King Arthur: History and Legend

Rated 5 out of 5 by from Superb course Excellent lecturer and wonderful development of the Arthurian literary traditions.
Date published: 2020-07-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Intriguing I admit to having approached this Course with some apprehension. 24 lectures on a myth ? DA’s presentation style is animated and loaded with whimsical asides. Personally, I find her approach delightful. Moreover, the subject matter becomes more engaging as the Course progresses. It is interesting to see the perpetuation and development of the Arthurian story through time. All in all, it makes a very agreeable interlude between some of the other, more serious, Courses that I have
Date published: 2020-05-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Answered all my questions about King Arthur I was always curious about the history, reality, and story of King Arthur. This Great Course answered my curiosity and gave some peace to my life. The lecturer is compelling and interesting. The history of King Arthur comes alive.
Date published: 2020-02-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very interesting even for King Arthur beginners Armstrong is one of my favorite GC professors. She is never boring, and she is often outright funny. This course will teach you just about all there is to know about King Arthur. This is apparently Armstrong's greatest area of academic interest, and her passion for the subject matter shows.
Date published: 2020-01-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from More wide spread than you would ever guess I watched this course on Great Courses Plus and enjoyed it so much I bought the DVD version for my brother. I had always thought of King Arthur as an English language story. I had no idea how many languages and writers added to the stories
Date published: 2019-12-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Contagious enthusiasm! There's nothing better than listening to someone who not only knows their subject but who plainly and openly loves it, and Professor Armstrong fulfills both criteria in spades. It's was a joy touring the world of Arthuriana under her guidance. (I was a little surprised that she didn't include the Star Wars saga in her modern manifestations, but I suppose the resemblance is not universally accepted.)
Date published: 2019-09-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Entertaining and Enlightening I couldn't "put this down" till the end. Not only is the presenter entertaining and nice to look at, the subject matter surprised me in its tenacity through the ages. I especially enjoyed the origins of the story in Roman Britain after the army was recalled to defend Rome. Transitions are always interesting. Recent excavations in Tintagel point to a wealthy elite who traded with western France and the Mediterranean, post Roman occupation. The evolution of the story with the French, German, and other writers helped make sense of the conglomeration of characters we have today. I'm glad I kept reading The Great Course catalog descriptions while sitting in waiting rooms.
Date published: 2019-06-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Love Professor Armstrong. She makes the course content relatable and clear
Date published: 2019-05-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This was fun. My mother happens to be an Arthurian researcher so I've been familiar with the subject for decades. But this went into a lot of specific historic literary detail, which was interesting to me. I was quite impressed with her pronunciation of the languages other than colloquial American English--particularly the French. I also loved her presentation style--a conversational delivery and humor always makes it more fun for me and the information imprints on my brain deeper and for longer. I'd definitely watch any other courses this professor might give.
Date published: 2019-01-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from King Arthur and his knights This course is taught by Professor Dorsey Armstrong, who is a masterful teacher. She has a thorough knowledge of Arthurian literature and lectures in beautiful, accent-free English. She also has an unusual talent for languages, speaks French flawlessly and recites medieval English without stumbling. The King Arthur story originated in the 5th century and according to the professor, Arthur was probably not a king, but rather a brave warrior, who among other battles, drove out the invading Anglo-Saxons from Britain to save his people. The legend of King Arthur became very popular and was rewritten many times by many authors from different countries, such as France, Germany, Holland, Scandinavian countries and others, to fit their own cultures. Professor Armstrong talks about the evolution of the legend. The earliest versions were not associated with the grail, which was added later and Richard \Wagner used the German Grail legends to compose his operas Parcival and Lohengrin. This course is well worse listening to and will not disappoint..
Date published: 2018-09-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Trip THrough TIme This course is a wonderful trip through time, exploring the various aspects of the Arthurian legend. Professor Armstrong delivers the lectures with such vivid detail and passion you get pulled into the narrative, making the history come alive. Her proficiency in many different languages makes the many quotes she uses throughout the lectures all the more poignant. She is gifted in explaining, in minute detail, how the stories of Arthur have changed throughout the centuries, morphing into the stories we all know and love today.
Date published: 2018-07-08
