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 93.
  • y_2021, m_7, d_26, h_19
  • bvseo_bulk, prod_bvrr, vn_bulk_3.0.18
  • cp_1, bvpage1
  • co_hasreviews, tv_9, tr_84
  • loc_en_CA, sid_2376, prod, sort_[SortEntry(order=SUBMISSION_TIME, direction=DESCENDING)]
  • clientName_teachco
  • bvseo_sdk, p_sdk, 3.2.1
  • CLOUD, getAggregateRating, 4.76ms
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Execllent. Prof Armstrong is a skillful and engaging lecturer. One of the best.
Date published: 2021-05-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Pleasant Teaching Style I always enjoyed spending time watching this lecture series by Dr. Dorsey Armstrong, who has an engaging personality and true passion for the subject of Arthurian Legend. The fascination with King Arthur throughout the ages has created many myths geared toward the local audience, as this course reveals. It's one of those English stories that has such resonance that people want to believe it, regardless of the fact that most if not all of the legend arises from such small items as a compliment to a war lord ending with the enigmatic phrase "but he was no Arthur." I learned quite a bit, and though I'm not exactly sure what utility that will have in my life, it was fun. As with tangible English institutions Stonehenge and the Chunnel, just bringing up King Arthur seems to easily start conversations that often lead in unexpected directions. The summer before taking the class, my wife and I had toured Glastonbury in the free year 2019 (let's pray it is not the last one, or we may need King Arthur to return and rectify the situation), which I would recommend as a supplement to this class, though as the tour guide said, the best place to find Arthurian Legend is in a book shop, which I would amend to say in this class.
Date published: 2021-04-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Grail of a Course This course offers an excellent overview of the beginnings and evolution of the King Arthur legacy and the accompanying theme of the Holy Grail. Professor Armstrong covers the historical possibilities for an actual King Arthur and then goes through the Arthurian stories in chronological order. She explains where they originated and how the country each writer was from colored the focus and theme. Pagan and Christian themes are considered as well as the knightly values. The lectures then cover how Arthur, his court and his ideals have stayed vibrantly with us through books, comics, tv shows and movies. Professor Armstrong's knowledge as well as her love for medieval and Arthurian themes sprinkles the lectures with fun connections and stories. I highly recommend this course.
Date published: 2021-04-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good introduction I've been interested in Arthurian legend since I was a child, but never learned much about it. This was a great introduction to the history of how Arthurian legend developed. I've never read most of the works of Arthurian literature she discusses, but her explanations of each story and why they are important, as well as highlighting details to look out for, are useful for someone about to read the work. I just rewatched her lecture on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight before starting to read it.
Date published: 2021-02-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Here's Your Seat at the Round Table “King Arthur: History and Legend” is an especially engaging set of lectures about what I at first assumed would be a rather narrow topic. My assumption was wrong. In fact, this is one of the most broadly relevant of the nearly 120 Great Courses that I own, enhancing my knowledge of literature, history (including religious history and military history), politics, linguistics, and visual arts. Professor Dorsey Armstrong is a devoted and erudite academic. She organizes and summarizes information superbly, and she crafts insightful analogies to emphasize her ideas, reviewing just the right amount lecture-to-lecture. She can confidently deliver samples of texts in both modern and medieval versions of numerous languages. Her descriptions of how and why Arthuriana spread well beyond the British Isles are fascinating. Dr. Armstrong’s series pairs particularly well with Dr. Jennifer Paxton’s course on Medieval England and Dr. Grant L. Voth’s course on World Literature. The King Arthur DVDs are not equipped with closed captioning, and the guidebook does not include a glossary; those are two features that would have helped me to review and learn occasional unfamiliar terms. I lamented more, though, that this excellent course had to end at all, and I would gladly study further presentations by Dr. Armstrong.
Date published: 2021-02-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from So good! I just came to the end of this lecture series and was astounded that it went by so quickly. I have never really understood how and why there are so many versions of the Arthur legend, but this course explained it all extremely well. I feel as though I finally "get it". Lol, my father is quite a character, and his name is Arthur, so I will have to see if I can get him to watch this course as well. Thank you, Professor Armstrong. What lucky students you must have!
Date published: 2021-01-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Engaging My Dad got me this course for my birthday, and I now think it is one of the best ways to learn about Arthurian Legend. The presenter is very engaging, and does a good job of presenting it overall. I would recommend reading a simple adaption of King Arthur before watching the course, because it is nice to have a little bit of knowledge and understanding beforehand (One simple adaption I like is Roger Lancelyn Green's King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table)
Date published: 2020-10-25
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
  • y_2021, m_7, d_26, h_19
  • bvseo_bulk, prod_bvrr, vn_bulk_3.0.18
  • cp_1, bvpage1
  • co_hasreviews, tv_9, tr_84
  • loc_en_CA, sid_2376, prod, sort_[SortEntry(order=SUBMISSION_TIME, direction=DESCENDING)]
  • clientName_teachco
  • bvseo_sdk, p_sdk, 3.2.1
  • CLOUD, getReviews, 6.61ms


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.


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.


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


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