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Courses in Medieval Arthurian Legends

Alan Baragona, VMI Department of English and Fine Arts
"The following are different versions of the syllabus for my Arthurian Legend course at VMI. For an earlier version of the course in which I mixed medieval and modern literature, see the Syllabi for Courses in Medieval and Post-Medieval Arthurian Legend."

Thomas A. Ryan, University of Texas, Arlington
In this course we will read and analyze selected works from the wide spectrum of medieval Arthurian literature. In our study of these works, which range from histories or pseudo-histories to poetic romances to prose romances, we will also have the opportunity to observe some of the most important features of medieval culture and ideology, including courtly love, chivalry, and religion. Furthermore, since the works we shall read have been written over a timespan that includes the beginning of the "Middle Ages" and its end, we may trace the development of Arthurian themes and characters throughout the period. The works we shall read also spring from diverse areas and are written in diverse languages, affording us possible insights into differences in values and cultural responses in the sometimes monolithic-appearing entities that make up the European Middle Ages.

John T. Sebastian, Loyola University, New Orleans
A syllabus for a summer course that concentrates on the medieval tradition. "This course surveys the origins, development, and subsequent appropriation of one of the richest and most enduring traditions in all of world literature: the legend of Arthur, rex quondam, rexque futurus, "the once and future king." We will explore the complicated but rewarding history of this legendary king of the Britons by analyzing and discussing works of medieval literature, history, and art, as well as modern film. The course will also introduce Arthurian archaeological sites, manuscripts and their illustrations, music, and other cultural and material contexts that will inform our study of the legend." For a syllabus of a Spring Liberal Studies seminar that contains both graduate students and undergraduates, click here.

Robert Stanton, Boston College.
"Myth, legend, and history conspired to make the most popular and enduring set of characters in all of medieval literature. The stories of Arthur and Guinevere, the sorcerer Merlin, the lustful Uther Pendragon, Sir Gawain, Sir Lancelot, Sir Perceval, and the Knights of the Round Table exerted a fascination that has outlived most other popular literature from the Middle Ages. We will dig at the Celtic and British roots of the Arthurian tales (Culhwch and Olwen , Geoffrey of Monmouth), revel in the golden age of French romance (Chrétien de Troyes, Marie de France, courtly love lyrics), take a detour to medieval Iceland (The Saga of the Mantle) and examine the transformative influence the tradition had on the mainstream of English literature (Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Alliterative Morte d'Arthur, Malory's Morte d'Arthur). All texts will be read in Modern English translation except the Middle English ones, but no previous Middle English knowledge is required." The syllabus includes a link to a slideshow of maps and medieval illuminations of Arthurian tales, also available through the Graphics page.

Kathryn Talarico, College of Staten Island, CUNY
The course page for Professor Talarico's Fall, 1998 Arthurian Legends course, in which a series of readings allow "students to examine many of the larger questions of the development of medieval literature and culture, such as the conception of history,the rise of the romance genre, the oral and written traditions, the themes of courtly love, the chivalric codes and the philosophical and theological questions related to this vast corpus of material."

Bonnie Wheeler, Southern Methodist University
"King Arthur is the most popular and most frequently revived Western hero from the Middle Ages to the current moment. This course examines the Arthurian story--Camelot, the knights of the Round Table, chivalry, and the Holy Grail--from its roots in the Middle Ages to its flourishing today." Although Prof. Wheeler shows several modern film documentaries and provides the script to Monty Python and the Holy Grail on this interactive syllabus, all the other readings on the syllabus are medieval texts. (There is also a version of this syllabus for a Summer School course here.)

Courses in Medieval and Post-Medieval Arthurian Legends

Alan Baragona, VMI Department of English and Fine Arts
"The following are different versions of the syllabus for my Arthurian Legend course at VMI from 1987 to 1992, when both medieval and modern texts formed the core of the reading. For more current versions of the course in which I teach only medieval literature except for outside reading, see the Syllabi for Courses in Medieval Arthurian Legend."

Kathryn Barbour, Cazenovia College
"In this class, we will read, discuss and write about Arthurian Literature, medieval and modern, and its relationship to modern western culture. Although there will be some lectures given by the instructor to provide background material, the success of the course depends on thoughtful reading and discussion of the assigned readings by the class members." Last taught in 1997. (This link is to If necessary, click "Impatient?" if the page does not load right away.)