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Literarily complete, not much on historicity or lack of it. There are books much more complete on this. Given the title, I expected more in this aspect.
Date published: 2018-06-19
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Detailed Review of Arthuriana The King Arthur course put the meat, sinews and tendons onto the bare bones of my knowledge of the Camelot story. The course spent a lot of time probing early texts of the story and was able to modernize it with current references. Is Arthuriana relevant to today’s world. The code of chivalry, justice, and a life-long quest may be even more important today than recent generations past. I think we long for selfless leadership and the golden walls of a place called Camelot. Bravo for presenting this course. I will be looking for more courses by this lecturer.
Date published: 2018-06-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Adventureous History I had this course on my wish list waiting for it to go on sale. When I got it, I decided to watch it two episodes at a time. It was well worth the wait. I went to Purdue as an engineer and I am glad I didn't get a chance to take it in the mid 60's because I would not have truly appreciated the course. I learned more English/British history as well as European than I expected.
Date published: 2018-05-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Title describes the course well. I enjoyed every lecture. The instructor was passionate about the topic, and in showed in the depth of information, and the excellent delivery.
Date published: 2018-04-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Brings Arthur to life I have the online Great Courses monthly subscription and Dr. Dorsey is my favorite presenter/lecturer by far. She really helped me to see Arthur as the living and growing in a dynamic cultural context. She is so comfortable with the material (and entertaining) that I have trouble getting anything done because I just want to go to the next one.
Date published: 2018-04-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thoroughly Delightful! I didn't know what to expect from this course and was richly rewarded for my curiosity. The title is accurate: This course covers the legend from the point of view of English literature and also the history (little did I know about the perfidious abandonment of the British Isles by the Romans and the complicated consequences!) Professor Armstrong has a delightful presentation style. She's extremely well prepared and informed and also enjoyable to listen to. I loved this course!
Date published: 2018-03-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from WISDOM IN HISTORY There are 36 episodes and I am watching once a week. I am up to #28. The course begins with Egypt in 3000 B.C. So far, I think that Prof. Rufus Fears' best individual lecture was on Thomas Jefferson. In this episode he clearly defines the nature of American exceptionalism. Overall, he makes an extremely important point for today's politicians. Much of the world does not share our desire for the freedom that comes with a democratic form of government. The residents of many nations in the world prefer an orderly society. That must be what he means by wisdom. Do not impose our values on other peoples. They want a fair ruler. In return they will obey the laws. I am reminded of Svetlana Stalin's return to Russia because she could not stand the constant chaos in America. However, so far, Prof. King has not described a nation where freedom or a fair king has lasted very long. Yes, North America and Europe and Japan seem to be surviving, but history has not yet played out there. It is most discouraging to learn that history is one long battle between the good guys and the tyrants. I kind of new this, but this course dramatizes it. I think Prof. Fears is an excellent, well organized teacher and recommend this series io anyone who wants to get a broad sweep of history of rulers. He does a good job of making the people come alive.........not just fact after fact after fact.
Date published: 2018-03-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Entertaining and Informative I have been a voracious reader of the legends of King Arthur for many years so this course was an immediate buy for me. I had already listened to one about Arthurian legends from my library that the Great Courses produced years ago. This course is more comprehensive in looking at not just the literature produced about Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table but also the art, music, and films. Professor Dorsey Armstrong was a good choice to teach this subject. She has studied it for many years and her knowledge of content is clear in this lectures. I came away with a better understanding of the works of Chretien de Troyes and Sir Thomas Malory as to the great themes behind this works and why this still resonates with me and millions around the world. This course gave me some more reading material to look at to enhance my understanding of the Arthurian legend. I am particularly interested in the German and Scandinavian stories because I had no idea just how far these stories were able to penetrate into the Medieval European conscience.
Date published: 2018-03-10
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great lecturer, mixed subject matter The course starts with the possible historical origins of Arthur (or an Arthur-like figure) and I found those lectures riveting. It then continues with discussions of the development of Arthurian legend in writings, and eventually in film and popular culture. I personally found the earlier lectures of far greater interest while I could feel my eyes (or ears?) glaze over at the upteenth retelling of the story. There are fascinating tidbits scattered among some pedestrian information, but be aware that this is part history, part literature and part popular culture (through the ages). I will say that her readings, in the original, of some of the Arthurian texts was beautiful to listen to. And, as a lecturer, I thought her style superb, even when the my interest in the subject matter had begun to wane. Then again, I've taken up several of the texts she refers to, so the course has served as a jumping off point, which commends it.
