A Storybook Romance: Dante's Paolo and Francesca

This lesson plan highlights one episode in the Divine Comedy to provide students with an introduction to Dante's great poem. After a brief introduction to the opening of the Divine Comedy, which portrays Dante as a pilgrim guided by the poet Virgil on a journey through the Christian afterlife toward God, students read Canto 5 of the Inferno, which comes near the beginning of Dante's descent into Hell. Students refer to a diagram of Dante's underworld to understand the role of Minos at the start of this canto, then analyze Dante's description of the storm-tossed souls he encounters in order to gain further insight into his allegorical method. Next, students identify the famous lovers who set the stage for Paolo and Francesca, and consider how they lend a literary dimension to our perception of this pair. Finally, students examine Francesca's "confession," comparing the philosophical style in which she first describes her love affair with the story-telling style she uses to describe what actually occurred. At the center of her story is the already-famous love story of Lancelot and Guinevere, and students consider how this story-within-a-story structure reflects on Francesca's own efforts to portray herself as a victim of courtly love. To conclude the lesson, students compare the effect that Lancelot's story had on Paolo and Francesca with the effect their story has on Dante in the poem, and the effect this layered episode has on Dante's readers today.

Guiding Questions

No Guiding Questions

Learning Objectives

To learn about the structure and artistry of Dante's Divine Comedy

To examine the episode of Paolo and Francesca as a poetic interpretation of romantic love

To gain experience in close reading and interpretation of literary allusions.