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Revisiting "Casey at the Bat" with Parody

Lesson Question:

How do Ernest Thayer and Garrison Keillor use word choice to convey different tones in the original poem "Casey at the Bat" and Keillor's parody "Casey at the Bat (Road Game)"?

Applicable Grades:

6-12

Lesson Overview:

In this language lesson, students analyze stanzas from the most famous baseball poem ever – Thayer's "Casey at the Bat" -- and contrast poet Thayer's point of view with the view of the humorist Garrison Keillor in his parody "Casey at the Bat (Road Game)."

Length of Lesson:

One hour to one hour and a half

Instructional Objectives:

Students will:

  • analyze point of view in two poems, and how word choice contributes to POV and tone
  • understand the concept of parody and how it is demonstrated in the relationship between two poems
  • use the Visual Thesaurus to explore word choice in two poems

Materials:

Note: This lesson uses excerpts from poems "Casey at the Bat" and "Casey at the Bat (Road Game)" but neither poem is included in its entirety. Both poems can be found on the Baseball Almanac web site (www.baseball-almanac.com/poems.shtml). Some stanzas in Keillor's  "Casey at the Bat (Road Game)" contain profanity, but the stanzas featured in this lesson do not.

Warm-up:

Analyzing the opening stanzas of "Casey at the Bat":

  • Read aloud the first two stanzas of Ernest Lawrence Thayer's 1888 poem "Casey at the Bat":

The Outlook wasn't brilliant for the Mudville nine that day:
The score stood four to two, with but one inning more to play.
And then when Cooney died at first, and Barrows did the same,
A sickly silence fell upon the patrons of the game.

A straggling few got up to go in deep despair. The rest
Clung to that hope which springs eternal in the human breast;
They thought, if only Casey could get but a whack at that -
We'd put up even money, now, with Casey at the bat.

  • Lead a short discussion about the opening lines of the poem and what they establish. Who are the Mudville nine? Why isn't the outlook brilliant for them? To what hope are the Mudville fans clinging?
  • Focus the discussion on tone and how phrases like "sickly silence" and "hope which springs eternal" are building tension in the poem, adding to the suspenseful mood that Thayer is building in these stanzas.
  • Finally, ask students how the "patrons of the game" (the fans) feel about Casey? Read the next few stanzas of the poem, concentrating on the fifth and sixth stanzas, and how they highlight the fans' admiration of Casey:

Then from 5,000 throats and more there rose a lusty yell;
It rumbled through the valley, it rattled in the dell;
It knocked upon the mountain and recoiled upon the flat,
For Casey, mighty Casey, was advancing to the bat.

There was ease in Casey's manner as he stepped into his place;
There was pride in Casey's bearing and a smile on Casey's face.
And when, responding to the cheers, he lightly doffed his hat,
No stranger in the crowd could doubt 'twas Casey at the bat.

Instruction:

Introducing a parody of "Casey at the Bat":

  • Have students reread the 5th and 6th stanzas of Thayer's poem and identity any specific words that communicate Thayer's point of view of Casey or the fans' view of Casey.
  • Display Visual Thesaurus word maps for some of the key words Thayer uses to describe Casey, emphasizing mighty as an adjective that shows how Thayer characterizes Casey as having great strength and power.
  • Contrast this portrayal with the following stanza from Garrison Keillor's poem "Casey at the Bat (Road Game)" – a parody written from the point of view of the opposing team, Dustburg:

Mudville was despairing, and we grinned and cheered and clapped.
It looked like after all these years our losing streak had snapped.
And we only wished that Casey, the big fat ugly lout,
Could be the patsy who would make the final, shameful out.

Oh how we hated Casey, he was a blot upon the game.
Every dog in Dustburg barked at the mention of his name.
A bully and a braggart, a cretin and a swine-
If Casey came to bat, we'd stick it where the moon don't shine!

