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Instructor: Dr. Paul Battles Phone: 866-7208
Office: Classic 112 Office Hrs: MW 12-12:50 & by appt.
E-mail: battles@hanover.edu Eng. 327, MWF 11-11:50, Classic 214

Arthurian Literature

Medieval to Modern

Along with the stories of Troy and Rome, the legends surrounding King Arthur constitute the most important and enduring body of European literature. From Chrétien de Troyes to Sir Thomas Malory to Alfred, Lord Tennyson and beyond, the story of Arthur has been retold in every era, as each age has discovered its own significance in Arthurian legend. Today, the appeal of Arthurian legend is greater than ever before; every year sees the publication of new novels about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, Guinevere, Merlin, and Morgan le Fay.

In this course, we will trace the evolution of Arthurian legend from its beginnings to the present. Who, precisely, was Arthur, and what do the earliest historical records say about him? How much of his life and deeds can we reconstruct? To what extent do the literary representations of Arthur in Geoffrey, Chrétien, and other medieval authors reflect the "real" Arthur? Why have the Arthurian legends remained so popular? How do the successive reworkings of this material reflect the interests, ideology, and socio-historical context of their authors? To what extent have the stories of Arthur helped to shape our notions of heroism, gender roles, and love?


  •  Geoffrey of Monmouth, History of the Kings of Britain, trans. Lewis Thorpe
  • Chretien de Troyes, Arthurian Romances, trans. W. K. Kibler and C. W. Carroll
  • Sir Thomas Malory, Le Morte D’Arthur, ed. Stephen Shepherd
  • Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Idylls of the King, ed. J. M. Gray
  • T. H. White, The Once and Future King
  • Recommended: Norris Lacy and Geoffrey Ashe, The Arthurian Handbook, 2nd ed.

Requirements: A presentation (10%); a 5-6 page paper (15%); an annotated bibliography (5%); a class project (30%); two exams (25%, 12.5% each); and participation (15%)

Short paper and presentations: See handout.

Class Participation: As in all seminars, the success of the course will depend on you. Your hard work, close attention to the texts, enthusiasm and willingness to talk about the readings will drive the course. Therefore, class participation is crucial.

To help get class discussion underway, everyone should bring a "talking point" to class on every day. This can be an observation or question about any aspect of the readings: plot, dialogue, characterization, style, and so on. These are meant to be conversation-starters, so open-ended talking points are best. When you bring up your point, please refer us to a specific passage.

Expectations: The reading load for this course is substantial, but not crushing. I expect you to read actively: underlining, annotating passages, looking up unfamiliar words, writing plot summaries, keeping track of characters, jotting down questions, etc. On the other hand, the material itself should give you plenty of incentive to keep up . If that turns out to be an incorrect assumption, I will start giving reading quizzes .

The length and difficulty of the reading varies. I’m guessing that you’ll find the Middle English readings, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Malory’s Morte Darthur, challenging, but we’ll take these readings fairly slowly. Don’t mistake a low page count for light reading, though!

Other policies: Missed presentations can’t be made up; late papers will lose 5 pts on a 100-point scale per calendar day. If there is anything about your circumstances that I should know, I would appreciate it if you would let me know as soon as possible.

Along the way: Please stop by my office if you want to talk about the readings, your presentation, the class project, and so on. If my office hours aren’t convenient, we can always set up an appointment.


Schedule of Readings and Assignments

Week 1 (9/5) Arthur in History and Pseudo-History   
M Introduction
W *Excerpts from: Gildas, Concerning the Ruin of Britain; Jordanes, Gothic History; The Annals of Wales; Bede, The Ecclesiastical History of the English People; Nennius, The History of the Britons; The Life of St. Gwyddno. (Optional background reading: Arthurian Handbook, pp. 1-35)
F Geoffrey of Monmouth, History, Parts 4 and 6, pp. 149-69, 186-211; also Brian Hermann, “Geoffrey of Monmouth,” online (Optional background reading: Arthurian Handbook, pp. 36-52)

Week 2 (9/12) From History to Chivalric Romance
M Geoffrey, History, Part 7 (pp. 212-261)
W  Chrétien de Troyes, Yvain, part 1, pp. 295-331 middle; also Andrea Whyland, “The Romance Genre” (online); (Optional background reading: Arthurian Handbook, pp. 68-72); 1: Chrétien de Troyes
F Chrétien, Yvain, part 2, pp. 331 middle-380; 2: Chivalry