Ruth Benander, Raymond Walters College, University of Cincinnati (Summer abroad course)
"Students will be introduced to some of the origins of the Arthur myth, and then read three of the texts where the myth approaches its classic realization. We will discuss the historical development of the myth and how this development reflects the culture of the time. Students will visit sites associated with the legend such as Tintagel, where Arthur is said to have begun his life; Cadbury Castle, the reputed seat of Camelot; and Glastonbury Abby claimed to be the grave site of Arthur and Guinever. In addition to historical context, we will put the Arthur myth into modern significance with modern retellings of the story. We will scour the bookstores of Cambridge to find our own favorite retelling of the myth. Finally, we will end our pilgrimage in London at the British Museum where we can explore the historical foundations of the myth." Last taught in 1998. (This link is to If necessary, click "Impatient?" if the page does not load right away.)

Curt Bobbitt, Great Falls University
"Students will study numerous literary works dealing with the legends of King Arthur. Authors studied include Chaucer, Malory, Tennyson, Teasdale, and Twain. Students will write three essays, write short papers out of class, present an oral report, and read extensively in works written between 1386 and 1989." This class was last taught in 2000. (This link is to If necessary, click "Impatient?" if the page does not load right away.) Prof. Bobbitt also maintains a bibliography of novels with Arthurian characters.

Jane Chance, Rice University
A survey of the origins and development of the Arthurian legend from the earliest chronicles in the sixth century and later medieval French, Welsh, Irish, and English Arthurian poems to modern adaptations of Arthurian material, including films.

Sian Eichard, University of British Columbia: Introductory Course
"Like all sections of English 110, this course is intended to offer an introduction to the major genres of English literature: the novel, poetry, and drama. This section will concentrate on works with a common subject, the story of King Arthur. From the Middle Ages to the present, this tale of the rise and fall of an ideal king and kingdom has attracted the attention of artists and audiences of all kinds. Arthurian literature can be tragic or comic, 'serious' or popular, idealistic or satiric; and while few people are familiar with all the intricate windings of the whole cycle, most, whether from movies and Monty Python, comic books or popular fiction, can name at least some of its famous figures. This course will put some flesh on the bones of those figures, as we tour Arthurian literature through a focus on Arthur, Lancelot, Guenevere, and Merlin. A detour into Shakespeare should help us to identify some of the archetypal themes of the Arthurian story (as well as of much great literature), so that we may come to see how Arthur indeed became, in a literary sense at least, 'the once and future king.'"

Sian Eichard, University of British Columbia: Honours Seminar
This is a fourth-year one-term Honours seminar course, Medieval Literature and Medievalism: The ArthurianTradition.

Michael W. George, Millikin University: The Arthurian Tradition
"In this course, you will examine the Arthurian tradition from a diachronic perspective tracing the tradition through time. . . . As the term progresses, we will discuss the possibility of a historical Arthur (about which there is much curiosity), and we will explore medieval European culture as it relates to the Arthurian tradition, including courtly love, chivalry, medieval warfare, the crusades (which will expose you to some of what was happening in the Middle East at the time), and how writers adapted the Arthurian tradition to fit with contemporary literary tastes. Although you'll get a firm grounding in medieval Arthurian literature, this course is not a medieval literature course. It is a course about a literary tradition, so you will read medieval, Renaissance, Victorian, and contemporary literature."

Cynthia Gravlee, University of Montevallo: King Arthur in Literature and Film
This is a course for Undergraduates and Graduate Students. "After reviewing the medieval tales of Sir Thomas Malory, the source for our modern authors, we will focus on representative works of the 19th and 20th centuries. We will also learn from Arthurian films and will end the course with The Natural, a film based on the novel by Bernard Malamud."

Joan Haahr, Yeshiva University
"Although we tend to think of them as medieval, the legends of King Arthur have flourished for almost 1500 years and are as popular now as they were during the Middle Ages. In this course, we will study those legends, both to understand their continuing appeal and to explore some of the ways in which stories of King Arthur and his knights have been exploited through the ages for non-literary ends."