Date published: 2018-02-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Beyond Any Compare I have been a Teaching Company pupil virtually since its inception. I have hundreds of Teaching Company courses, all of which I have greatly enjoyed. This was the very best of them. It doesn’t get any better than Dr. Dorsey Armstrong--at least for me--than her King Arthur.
Date published: 2018-02-16
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great teacher, poor iconography, doubtful choices Professor Dorsey Armstrong is irresistible: witty, stimulating, didactic and with a profound knowledge of her subject (she translated Malory's "Morte Dartur" into modern English). I have learned a lot from this course and intend to read (and watch, and listen to) many more works inspired by King Arthur's story. The two complaints which made me delete a fifth star: unlike many other Great Courses, iconography is far from sufficient. When a historical character is mentioned, I expect to see a portrait with his/her name and dates of birth and death. When a location is mentioned, I expect to see a picture and a map. This is even more important when dealing with a legend. I missed more illustrations, the more so since great artistic talents over the centuries have dedicated some of their best work to making Arthur and his knights come alive. In the lectures on music and film, I am sure licenses could have been obtained to give us a better idea of how the story translated into these art forms. Finally, I wish Professor Armstrong had dedicated a little more time to other famous retellings - Sir James Knowles, Howard Pyle, Rosemary Sutcliff, Thomas Bulfinch, even Henry Purcell's "semi-opera" King Arthur. These go all unmentioned. On the other hand, too much time (in my opinion) is dedicated to often weird revivals of the story in our time as well as to works which are much too recent to be properly appraised. But then, this is fully understandable in view of Professor Armstrong's enthusiasm for the continued relevance of the subject. That said, I'm glad I took the course, would do it again even knowing these (minor) shortcomings and intend to follow other courses on the Middle Ages by Professor Armstrong and other teachers. Bottom line: if the Great Courses re-release this very same series with a much richer iconography and artistic materials (which should not be too difficult to do), even without any changes to the content of the course, it will be fully deserving of five stars. Congratulations to Professor Armstrong.
Date published: 2018-01-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from excellent delivery with remarkable knowledge of british history at the the time of the collapse of roman britain. I was interested to hear of king haakon and scandinavian versions of arthurian legend about which i knew nothing. dorsey's style of delivery is wonderful.
Date published: 2018-01-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Course! This is one of the best courses I've taken yet from Great Courses. Dorsey Armstrong is, quite simply, an excellent teacher. Amusing, knowledgeable, down-to-earth, and interesting.
Date published: 2018-01-11
Rated 4 out of 5 by from I bought this for a Daughter-in-Law for Christmas. I have nothing to say about this particular course
Date published: 2018-01-02
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Delightful Presentstion Over the years I have dipped into various examples of Arthuriana and even possess unopened copies of Idylls and Dore's illustrations. With Dorsey Armstrong's thorough, well integrated, and delightful presented course, I now feel inspired to study Tennyson’s Idylls in full. Thank you.
Date published: 2017-12-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Course An excellent course presented by a great lecturer. Professor Dorsey Armstrong has a very engaging style.
Date published: 2017-12-14
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Okay This course taught a ton about different writings on King Arthur. I loved the first CD which offered some historical background and information about where the legend may have come from. But otherwise it was just referring to different books which were written on the subject. This is not what I was hoping for.
Date published: 2017-11-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Captivating Interesting, well-organized, comprehensive (short) class about the whole Arthur ethos, from beginning history to current treatments. Professor Armstrong provides clear explanations of myriad aspects of this blossoming tale, and adds just enough repetition of key points as review when setting up the topic for the next class session. Recommended.
Date published: 2017-09-29
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Tedious introduction I cannot write a thorough review as we watched the first six lectures and were very put off by the extreme detail documenting her sources. I understand this is very important to a researcher, but not so much to the average viewer. We have delayed watching the remainder of the lectures and may never get to them. Sorry for the negative review but we both felt the same way.
Date published: 2017-07-30
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King Arthur: History and Legend
Course Trailer
The Origins of King Arthur
1: The Origins of King Arthur

