Course Syllabus: ENGL 307 Arthurian Literature

Spring 2002

Kenneth J. Tiller
Zehmer 130
Office Hours: MWF 10-11; 12-1; TTH 12-3:15 and by appointment
Phone: 376-4587 / e-mail:

Arthurian Page


Department of Language and Literature


The Life of King Arthur
Chrétien de Troyes, Arthurian Romances
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Sir Thomas Malory, Le Morte D'Arthur
Alfred Lord Tennyson, Idylls of the King
Mark Twain, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court
T.H. White, The Book of Merlyn
Handouts (provided by instructor)

II. Course Overview

This course centers on the development of the Arthur story in poetry, fiction, and drama, from its inception in early medieval Britain through the twentieth century. Reading these texts in relation to specific historical, political, and cultural contexts, we will discussing such topics as: Arthur as a model for rulers, the role of Arthurian narrative in shaping the ideals of "chivalry," and the continual place of the Arthur story in modern and post-modern literature.
Because we will be reading and comparing different accounts of similar narratives, this course will emphasize close readings. It is not enough to get the "plot" of each work we read; you should consider the way different texts treat similar Arthurian themes and be prepared to discuss the reasons for these differences. Therefore, this course will acquaint you with the methods of critically reading works of literature.

III. Course Policies and Procedures

Student grades will be based on two short (three page) papers (15% each), a final paper (20%) midterm and final exams (15% and 20% respectively), weekly quizzes and participation in class discussions (10%), and one oral report (5%). In addition to the one oral report, you should be prepared for periodic informal class discussions.

Oral Report and Final Paper
The oral report will be based on one work of Arthurian literature or film not covered in class. You should prepare a brief (five minute) discussion of the work to be presented for the class. This work will also serve as the subject of your final paper. The final paper should be somewhat longer (five pages) than the other two and should incorporate at least twooutside sources (three if you choose a film). A reading list will be provided. Because of the limited number of materials, there should be no more than one student working on any one text.


An in-class quiz willl be given each Monday for the week's readings, unless otherwise announced.
Week 1: Jan 16-18
Introduction: "Arthur in the Latin Chronicles"; "Arthur in the Welsh Tradition"
Week 2: Jan 21-25
Wace (Life of Arthur, 34-102); Lawman, Brut (Life of Arthur, 182-224).
Week 3: Jan 28-Feb 1
Lawman, Brut (Life of Arthur 224-320)
Week 4: Feb 4-8
Chrétien de Troyes, Lancelot
Week 5: Feb 11-15
Chrétien de Troyes, Perceval
Week 6: Feb 18-22
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.
Week 7: Feb 25-March 1
Malory, Le Morte D'Arthur, Books 1-3; Essay one due
Week 8: March 4-8
Malory, Le Morte Darthur, Books 7 and 11; midterm exam
March 11-15: Spring Break
Week 9: March 18-22
Malory, Le Morte D'Arthur, Books 13-15; 17-18
Week 10: March 25-29
Malory, Le Morte D'Arthur,Books 19-21
Week 11: April 1-5
Spenser, From the Faerie Queene; Tennyson, Idylls of the King, 13-59; 102-137.
Week 12: April 8-12
Tennyson, 116-191; 224-256; Twain A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, 1-80; Essay two due
Week 13: April 15-19
Twain, 81-201
Week 14: April 22-26
Twain, 202-356
Week 15: April 29-May 3
White, The Book of Merlyn, 3-126; student presentations
Week 16: May 6
White, 127-193; Student Presentations; Essay three due
Final Exam:
Friday, May 10, 11:00-1:30 ENGL 307
Supplemental reading list (for essay three)

Note: This is by no means a comprehensive list; it is a list of suggested works for your final project, including both medieval and modern sources, as well as film. The liberary owns some of the film titles, but not all of them. Texts and films will be assigned on a first-come, first-serve basis, with a limit of two students for each title. Please let me know when you have decided upon one. Feel free to use Arthurian materials not included on this list, but give me the title and a brief description of the work before you go forward.

