MLAR 7122 King Arthur: History and Legend

In this course, we will investigate the evidence, both textual and archaeological, for the existence of an historical Arthur, King of the Britons, and will then consider how that evidence was transformed into an imaginative cycle of stories concerning kingship and chivalry that were highly influential within and beyond the Middle Ages. We will pay particular attention to three themes: the ideals of monarchy and knightly behavior that inform the Arthurian stories (e.g. the medieval theory of the divine right of kings); the development within the Arthurian materials of ideas about medieval romantic love or fin amor, especially in representations of the passionate but doomed relationship between Lancelot and Guinevere; and the mystical dimensions ofArthurian romance, as these emerged from writings about the Round Table fellowship's pursuit of the Holy Grail. We will read Sir Thomas Malory's late medieval revision of the Arthurian story cycle, but with reference to other non-Malory materials to be introduced and explained by the instructor (e.g. a long alliterative poem concerning Arthur's battle with the giant of St. Michael's Mount). We will also deal briefly at the end of the course with Victorian adaptations of the Arthurian materials, especially those by Tennyson in his Idylls of the King and William Morris in his Defence of Guenevere.


Three written assignments: a midterm and final examination (essay format) and a short critical paper (5 pp. typed, double-spaced).


Required Text: Sir Thomas Malory, Le Morte Darthur: The Winchester Manuscript, ed. by Helen Cooper (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008).