First, consider images of the Arthurian legend familiar in Western culture, and their relationship to historical reality. Trace the history of post-Roman Britain, the large-scale invasions of the Anglo-Saxons, and evidence that a single, extraordinary individual rose from the chaos to lead and save his people.

32 min
An Arthur-Like Figure in Cornwall
2: An Arthur-Like Figure in Cornwall

Investigate archaeological and historical evidence that support the existence of an Arthur-like figure in early Britain. Learn about the site of Cadbury Castle, the center of operations of a leader of great military and logistical skill who thwarted the Saxon invasion. Learn also about important lore surrounding the supposed tomb of Arthur....

30 min
King Arthur in the Latin Chronicles
3: King Arthur in the Latin Chronicles

Now explore some of the most significant early witnesses to the Arthurian legend. In Latin texts by the chroniclers Gildas (6th century) and Nennius (9th century) and in the Welsh Annales Cambriae, study accounts of Arthur's exploits and death in battle. Learn how 11th- and 12th-century texts later embellished the legend, elevating Arthur as a godlike hero....

30 min
King Arthur in Wales-The Mabinogion
4: King Arthur in Wales-The Mabinogion

Grasp how Arthur became a cultural touchstone early in Welsh history. In texts such as the Black Book of Carmarthen and the Triads of the Island of Britain, uncover key references to the Arthurian saga. In the tales of the Mabinogion, observe the portrayal of Arthur as an exalted royal personage....

31 min
Monmouth, Merlin, and Courtly Love
5: Monmouth, Merlin, and Courtly Love

Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain is arguably the most important literary artifact of the Arthurian tradition. Learn about the political nature of the text, the important elements and characters that Geoffrey wove into it, and how he established the basics of the Arthurian legend as we know it....

30 min
The Round Table-Arthur in Wace and Layamon
6: The Round Table-Arthur in Wace and Layamon

Discover the contributions of the Anglo-Norman scribe Wace, who translated Geoffrey of Monmouth's text into Old Northern French, and the English cleric Layamon, who created the first comprehensive account of Arthur in English. Compare how Wace advances the notion of courtly chivalry in the saga with Layamon's more brutal portrayal of Arthur's community....

30 min
Chretien de Troyes and Sir Lancelot
7: Chretien de Troyes and Sir Lancelot

This great Arthurian writer introduced elements of the legend that would become essential. Learn how de Troyes pioneered the genre of the medieval romance, developed the ethos of courtly love in his writings, and introduced the great heroic figure of Lancelot and his adulterous love of Guenevere....

31 min
Arthurian Tales in Brittany and Burgundy
8: Arthurian Tales in Brittany and Burgundy

Here, encounter the works of Marie de France, whose Arthurian writings developed themes of romantic love, the magical, and the noble. Then learn how Robert de Boron linked King Arthur to the spiritual and religious realms and introduced the Holy Grail, which figures prominently in the massive, anonymous text of the Perlesvaus....

30 min
The Lancelot-Grail Cycle
9: The Lancelot-Grail Cycle

This lecture explores the remarkable 13th-century work known as the Prose Lancelot. Discover the text's five parts, highlighting the central section, where Lancelot assumes his place as the greatest Arthurian knight. Delve into the Grail Quest narrative and its theological thrust, as well as the Mort Artu, detailing the tragic outcome of the Arthurian saga....

30 min
The Early German Arthurian Tradition
10: The Early German Arthurian Tradition

Study the key Arthurian texts of Hartmann von Aue, which delve deeply into questions of the balance between noble love, knightly endeavor, and devotion to God. Then grasp the brilliance of Wolfram von Eschenbach's portrayal of Parzival's wisdom quest, involving the magical Grail stone and the legendary Fisher King....

31 min
King Arthur's Other German Adaptations
11: King Arthur's Other German Adaptations

Numerous other German writers made their marks on the legend of Arthur. Among them, contemplate Gottfried von Strassburg's masterful text on the Tristan legend, Ulrich von Zatzikhoven's elaborate treatment of Lancelot, Wirnt von Grafenburg's story of the adventure quest of Wigalois, and Heinrich von dem Türlin's encyclopedic saga The Crown....

30 min
The Arthurian Sagas of Scandinavia
12: The Arthurian Sagas of Scandinavia

Follow the legend of Arthur into the literary traditions of medieval Iceland and Norway. Learn how Norwegian king Hákon Hákonarson commissioned adaptations of Arthurian works into Old Norse, and explore distinct differences in ethos, sensibility, and emphasis between the Continental and Scandinavian versions of the knightly saga....

30 min
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
13: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Delve into the fascinating narrative of this highly sophisticated poem, following the great Sir Gawain through elaborate plot twists on his quest to fulfill an astonishing challenge. Investigate the meaning of his journey, and consider the important questions it raises concerning free will, loyalty, shame, and honor....

32 min
The Alliterative Morte Arthure
14: The Alliterative Morte Arthure

In this dramatic culmination of the saga, study the events of Arthur's military victory over Rome, and his ensuing degeneration from noble king to ruthless conqueror. Reflect on the poignant final meeting of Mordred and Gawain, the story's bleak denouement, and the poet's implicit message regarding Arthur's character and the nature of war....

29 min
Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte Darthur
15: Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte Darthur

Thomas Malory's massive retelling of the Arthurian saga became a benchmark for all writers who came after him. Learn how Malory's text introduced the Pentecostal Oath, a sacred code of ethics sworn to by the knights, which Malory "tests" throughout the narrative as a model for noble thought and action....