 Medieval sources
Marie de France, any three Arthurian Lais
Short Arthurian and non-Arthurian poetic romances

The Alliterative Mort Darthur
Fourteenth-century version of the "epic" Arthurian narrative

The Stanzaic Morte Arthure
Fourteenth-century version of the "romance" Arthurian narrative

 Chrétien de Troyes, any two romances not covered in class

 Malory, the Tristram book
The other "famous lovers" of medieval legend; tangential to the Arthur story.

 Wolfram von Eschenbach, Parzival
German version of the story of Percival and the Grail.

 Breoul, Tristan
Early episodic version of the romance of Tristan and Iseult.

Modern sources: texts
T. H, White, any book not covered in class.

 John Steinbeck, The Acts of King Arthur and his Noble Knights
Not complete but interesting: a "realist" treatment of Arthur and the Arthurian cycle

 E., A. Robinson (Any two Arthurian Monologues)
Offers psychological insight into the various figures of Arthur's court, including Merlin and Gawaine.

 C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength
Third in the Perelandra Trilogy: a "potboiler" featuring Merlin and the return of Arthur to combat modern industrialism.

 Marion Zimmer Bradley, Mists of Avalon
A feminist portrayal of the Arthuriad, offering detailed (and sympathetic) portrayals of Morgan and Guinevere; shows the mutli-facetednous of the Arthurian legend. (I haven't read any of the sequels to this book and can't vouch for their quality; if you wanted to do a report on one, I would probably allow it).

 J. R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
Not strictly "Arthurian," but borrows heavily from the tradition, especially in the "lost king" topos. If you chose this one, you would probably want to focus on books 1-2; 3, and 5. (I could also let two or three students team up on this one)

 Geoffrey Ashe, The Discovery of King Arthur
This is not a work of fiction, but of archeology. Nevertherless, his theories about the real "King Arthur" make for interesting reading and have drawn a lot of attention.

 Howard Pyle, Arthur and his Noble Knights
Arthur for young readers. It's interesting to see the ways in which he modifies Malory and other sources.

Modern Sources: Film ("Grades" are based on my own humble judgment).
Monty Python and the Holy Grail (A+)
Spoof, but well-researched and intelligent spoof. Successfully mocks most of the conventions of romance and film representations of the Arthur story.

Excalibur (A-)
Still the best "serious" treatment of the Arthur story. Combines graphic violence with pop mysticism; great visual effects, even if the storyline is chaotic in places.

First Knight (C)
Richard Gere as Lancelot; Sean Connery as Arthur. Uneven and highly anachronistic account of the Lancelot and Guinevere story. No tragedy here, as everyone is reconciled in the end.

Knightriders (B)
A cult classic I couldn't resist including: modern "Arthurian knights" in a sort of SCA-on motorcycles outfit. Does cover many of the important themes and motifs of the Arthurian legend, though. May be hard to find.

Sword of the Valiant (D-)
A dismal attempt to do Sir Gawain and the Green Knight on film. After the first scene, any semblance between this howler and the poem on which it is based is purely coincidental. Even Connery in the title role can't save it. May be hard to find.

 Disney's Sword in the Stone (C+)
Typical Disney: Based on White, it might be interesting to compare the two accounts.

Quest for Camelot (Haven't seen it)
Disney or Disneyesque: A loose "Arthurian" story centering on an effort to steal (or recover) Arthur's Sword

Merlin (C-)
Made-for-TV account of Merlin's life combining a number of Arthurian texts and, unfortunately, some original additions. Twists the Lancelot and Guinevere story beyond recognition. Adds the character of Queen Mab, who sounds like a gecko with a sore throat.

Guinevere (C+)
Also difficult to find: a "romance" retelling of the story from her point of view. Some updates to the story remnicent of Bradley. Slow in places (mainly between the opening and closing credits).

The Fisher King (A)
Robin Williams as a modern-day Perceval, a homeless man seeking for the "grail": a successful update of the grail legend with the attendant themes of healing and redemption.