King Arthur: History and Legend

Watch King Arthur: History and Legend

  • 2015
  • 1 Season

King Arthur: History and Legend from The Great Courses is a fascinating exploration into the myths and historical realities surrounding the legendary King Arthur. The course consists of twenty-four lectures by Professor Dorsey Armstrong, an expert in medieval literature and Arthurian legend.

The first lectures focus on the historical context of King Arthur, examining the various sources that mention him and the historical figures who may have inspired the legendary king. Professor Armstrong dispels some of the myths surrounding Arthur, such as the idea that he was a medieval knight in shining armor or that he single-handedly defeated the Saxons. Instead, she presents a nuanced and evidence-based picture of Arthur as a warlord who fought against invading forces in the 5th and 6th centuries, likely in the regions of present-day Wales and Cornwall.

As the course progresses, Professor Armstrong delves into the many legends that have grown up around King Arthur over the centuries. She examines the development of the Arthurian mythos, from early Welsh tales to the elaborate romances of the medieval period. This includes a detailed analysis of the major works of Arthurian literature, such as Chrétien de Troyes' Lancelot and the Arthurian legends of Geoffrey of Monmouth.

Throughout the course, Professor Armstrong presents a wealth of information and analysis, both for established Arthurian scholars and for those who are new to the subject. She explores topics such as the political and cultural contexts of Arthurian literature, the symbolism and themes of Arthurian tales, and the way in which the Arthurian legend has been adapted for popular culture, including films and literature.

One interesting aspect of the course is the emphasis on the role of women in Arthurian literature. Professor Armstrong examines the nuanced and varied portrayals of women in Arthurian tales, from the scheming Morgan le Fay to the tragic Guinevere. She also explores the ways in which the portrayal of women in Arthurian literature reflects cultural attitudes towards gender and power in the medieval period.

Overall, King Arthur: History and Legend is an engrossing and informative course that provides a detailed and nuanced examination of the Arthurian mythos. Whether you are a longtime Arthurian scholar or simply interested in learning more about this legendary figure, this course is sure to fascinate and enlighten. Professor Armstrong's clear and engaging style of presentation, combined with a wealth of historical and literary insight, makes this course a must-see for anyone interested in the history and mythology of King Arthur.

King Arthur: History and Legend is a series that is currently running and has 1 seasons (24 episodes). The series first aired on March 5, 2015.

King Arthur: History and Legend
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King Arthur in the 21st Century and Beyond
24. King Arthur in the 21st Century and Beyond
March 6, 2015
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.
Camelot Comes to Hollywood
23. Camelot Comes to Hollywood
March 6, 2015
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.
Once and Future--The 20th-Century Arthur
22. Once and Future--The 20th-Century Arthur
March 6, 2015
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.
Wagner and Twain--King Arthur in the Late 1800s
21. Wagner and Twain--King Arthur in the Late 1800s
March 6, 2015
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.
Idylls of the King--The Victorian Arthur
20. Idylls of the King--The Victorian Arthur
March 6, 2015
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.
Spenser, Milton, and the Renaissance Arthur
19. Spenser, Milton, and the Renaissance Arthur
March 6, 2015
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.
Arthuriana in Medieval Art
18. Arthuriana in Medieval Art
March 6, 2015
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.
The Holy Grail from Chr©tien to Dan Brown
17. The Holy Grail from Chr©tien to Dan Brown
March 6, 2015
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.
Enriching the Legend--Tristan and Isolde
16. Enriching the Legend--Tristan and Isolde
March 6, 2015
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.
Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte Darthur
15. Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte Darthur
March 6, 2015
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.
The Alliterative Morte Arthure
14. The Alliterative Morte Arthure
March 6, 2015
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.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
13. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
March 6, 2015
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.
The Arthurian Sagas of Scandinavia
12. The Arthurian Sagas of Scandinavia
March 6, 2015
Follow the legend of Arthur into the literary traditions of medieval Iceland and Norway. Learn how Norwegian king H¡kon H¡konarson 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.
King Arthur's Other German Adaptations
11. King Arthur's Other German Adaptations
March 6, 2015
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 T¼rlin's encyclopedic saga The Crown.
The Early German Arthurian Tradition
10. The Early German Arthurian Tradition
March 6, 2015
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.
The Lancelot-Grail Cycle
9. The Lancelot-Grail Cycle
March 6, 2015
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.
Arthurian Tales in Brittany and Burgundy
8. Arthurian Tales in Brittany and Burgundy
March 6, 2015
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.
Chr©tien de Troyes and Sir Lancelot
7. Chr©tien de Troyes and Sir Lancelot
March 6, 2015
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.
The Round Table--Arthur in Wace and Layamon
6. The Round Table--Arthur in Wace and Layamon
March 6, 2015
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.
Monmouth, Merlin, and Courtly Love
5. Monmouth, Merlin, and Courtly Love
March 6, 2015
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.
King Arthur in Wales--The Mabinogion
4. King Arthur in Wales--The Mabinogion
March 6, 2015
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.
King Arthur in the Latin Chronicles
3. King Arthur in the Latin Chronicles
March 6, 2015
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.
An Arthur-Like Figure in Cornwall
2. An Arthur-Like Figure in Cornwall
March 6, 2015
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.
The Origins of King Arthur
1. 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.
Where to Watch King Arthur: History and Legend
King Arthur: History and Legend is available for streaming on the The Great Courses website, both individual episodes and full seasons. You can also watch King Arthur: History and Legend on demand at Apple TV Channels, Amazon Prime, Amazon, Kanopy and Hoopla.
  • Premiere Date
    March 5, 2015