  • Display the Visual Word map for "parody" and its definition: "a composition that imitates or misrepresents somebody's style, usually in a humorous way."
  • Have students point out ways that Keillor's poem imitates Thayer's style (e.g., its four line stanzas and rhyming couplets).
  • On the white board, use the Visual Thesaurus to explore some of the derogatory words that Keillor uses to describe "the mighty Casey": lout, patsy, blot, bully, braggart, cretin, and swine.

Analyzing word choice in two poems:

  • Organize the class into partners or small groups and distribute a "'Casey at the Bat': Two Points of View" handout to each student, explaining that they are going to continue comparing and contrasting the word choice between Thayer's original poem about Casey and Keillor's parody of it.
  • Using the handout, have students read the final six stanzas of Thayer's original 1888 version of "Casey at the Bat" and Keillor's 1994 parody "Casey at the Bat (Road Trip)." Then, have students work with their partners to identify five words in each poem that they think best capture or illustrate the two points of view regarding Casey in these poems.

Wrap-up:

Comparing and contrasting word choice:

  • Have students share aloud the key words in each excerpt that they feel best communicate each poem's point of view regarding Casey, using the Visual Thesaurus to explore each word and its related synonyms.
  • Hold a brief discussion about the two poets' word choice. What generalizations can they make? Which poem used more negative language? More archaic language? Which words contributed to the tone of each poem? Which words were funny? Which words did Keillor use as a means to imitate Thayer?
  • Here are word lists for the two poems that were created by VocabGrabber:

Extending the Lesson:

  • Students could copy and paste the entirety of the two poems into VocabGrabber (www.visualthesaurus.com/vocabgrabber) in order to further compare and contrast the word choice between Thayer and Keillor. What are words that Keillor uses in 1994 that Thayer would probably not use in 1888? Vice versa?
  • Since "Casey at the Bat" is such a popular, classic poem, there are many different poems that have been written in response to it. Have students read some of those poems here (scroll down to "the Casey Collection" http://www.baseball-almanac.com/poems.shtml), or write one of their own.

Assessment:

  • Assess whether or not students chose appropriate words from each poem that communicated point of view regarding Casey.
  • Assess students' understanding of parody and how Keillor's poem acts as a parody of Thayer's poem – imitating style while altering word choice and tone.

Educational Standards:

Language Arts

Standard 6. Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of literary texts

 Level III (Grades 6-8)

1. Reads a variety of literary passages and texts (e.g., fiction, nonfiction, myths, poems, fantasies, biographies, autobiographies, science fiction, historical fiction, drama)
2. Knows the defining features(e.g., setting in science fiction, soliloquy and stage directions in drama, conflict in narratives, perspective in biographies and autobiographies) and structural elements (e.g., chapter, act, scene, stanza) of a variety of literary genres
4. Understands elements of character development (e.g., character traits and motivations; stereotypes; relationships between character and plot development; development of characters through their words, speech patterns, thoughts, actions, narrator's description, and interaction with other characters; how motivations are revealed) 
7. Understands the effects of an author's style (e.g., word choice, speaker, imagery, genre, perspective) on the reader
8. Understands point of view in a literary text (e.g., first and third person, limited and omniscient, subjective and objective)


Level IV (Grades 9-12)

1. Reads a variety of literary texts (e.g., fiction, nonfiction, myths, poems, biographies, autobiographies, science fiction, supernatural tales, satires, parodies, plays, American literature, British literature, world and ancient literature)
2. Knows the defining characteristics of a variety of literary forms and genres (e.g.,the dramatic elements of staging, breaking the fourth wall, expressionism, minimalism, and dramatic irony; the syntax, narrative structure, peoplpe/nature relationships, and male/female roles used in mythic traditions; the range of poem structures, such as fixed and free forms, rhymed and unrhymed, narrative and lyric)
7. Understands the effects of author's style and complex literary devices and techniques on the overall quality of a work (e.g., tone; irony; mood; figurative language; allusion; diction; dialogue; symbolism; point of view; voice; understatement and overstatement; time and sequence; narrator; poetic elements, such as sound, imagery, personification)       

See also the Common Core State Standards for ELA and Literacy (PDF, pages 29, 53, and 55)


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