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King Arthur’s legend flourished in the twelfth century because of Geoffrey of Monmouth, who crafted the “history” of a great heroic king who united Britain and saved his people from many invaders and challenges. Throughout the centuries, the stories have grown, and new, chivalrous characters have been added. Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table have become symbols of justice, national destiny, manliness, and self-sacrifice. Some artists took great inspiration from them while others satirized them. The evolution of this hero has taken several unlikely twists and turns that would have probably surprised his creators very much.
In this course, we will pursue two goals: studying the Arthurian literature of the medieval period and understanding the growth and application of Arthuriana in Britain through the modern era. First, we will familiarize ourselves with several of the canonical Arthurian texts from the twelfth through the fifteenth centuries. Then, we will read secondary scholarship and survey the art, poetry, music, film, and comics of later centuries that have adapted the Arthurian characters for their own use. Throughout our discussion, we must keep in mind the authors’ purpose and choice for positioning Arthur to serve their own needs. Why has Arthur endured as a hero, and why is he so malleable for modern users?