From Celtic Britain to post-apocalyptic Britain, and even to outer space, the story of King Arthur lives on, with each generation reshaping it slightly or finding something within it that speaks to them. The possible historical Arthur remains a subject of interest and debate for scholars and enthusiasts, with last September’s Smithsonian magazine describing only part of that quest. The Arthurian stories themselves evolve and develop throughout the Middle Ages with Welsh, French, and other storytellers exchanging characters and material, reshaping the tales in the courtly love tradition, and adding images from their own traditions and mythologies. The Grail legend and other mythic archetypes appear and are developed. Nineteenth-century authors both romanticize and satirize the tales. In the twentieth century, authors try to reclaim the historical Arthur and continue to develop the legend. Recent scholars and writers have turned as well to the women in the tales, looking back at the power they might have possessed in the Celtic world and rejecting the medieval divisions of women into saints and temptresses.
In this discussion class, we will read a sampler of the earliest history and medieval versions of the tales. We will look as well at the mythological patterns of the tales. As we follow the story through the centuries we will explore the appeal and portrayal of the story in each period. We will focus especially on the ideal of the hero and sacrifice and on the portrayal of women.
Our central text for the first half of the term will be Arthur, King of Britain, edited by Richard L. Brengle, and published by Prentice Hall. Although this book is out of print, it is available reasonably from various used book sites.
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We will follow the current mask policy of the course site.
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