Course syllabus

ENGLISH 340: Arthurian Literature

First Semester, 2019

Instructor for first half of semester: Tracy Adams

Office: Arts 2

Instructor for second half of semester:  Roger Nicholson

Office: Arts 1


Mo 10:00 - 11:00
Th 10:00 - 11:00

Discussion group:

Mo 11:00 - 12:00
Th 11:00 - 12:00

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Arthurian tales of chivalry and love have entertained readers for centuries.  Beyond diversion, the literary figures of the king, queen, and the knight have provided focal points for cultures to work through their ambivalent feeling towards their society's power structures, institutions that on the one hand civilize, relieving individuals of constant fear of bodily harm, but on the other hand repress individual desire in favor of society.  In our examination of various literary manifestations of Arthur, Guenevere, and the knights of the Round Table, we will consider how medieval society developed some of the givens of Arthurian legend to invent, as Frederic Jameson writes, “imaginary or formal ‘solutions’ to irresolvable social contradictions” created by competing claims of individual and social needs.  The course is taught in two halves, according to the language of the text and the society from which it comes, but, throughout the semester, connections between texts—and sets of texts—are constantly acknowledged and explored.



The objectives of this course are threefold:

  • to introduce students to Arthurian legend and the cultures that produced it.
  • to enhance students’ understanding of literary analysis.
  • to help students practise and further develop writing skills.



Two essays (60%)

  • One for each half of the course, c. 1500 words each, 30% each, 60% in total.
  • Essay One on the French connection will be due on Monday, April 29.
  • Essay Two on the English connection will be due on Wednesday, May 24.

Two Class Tests (40%)

One test for each half of the course, sat at the end of that section.








Course description, Part 1, the French tradition:

Exploring the attraction that the Arthurian tradition has held over time, we will examine the nature of its popularity, along with some of its major elements – archetypes and motifs - and how they have been retained, modified, or discarded over the ages. We will begin by considering some of the principal Arthurian characters. We will then move to two of the most important French contributions to the tradition, the Arthur-Lancelot-Guenevere love triangle and the Grail quest. Along the way will discuss the moral ambiguities of courtly love and the gender roles played out in the different stories.


Class Schedule

Week 1, March 4-8

Mon: Introduction to course.

Merlin, prophecies

Thurs: Extracts from History of the Kings of Britain: scroll down to “CHAP. XVI.--Eldol's valiant exploit. Hengist forces Vortigern to yield up the strongest fortifications in Britain, in consideration of his release” and read to “CHAP. II.--Aurelius Ambrosius, being anointed king of Britain, burns Vortigern besieged in a tower.”

N.B. No weekly reading group meeting this week.

Week 2, March 11-15


Mon: The “Lai of the Mantel.”

Thurs: Marie de France’s “Lanval.”

Week 3, March 18-22


Mon: Chrétien de Troyes (lecture, no reading).

Thurs: Chrétien de Troyes’ Knight of the Cart.

Week 4, March 25-29

Mon: Chrétien de Troyes’ Knight of the Cart.


Thurs: The Grail literature (lecture, no reading).

Week 5, April 1-5

Mon: Perceval, pp. 1-21; 37-44.

Thurs: Quest for the Holy Grail, 1-28.

Week 6, April 8-12

Mon: The passage to England: from the French cycles to Malory (lecture, no reading).

Thurs: Test in class (April 11).


N.B.  ESSAY 1 DUE 4.00 P.M., MONDAY, WEEK 7 (after break), April 29


All texts for first half of semester are available on-line.

Week 1: Merlin,, (selections).

Week 2: “Lanval,”; “Lai of the Mantel,” Library web site, Twenty-four Lays from the French Middle Ages.

Week 3 and 4: Knight of the Cart,” (The entire text.)

Week 5: Perceval or The Story of the Grail, Library web site, Boydell & Brewer, D. S. Brewer, 1982 version (selections); The Quest for the Holy Grail,, (selections).






Class schedule


Week 7, April 29-May 3

Mon:  Introduction:  English Arthur: Taking up the history; making the text

Thurs:  Malory:  Cycle episode or short story:  BALIN


Week 8, May 6-10

Mon:  The Alliterative Morte Arthure (Arthurian imperialism)

Thurs:  The Alliterative Morte Arthure (“Bretain” and its “comlich kyng”)

            Malory, Le Morte Darthur,  Bk 2


Week 9, May 13-17


Mon:  Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Fitt 1

Thurs:  Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Fitts 2 and 3


Week 10, May 20-24

Mon:  Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Fitt 4

N.B.  ESSAY 2, DUE 4.00 P.M., FRIDAY, May 24

            Knighthood in Malory: Lancelot and Guinevere

Thurs:  Le Morte Darthur: ‘The Holy Grail’ and ‘The Poisoned Apple’

Week 11, May 27 - May 31      

Mon:  Le Morte Darthur: 'The Fair Maid of Astolat' and ‘The Knight of the Cart’

            The Passing of Arthur and his court

Thurs: Le Morte Darthur: ‘Slander and Strife’


Week 12,  June 3-7 

Mon:   [Queen's Birthday]

Thurs:  Le Morte Darthur: 'The Death of King Arthur'

            Treason and True Knighthood  

            CONCLUSIONS (and close reading).


Class Test: Take Home Essay, JUNE 7-10 (1.00 p.m. to 1.00 p.m.)



Course summary:

Date Details