Week 3 (
9/19)  Romance, II
M Chrétien, Lancelot, part 1, pp. 207-62 bottom; 3: Courtly Love
W Chrétien, Lancelot, part 2, pp. 263-82 bottom; Godefroy de Lagny, Lancelot Continuation, pp. 282-94 (see p. 294 bottom about this part)
F Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Fitt 1, Introduction and lines 1-231

Week 4 (
9/26) Romance, III
M SGGK, Fitt 1, rest; 4: Gawain
W SGGK, Fitt 2; 5. Chivalry and Religion
F SGGK, Fitt 3, lines 1126-1557

Week 5 (
10/3) From Romance to Biography
M SGGK, Fitt 3, rest; 6. Hunting in SGGK
W SGGK, Fitt 4; 7. Sir Thomas Malory
F Sir Thomas Malory, Le Morte Darthur, “How Uther Pendragon Gate the Noble Conqueror Kyng Arthur,” pp. 3-39; Cooper, “Counter-Romance”; pp. 819-30; 8. Merlin

Week 6 (
10/10) The Book of Arthur, I: The Coming of the King
M Malory, Morte, “The Weddyng of Kyng Arthur” and “Aftir thes Questis,” pp. 62-112; 9. Morgan le Fay
W Malory, Morte, “A Noble Table Betwyxt Kynge Arthure and Lucius the Emperour of Rome,” pp. 113-51; 10. Excalibur
F Malory, Morte, “A Noble Tale of Sir Launcelot du Lake,” pp. 151-76; Field, “The Rhetoric of Dialogue,” pp. 830-35; 11. Lancelot

Week 7 (
10/17) Intermission: And Now For Something Completely Different!
M No class – Fall Break
W Monty Python, Quest for the Holy Grail; 12. Monty Python and the Satiric Tradition
F Exam 1

Week 8 (
10/24) The Book of Arthur, II: The Gail
M Malory, Morte, “The Tale of Sir Gareth,” pp. 177-227; 13. Gareth and the “Fair Unknown” Theme
W Malory, Morte, The Noble Tale of the Sangrail, pt. 1, pp. 496-531middle
F Malory, Morte, The Noble Tale of the Sangrail, pt. 2, pp. 531-557 top; 14. Knighthood in the Morte Darthur; Project proposal due

Week 9 (
10/31) The Book of Arthur, III: Lancelot, Guinevere, Arthur
M Malory, Morte, The Noble Tale of the Sangrail, rest, pp. 557-87; (Optional background reading: Arthurian Handbook, pp. 71-81); 15. Malory and the Grail
W Malory, Morte, The Tale of Sir Lancelot and Queen Guenivere, part 1, pp. 588-618 top; 16. Guinevere
F Malory, Morte, The Tale of Sir Lancelot and Queen Guenivere, part 2, pp. 618-645; Lambert, “Shame and Guilt,” pp. 849-56

Week 10 (
11/7)  The Arthurian Revival: Tennyson I
M Malory, Morte, The Death of Arthur, part 1, pp. 646-72 mid; 17. The Fall of Camelot
W Malory, Morte, The Death of Arthur, part 2, pp. 672-98
F Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Idylls of the King, “Dedication,” “The Coming of Arthur,” and “Merlin and Vivien,” pp. 19-35, 142-67; (Optional background reading: Arthurian Handbook, pp. 158-65); 18. Tennyson and the Arthurian Revival

Week 11 (
11/14) The Arthurian Revival: Tennyson II
M Tennyson, Idylls, “Lancelot and Elaine,” pp. 168-205; Tennyson, “The Lady of Shalott” ( http://www.lib.rochester.edu/camelot/shalott.htm )
W Tennyson, Idylls, “The Holy Grail” pp. 206-30; Tennyson, “Sir Galahad” ( http://www.lib.rochester.edu/camelot/galahad.htm )
F Tennyson, Idylls, “Guinevere” and “The Passing of Arthur,” pp. 269-300;  Annotated bibliography due

Week 12 (
11/21) T. H. White, The Sword in the Stone
M White, The Sword in the Stone, 1-4
W No Class – Thanksgiving Break   
F No Class – Thanksgiving Break

Week 13 (
11/28) The Sword in the Stone, II
M White, Sword in the Stone, ch. 5-8
W White, Sword in the Stone, ch. 9-13
F White, Sword in the Stone, ch. 14-19; Project due

Week 13 (
12/5) The Sword in the Stone, III
M White, Sword in the Stone, ch. 20-24
W Wrap-up and Review
F Exam 2

  Course Materials  
  Online discussion  
  Online Resources  
  Reference works  
  Finding books / articles  
  Metawebs / search eng.  
  Primary sources / mss  
  History / hist. Arthur  
  Archeology / sites  
  Arthurian websites