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Unit information: Arthurian Literature in 2015/16

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Unit name Arthurian Literature
Unit code ENGL29021
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Professor. Leah Tether
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of English
Faculty Faculty of Arts


This unit will focus on the Arthurian legend from early medieval to modern times. We begin by considering the origins of the legend in Welsh tales and in Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain, and then proceed to the first Arthurian romances by Chrétien de Troyes. Medieval English versions to be considered are Malory's Morte Darthur and Sir Launfal. As interesting as the original medieval legends are the post-medieval responses. We will be focusing on Tennyson's Arthurian cycle, Idylls of the King, Mark Twain's parody A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur's Court, and the classic of children's literature, T.H. White's The Sword in the Stone. We shall discuss issues such as the changing characterisation of Arthur, the conflict of love and chivalry, the roles of religion and of magic, representations of women, and the ways in which the Arthurian legend has been both idealised and parodied.


The aim of the unit is to give students a good grounding in Arthurian literature, medieval and modern, and to develop skills in close reading and in comparative criticism.

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this unit students will have

  1. the ability to structure and sustain an argument,
  2. the ability to understand texts written in earlier forms of the English language and from different periods and cultures,
  3. developed improved writing and presentation skills
  4. demonstrated pertinent use of evidence, and of related primary sources and criticism.

Teaching details

1 x 2 hour seminar per week.

Assessment Details

  • 1 essay of 2000 words (40%)
  • 1 essay of 3000 words (60%)

Both summative essays map ILOs 1-4.

Reading and References

Elizabeth Archibald and Ad Putter (eds), The Cambridge Companion to the Arthurian Legend (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2009)

Richard Barber, The Holy Grail: Imagination and Belief (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2004)

Helen Fulton (ed.), A Companion to Arthurian Literature (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009)

Derek Pearsall, Arthurian Romance: A Short Introduction (Oxford: Blackwell, 2003)

Chrétien de Troyes, Arthurian Romances, trans. William Kibler (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1991)

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Idylls of the King, ed. J. M. Gray, rev. edn (Harmondworth: Penguin, 1996

James Wilhelm (trans.), The Romance of Arthur: An Anthology of Medieval Texts in Translation (London: Garland, 1994)