King Arthur: History and Legend

Rated 5 out of 5 by from Incredible Professor, extremely engaging! Absolutely amazing, wonderful professor, fascinating subject matter, I loved every single second
Date published: 2020-08-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent it was hard to stop listening to this course - fascinating from one end to the other.
Date published: 2020-07-22
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
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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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