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Course outline

EN242 Arthurian Literature and its Legacy 

Module convenor: Dr Marco Nievergelt

Learning outcomes

1. To understand the evolution of Arthurian myth from the mid twelfth to the mid fifteenth centuries, and to examine different national responses to its portrayal of British imperialism.

2. To understand some of the genres and voices of medieval Arthurian narratives, including its resort to prophecy, epic discourse, pseudo-historical discourse, pseudo-exegesis and courtly romance.

3. To further knowledge of Middle English language through a study of several major works of Middle English literature contemporary with or later than those studied in EN121.

4. To examine the reasons behind the Arthurian revival in nineteenth and twentieth-century Britain and America, together with the ways in which the myth has been rearticulated to encompass Victorian, modern and post-modern concerns.


Texts to Buy

Geoffrey of Monmouth, The History of the Kings of Britain, trans. L. Thorpe (Penguin), 1996

Chretien de Troyes. Arthurian Romances, trans. W. W. Kibler (Penguin), 1991

Gottfried von Strassburg, Tristan, trans. A. T. Hatto (Penguin), 1967

Robert de Boron, Merlin and the Grail (tr.) Nigel Bryant (D.S. Brewer), 2005

The Quest of the Holy Grail, trans. P. Matarasso (Penguin), 1975

Thomas Malory, Morte d'Arthur: The Winchester Manuscript, ed. and abridged H. Cooper (Oxford World Classics pbk)

Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Idylls of the King, (Penguin), 1983

Mark Twain, A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur’s Court, (Penguin)

T. H. White, The Once and Future King (Voyager)

Mary Stewart, The Crystal Cave (Coronet)


Teaching Method

1. A one and a half hour seminar weekly.

2. A short visual presentation of Pre-Raphaelite art in term 2.


Module Requirements

Attend seminars, having prepared material as directed by your tutor.

For students taking the module as 100% assessed: submit two essays, each of 5000 words, due on Tuesday, week 2, of 2nd and 3rd terms.

For students taking the module 50/50: submit one 5000 word essay, due on Tuesday, week 2, of term 2, and write a final 2 hours examination.


2 essays (each 50%) over 2 hours.

Useful Background Reading

R.S. Loomis, The Development of Arthurian Romance, 1970

N.J. Lacy, G. Ashe & D.N. Mancoff, The Arthurian Handbook, 1988

D. Pearsall, Arthurian Romance: A Short Introduction, 2003

The two longer texts for term 1, which you might try to read over the summer, are Gottfried von Strassbourg’s Tristan,

and the anon. Quest of the Holy Grail. See above for publication details.

Plan of Module

This outline aims to show what primary reading is required. The module bibliography will provide a list of secondary

materials from which you can select further reading.

Autumn Term 2016

 The Early Arthur of History and the Chronicles 

Week 1 Introduction and Arthurian ‘prehistory’.

Week 2 Geoffrey of Monmouth, The History of the Kings of Britain c.1136 (tr.) Parts 4-7 pp. 149-261. And book dedication, pp. 51-52.

The Knights of the Round Table: Contending Modes of Chivalry 

Week 3 Chretien de Troyes, Le chevalier de la charrete, 1170s (tr.)

Week 4 Chretien de Troyes, Le chevalier au lion, 1170s (tr.)

Week 5 Marie de France, Lanval, 1180s (handout); Thomas Chestre, Sir Launfal, c.1400 - available online at

Week 7 Gottfried von Strassburg, Tristan, c.1210 (tr.)

Week 8 Middle English Gawain romances 14th-15th century: The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnelle, Sir Gawain and the Carle of Carlisle, The Awntyrs off Arthur - all available online at

The Christian Arthur: the Quest for the Grail 

Week 9 Robert de Boron, Merlin and the Grail (tr.) 1190s (pp. 15-63, 92-94, 105-156)

Week 10 anon. Quest of the Holy Grail (from French vulgate cycle), c.1230 (tr.)

 Spring Term 2017 

The Late Medieval Arthur: theories of downfall 

Week 1 Thomas Malory, Morte d'Arthur, Bks 1 & 2: From the Marriage of King Uther unto King Arthur, King Arthur and Lucius the Emperor of Rome, c.1460

Week 2, Malory, Morte d'Arthur, Bks 3 and 4: The Tale of Lancelot; The Tale of Sir Gareth of Orkney

Week 3, Malory, Morte d'Arthur, Bks 7 & 8: Sir Lancelot and Queen Guinevere, The Death of Arthur.

Victorian responses to Arthur in poetry and art 

Week 4 Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Idylls of the King. Please read: Dedication and Coming of Arthur, Balan and Balin, Merlin and Vivien, The Holy Grail, The Last Tournament, Guinevere, The Passing of Arthur

Week 5 Pre-Raphaelite art and poetry: William Morris, A.C. Swinburne

(on handouts). Burne-Jones, Holman Hunt, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Frederick Sandys etc. (short slide show)

American, modernist, children’s and feminist Arthurian fiction 

Week 7 Mark Twain, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, 1889

Week 8 Poems from John Masefield, Midsummer Night, 1928 (on handout)

Week 9 T.H. White, The Sword in the Stone (1st book in series of The Once and Future King), 1939, rev.1958

Week 10 Mary Stewart, The Crystal Cave, 1970

Summer Term 2017

Revision seminars