables from a Fourteenth-Century Arabic Manuscript. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1981.

Burton, Sir Richard. Pilpay’s Fables. Thailand: Orchid Press, 2003.

Climos, Shirley. The Persian Cinderella. U.S.A.: Harper Collins Publishers, 1999.

Conover, Sarah and Freda Crane. Ayat Jamilah: Beatiful Signs, A Treasury of Islamic Wisdom for Children and Parents. Spokane, Wash.: Eastern Washington University Press, 2004.

Dolman J. and R. Nunn. Mankind. Vancouver Press, 1977.

Goodman, Lenn Evan, Ed. The Case of the Animals versus Man Before the King of the Jinn. Boston: Twayne, 1978.

Hartnoll, Phyllis and Peter Found, Ed. The Concise Oxford Companion To the Theatre. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.

Knappert, Jan. Islamic Legends. Netherlands: E.J.Brill, 1985. Volumes I and II.

Lesker, G.A. Three Late Morality Plays. W.W. Norton & Co., 1984.

Mahfuz, Naguib. Arabian Nights and Days. New York: Doubleday, 1995.

Mernisi, Fatima. Scheherzade Goes West: Different Cultures, Different Harems. New York: Washington Square Press, 2001.

Shah, Idries. Caravan of Dreams. Baltimore: Penguin Press, 1972.

_________. World Tales. London: Harcourt Brace, Jovanovich, 1998.

Siddiqi, Muhammad Zubayr. Hadith Literature, Its Origin, Development and Special Features. Cambridge, Eng.: The Islamic Text Society, 1993.

Walker, Greg. Medieval Drama, An Anthology. Blackwell, 2001.

Wood, Ramsey. Kalila and Dimna: Selected Fables of Bidpai. New York: Knopf, 1980.

Student Texts
Various Fables and Morality Plays
Vocabulary Sheets

Keywords: Fable, Legend, Morality Play, Islamic storytelling, Renaissance plays


Sponsored by
the Center for Renaissance & Baroque Studies
and the Maryland State Department of Education