31 min
Enriching the Legend-Tristan and Isolde
16: Enriching the Legend-Tristan and Isolde

The Celtic legend of Tristan and Isolde was assimilated as a key element of the Arthurian tradition. Study the narrative of the Tristan story as it emerged in two distinct literary traditions, and grasp how the story's appeal led to Sir Tristan being "co-opted" as a knight of the Round Table....

29 min
The Holy Grail from Chretien to Dan Brown
17: The Holy Grail from Chretien to Dan Brown

No physical object in the Arthurian canon carries more symbolic weight than the Holy Grail. Discover the origins and varied manifestations of the Grail, explore the most celebrated of the literary Grail narratives, and investigate why the Grail has fired the imagination of writers from the medieval world to the modern one....

30 min
Arthuriana in Medieval Art
18: Arthuriana in Medieval Art

Uncover rich depictions of Arthurian scenes in cathedrals and churches across Western Europe, as well as in privately commissioned artworks, and grasp why such scenes proliferated in religious settings. Learn also how a massive table, once believed to be the actual Round Table of King Arthur, was put to symbolic use by British royalty....

29 min
Spenser, Milton, and the Renaissance Arthur
19: Spenser, Milton, and the Renaissance Arthur

In a relatively sparse era of Arthurian literary output, trace noteworthy currents of the saga in Spenser, Milton, and the work of Renaissance historians. Between the 16th and 18th centuries, note the rise of Arthur's presence in popular ballads, songs, and poetry, and his remarkable portrayal on the stage in English and Cornish....

30 min
Idylls of the King-The Victorian Arthur
20: Idylls of the King-The Victorian Arthur

The 19th century witnessed an explosion of interest in the legend. Learn about the poetry of Alfred, Lord Tennyson, whose Idylls of the King inaugurated a new era of Arthurian writing and scholarship. Discover the extraordinary Arthurian works of the pre-Raphaelite painters, and delight in portrayals of Arthurian themes in stained glass, tapestry, and illustration....

28 min
Wagner and Twain-King Arthur in the Late 1800s
21: Wagner and Twain-King Arthur in the Late 1800s

In his two overtly Arthurian operas, observe how Richard Wagner adapted and modified the Arthurian legend to dramatize social and religious ideals, linking these ideals with Germany itself. On our own shores, grasp how Mark Twain satirized the saga in Connecticut Yankee, critiquing both European aristocracy and American society....

30 min
Once and Future-The 20th-Century Arthur
22: Once and Future-The 20th-Century Arthur

Among significant 20th-century treatments of the saga, begin with T.H. White's The Once and Future King and its ruminations on kingship, power, and governance. Also explore Mary Stewart's highly original Merlin Trilogy, Marion Zimmer Bradley's feminist The Mists of Avalon, and the brilliant comic book series Camelot 3000....

30 min
Camelot Comes to Hollywood
23: Camelot Comes to Hollywood

From the wealth of Arthurian cinema, investigate major film portrayals of the legend from recent decades. In particular, learn about the brilliant satire of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the weighty symbolism of John Boorman's Excalibur, the modern-day Grail narrative of The Fisher King, and the achievements and shortcomings of Antoine Fuqua's King Arthur....

29 min
King Arthur in the 21st Century and Beyond
24: King Arthur in the 21st Century and Beyond

Conclude by assessing the roles of the Arthurian legend in modern culture. Consider the associations of the saga in merchandising and the commercialization of historical sites, as well as its uses in pop culture and media. Finally, grasp the remarkable adaptability of King Arthur as a symbol of courage and hope....

32 min
Dorsey Armstrong

Every turning point in the medieval world discussed in these lectures shifted the flow of the river of history, bringing us ever closer to the modern world.


Duke University


Purdue University

About Dorsey Armstrong

Dr. Dorsey Armstrong is Associate Professor of English and Medieval Literature at Purdue University, where she has taught since 2002. The holder of an A.B. in English and Creative Writing from Stanford University and a Ph.D. in Medieval Literature from Duke University, she also taught at Centenary College of Louisiana and at California State University, Long Beach. Her research interests include medieval women writers, late-medieval print culture, and the Arthurian legend, on which she has published extensively, including the 2009 book Sir Thomas Malory's Morte Darthur: A New Modern English Translation Based on the Winchester Manuscript and Gender and the Chivalric Community in Sir Thomas Malory's Morte d'Arthur, published in 2003. In January 2009, she became editor-in-chief of the academic journal Arthuriana, which publishes the most cutting-edge research on the legend of King Arthur, from its medieval origins to its enactments in the present moment. Her current research project-Mapping Malory's Morte-is an exploration of the role played by geography in Malory's version of the story of King Arthur.

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