Alan Jalowitz, Penn State University
"This three credit course will survey the growth and development of the legends surrounding King Arthur and his court from their beginnings in medieval Europe through their adaptations in the modern era in the West and Japan. We will compare and discuss changes in the cultural ideals represented, the literary techniques employed, and the characterizations adopted. Lectures and discussion will be supplemented by overheads, slides, music, and clips from movies dealing with Arthurian themes. There are no prerequisites for this course."

Vicki Lague, Miami Dade College
The course page for Professor Lague's Arthurian Legends course entitled "King Arthur in Legend and Literature". This page contains an especially large number of outside links for students to follow as the semester's discussions progress.

John Marlin, College of St. Elizabeth
A syllabus for a senior seminar. "In this course we will study literary and cinematic works treating the Arthurian tradition, from the earliest chroniclers and Welsh tales through recent films and novels. We will set about to explore several key questions about this material, to include, what is the source of the Arthurian tradition's appeal? Why has it endured? Why has it been so adaptable? The essence of literary criticism, a former chair often reminded me, is application: you apply your seat to a chair and read the books, discuss them and write about them. That's what you'll do in this intensive reading course: every week you will read about a full book (200-300 pages) and write a brief (2-3 page), focused exploratory essay on it." Last taught in 1999. (This link is to If necessary, click "Impatient?" if the page does not load right away.)

Charlie McAllister, Catawba College
"This history seminar traces the Arthurian legend through history, literature, and the arts. Beginning with some of the earliest surviving Arthurian materials, we will survey the major artifacts and documents as the legend grew over the past 1500 years." Last taught in 2000.

Maud Burnett McInerney, Haverford College
"King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table have had a powerful hold on the popular imagination for centuries. In this class, we will read some of the earliest versions of the Arthurian Legend, and discover a complex and various tradition, full of fascinating contradictions. . . . We will also consider the role of the Arthurian corpus . . . in establishing national and ethnic identities. We will pay particular attention to the Middle English and French Romances and their representation of chivalry and courtly love. . . . Finally, we will explore the survival of the Arthurian legend into the nineteenth and twentieth centuries; it is transformed into a Victorian morality tale by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and forms the foundation of Robertson Davies' Cornish Trilogy."

Alf Siewers, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
"The stories of Arthur . . . sprang into 12th-century European literature as a cultural motif that took on the force of historical fact. The ever-shifting cycle continues to exert a pull and influence on individuals and cultures in our time, with Winston Churchill placing Arthur in his non-fiction history of Britain by noting that if the Arthurian stories were not true, they should be true. This influence leads us to questions about the interplay between story and reality: What is the substance behind the Arthurian cycle? Is it archetypal myth or spirituality, touching deep wellsprings of the human soul? Is it expressive of medieval social forces with recurring analogies in later societies? . . . These are some of the questions that form our quest, and, as we shall see in the tales of the Holy Grail, asking the right questions is essential for initiation into the Arthurian realms." Last taught in 2000. (This link is to If necessary, click "Impatient?" if the page does not load right away.)

Bonnie Wheeler, Southern Methodist University
"Courage! Honor! Intensity! Valor! Amor! Lances! Romance! Youth! = CHIVALRY. In these lectures, we study the development of chivalric mentality in literature and thought from the Middle Ages to modern times. This course starts with the flowering of chivalry in the twelfth-century West. Stories of King Arthur form the central thread around which we weave studies of chivalric education and variation, of chivalric rejection and renewal."

John B. Wickstrom, Kalamazoo College
This is a syllabus for a freshman writing/history seminar, "In Search of Camelot (Wri. 130)." It covers Arthurian literature and history from the Welsh tales and Geoffrey of Monmouth to Malamud and Monty Python. "The course has three interrelated aims: 1. . . . to add to [students'] appreciation of the dual nature of the Arthurian stories: as an intriguing historical puzzle and as a continually evolving literary and romantic myth. All assignments will be geared to furthering this understanding. 2. . . . to develop [students'] writing skills. The course will consist of at least five short papers, usually summaries and analyses of the texts . . . . Some of these papers will require revisions. Most of [the] grade will be based on [students'] skill at fulfilling these assignments. 3. . . . [to develop students'] oral skills. This is a small seminar group of people with a common purpose and I will expect [students] to speak regularly, both formally and informally. Some assignments will involve an oral component."

