English/Comp Lit 205a
M. McInerney
TTH 2:30-4

Legends of Arthur

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. In the story of the Grail Quest, for instance, elements deriving from Celtic and Christian mythologies often appear to be at odds with each other; we will try to illuminate this relationship by reading some Welsh and Irish analogue tales. We will also consider the role of the Arthurian corpus (sometimes called the "matter of Britain" although the earliest Arthurian romances are French) 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. These quintessentially medieval concepts raise fascinating questions about the conflict between personal and private morality, about the representation of women, and about the construction of both identity and gender. 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, forms the foundation of Robertson Davies' Cornish Trilogy, and has generated numerous films, from Robert Bresson’s iconic Lancelot to the Pythons’ iconoclastic Holy Grail.

The Romance of Arthur, ed. Wilhelm (Garland)
Chretien de Troyes, Arthurian Romances (Penguin)
Marie de France, Lais
Sir Thomas Malory, Le Morte d'Arthur, ed. Bryan (Modern Library)
Tennyson, Idylls of the King, (Penguin)
Robertson Davies, The Cornish Trilogy (Penguin)
Xerox packet including The Lay of the Horn, The Knight of the Two Swords,
excerpts from John of Salisbury, Irish and Welsh mythology, and assorted critical readings.

Bibliography assignment (2-4 pages).
1 paper on a medieval text (4-6 pages)
1 paper on a contemporary retelling (novel, film, etc.) of the Arthurian legend (4-6 pages)
2 brief (1 pg or 3-4 pgphs) response papers posted to the class WebForum; regular responses to the posts of others.
Final essay examination covering all the material on the course
Regular attendance and engaged participation in classroom discussion.
Participation in the Arthurian Film Festival (viewings and discussions).

*English 205b satisfies the “Introductory Emphasis” requirement for the Haverford English Major, and has a limited enrollment of 30.
Cross Listed with Comparative Literature