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King Arthur: History and Legend

Uncover the richness of the Arthurian tradition from the Middle Ages to the 21st century in this wide-ranging and fascinating survey of Arthurian literature and art.
King Arthur: History and Legend is rated 4.7 out of 5 by 101.
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Rated 4 out of 5 by from King Arthur-History and legend This course presented a reasonable and historically supported explanation for the rise of the legend, putting the most likely candidate in the proper time period. The lectures on the embellishments to the legend were most interesting, showing how they reflected more the times they were written in than the time that Arthur lived.
Date published: 2022-01-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderfully informative! I’m in the middle of this course now. I previously took Dr. Armstrong’s Black Death course, and have decided she is one of my favorite lecturers in all the Great Courses repertoire. I have purchased some 100 courses, and Dr. Armstrong stands out for how informative she is. Her material is well-presented, and she backs every statement with source material. There are none of the “glittering generalities” that drive me crazy with some of the other courses I’ve taken, i.e.: “the elite were not intelligent enough to pay attention to the peasant class” with no material to support such a statement. I have purchased all of Dr. Armstrong’s courses, and I can’t wait to finish them. I’ll probably go back and take all of them a second time, because they are so outstanding.
Date published: 2022-01-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Added Much to What I Previously Knew Based on my name, I have long been interested in this topic! In 2001 I took a graduate course at Drew University on King Arthur, Dr. Armstrong filled in some of the things we mentioned then but did not cover. As a result, I enjoyed her presentation and content very much, I found her examination of the continental interest in the Arthurian corpus very interesting, especially in Germa (I am bilingual and have studied/taught German for decades). What I most liked about this course was how Dr. Armstrong examined the connections between a specific work of art and the context in which it was written. This is contrary to some scholars (I never agreed with this and even blogged about it recently), but Dr. Armstrong is correct and it does matter. Specifically, I refer to her discussion of "Le Morte D'Arthur" and how Malory applied the Arthurian texts to the War of the Roses. Finally, I also enjoyed the overview she gave of Tennyson, and want to re=read the "Idylls". Brava, Dr. Armstrong!
Date published: 2021-12-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A journey in time and legend This is the second course I have watched by Prof Armstrong and believe she is one of the most outstanding presenters in the program. We took this course on a whim as the legend of King Arthur always seemed interesting, but not the kind of thing we would spend a lot of time on. We signed up because we loved Prof Armstrong's Black Death series and the way she brought that grisly subject to life. Well she did it again in the Kig Arthur course. It was fun, informative, lively and well documented. Clearly she loves the subject , and her enthusiasm was infectious She has a delightful sense of humor , a wonderful speaking style, and is not fixed behind a lectern. We watched it with friends one of whom was a professor emeritus at a major university. He was floored by her abilities and her knowledge of the subject. I learned not only about the legend, but also about the history of Britain and Ireland, medieval Europe, and a final look at the legend today in movies and TV. I cant recommend this strongly enough to anyone with even a passing interest in medieval history or the story of King Arthur. I have just signed up for another course by this professor. Thank you Great Courses for having Prof Armstrong among your presenters.
Date published: 2021-12-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the Most Awesome Courses I've Come Across Ok, so I already have this on both my on-site streaming account and on audible but I thoroughly enjoyed Professor Armstrong's lectures on King Arthur that I decided I needed the DVD too. She kept the subject of the history of the stories of King Arthur and the various transformations of its body of works through the centuries fresh and interesting with both wit and humor while teaching us about the background and development of the topic. It also made me think of the various modern stories that I've read that are definitely influenced by Arthuriana. And thank you to her, because I think listening to the lectures finally jogged my memory of the name of the author of the books I read as a child that actually sets the Arthurian stories in a post-apocalyptic future - Pamela F. Service - that apparently made it to kindle. It also made me think of Alice Borchardt's books and more currently J.M. Briggs' Iron Bound Soul series. I hadn't realized how pervasive the stories of King Arthur have permeated the western culture and traveled to other non-western cultures as well. If there's enough for her to do it, I'd love to see her do a set of more in-depth lectures on Arthurian stories, and other cultural influences in both media and art in the 20th and 21st Centuries. I'm curious to see what she'd make of the influence of such medieval stories in such a modern age and how it fits into today's culture. It's become one of my top favorite courses. Keep in mind, I'm like most people who don't have an in-depth knowledge of the subject, but more modern surface and peripheral stuff. I wasn't even aware that Tristan and Isolde were part of the Arthurian works. I read one book as a kid where it ends in both their deaths and some kind of plant grows on their graves as a sign of their undying love. I thought it was part of the Celtic stories. At any rate, yes, I loved this one a lot and am collecting it on DVD too.
Date published: 2021-11-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The King Arthur lecture I have been waiting for Most people know at least something about King Arthur, but few know the whole story. this course will fill in the blanks. A comprehensive look at the myth of Arthur, these lectures span centuries and eras in an engaging and thorough way. the Professor is wonderful and seems to be deeply enamored with the topic. Professor Dorsey's understanding of the subject manner is admirable and entertaining. She tackles archaic medieval themes in a style that will appeal to the modern world. Explaining the significance of the many influences and texts that have found their way into Arthurian legend. Her lectures are always focused and she lectures in an everyman style that is both engaging and entertaining. This was a wonderful lecture series on a popular subject that has become one of my favorite series in the great Courses library.
Date published: 2021-10-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from long time student Excellent engaging course Fantastic lecturer She transported me into the Middle Ages!
Date published: 2021-10-02
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Watch. With caution. She is an incredibly engaging lecturer. She is also either very credulous or does not explain nuance very well. We see the same thing in her Plague lectures (Which I love) She gives evidence that something *could* be possible, again and again, and seems to imply that because it could be possible it is fact I love her, but you really have to watch her lectures with a health dose of critical thinking
Date published: 2021-09-06
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Overview

The saga of King Arthur and his court is the most enduringly popular mythic tradition of Western civilization. For over 1500 years, the Arthurian narrative has enthralled writers, artists, and a limitless audience spanning the Western world and beyond-and its appeal continues unabated in our time. Delve into the historical mystery behind the figure of Arthur, and discover the magnificent breadth of these epic tales.

About

Dorsey Armstrong
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.

INSTITUTION

Purdue University

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.

By This Professor

King Arthur: History and Legend
854
The Black Death: The World's Most Devastating Plague
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Analysis and Critique: How to Engage and Write about Anything
854
Years That Changed History: 1215
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Great Minds of the Medieval World
854
King Arthur: History and Legend

Trailer

The Origins of King Arthur

01: 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

02: 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

03: 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

04: 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

05: 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

06: 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

07: 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

08: 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

09: 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