For an earlier version of the course, "In Search of King Arthur," click here. (This link is to If necessary, click "Impatient?" if the page does not load right away.)

Courses in Post-Medieval Arthurian Legends

Debora Schwartz, California Polytechnic State University
"In this class, we will trace the use of Arthurian legend in literature, artwork, film and music of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This READING INTENSIVE course will focus on the ways in which various writers and artists have used the legends to convey different 'meanings.' In addition to presenting a selection of significant literary and other artistic works, the course aims to remind us of the fact that all such works are the product of a specific historical and cultural context and can be 'read' and interpreted in ways that shed light on the values and goals of the artists which produced them."

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Paper Topics and Projects

Alan Baragona, VMI Department of English and Fine Arts: Assignments for a conventional version of an Arthurian Legends course

Alan Baragona, VMI Department of English and Fine Arts: Assignment for a "Civilizations and Cultures" version of an Arthurian Legends course

Curt Bobbitt, University of Great Falls (This link is to If necessary, click "Impatient?" if the page does not load right away.)

Vicki Lague, Miami Dade College

Maud Burnett McInerney, Haverford College

The Lost Diaries of the Connecticut Yankee

The first project in VMI's interdisciplinary General Education Pilot Program required freshman Civil Engineering majors to study Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court and both the medieval and 19th-century technology behind it.

Mark Twain and Technology Home Page

Connersville, Indiana, High School students created this website as part of their study of Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. Though created by high school students, it is closely related to the VMI GenEd site and is adaptable for college.

A Millennial Quest for Arthur

"In January 2000 two undergraduate students left for a month-long research trip, sponsored by Birmingham-Southern College in Birmingham, Alabama. After traveling over 3000 miles across the Island of Britain, we created this site for people who wish to learn more about those places associated with King Arthur and the legends attached to them." Created by students Joseph W.C. Boyles and W. Jacob Livingston, III, this site is beautifully organized and has lots of photographs. Suitable for all levels.

Medieval New York

A student project for an Introduction to Medieval History class taught by Paul Halsall at Fordham University. "The city of New York is a great creation of modern American culture, but to the eyes of a medievalist the histories of the European, Byzantine, and Islamic Middle Ages are documented in its streets and buildings. . . . After reading through the contents of this site, you will have little doubt about just how deeply, and in how many different ways, the European middle ages permeate New York's life."

Student Parodies from the University of Pennsylvania

In 1995, students in Lana Schwebel's "Myths of the Middle Ages" class wrote parodies of medieval works, including Andreas Capellanus's Art of Courtly Love, The Mabinogion, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Chrétien's Eric and Enide, and Twain's Connecticut Yankee. (This link is to If necessary, click "Impatient?" if the page does not load right away.)

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Lecture Notes & Classroom Exercises

Lecture on Women in Arthurian Romances, by Linda A. Malcor, Independent Scholar

Lecture notes on the Alliterative and Stanzaic Morte, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and the Grail , by Linda A. Malcor, Independent Scholar

Lecture notes on Folklore and Arthurian Romances, by Linda A. Malcor, Independent Scholar

From Scythia to Camelot: Lecture Notes for a Slide Show, by Linda A. Malcor, Independent Scholar

King Arthur and George Washington: A Thought Experiment on the Historical Arthur, by Alan Baragona, Virginia Military Institute

"Pa gur" and "The Spoils of Annwn": Introductory Lecture, by Mark Adderley, Missouri Valley College

Handout on "The True Knight", by Mary Jo Buff, University of Montevallo

Handout on "The Reception of Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae", by John T. Sebastian, Loyola University of New Orleans

Five PowerPoint lectures by Michael George of Millikin University for his course EN 366, The Arthurian Tradition (some of these can be slow to load on a dial-up connection):

The Arthurian Tradition: An Introduction
Who Is This Guy Arthur, Anyway?
Celtic History
Sir Thomas Malory
Literary (Cultural) Theory: Feminism and Post-colonialism

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Examination Study Guides

Alan Baragona, VMI Department of English and Fine Arts
"At the beginning of the semester, I give my students an study sheet like the one below for their final exam. Although the course treats only medieval literature, the outside reading and the movies give them an opportunity to apply what they've learned to works they haven't discussed in class. I give two versions of Part II as an example of the choices I can give them from semester to semester."

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Last revised: June 21, 2011
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