Fall, 2004


The “Reel” Arthur                                                               


10:50-12:05 TTH   117 Huma 

Distribution I course



A survey of the origins and development of the 

Arthurian legend from the earliest chronicles in

the sixth century and later medieval

French, Welsh, Irish, and English Arthurian poems

to modern adaptations of Arthurian material,

especially films.


PURPOSE: This course will investigate the major

traditions associated with King Arthur and his

knights of the Round Table. We will witness the

growth of the Arthurian legend and investigate

some of the reasons for its continuing allure. The

course has the additional purpose of helping us

see the way legends are developed and understand

the forces which seem to contribute to their

growth and popularity.


GRADES:  midterm and second examinations = 50%

Two papers/presentations/discussion = 50%

Attendance is mandatory and highly desirable; students are expected and encouraged to come to class prepared to discuss the assigned reading. Participation counts for borderline grades.


TEXTS (all in paper, on reserve): In order of assignment (prices by amazon.com)

Excerpts from early (6th-9th c.) Arthurian Chronicles and Histories (Hand-out)

“The Dream of Rhonabwy,” from the Mabinogion (Penguin) (Hand-out)

Geoffrey of Monmouth, History of the Kings of Britain, trans. Lewis Thorpe (Penguin) 0140441700 $11.16 DA140 .G353 1966

Wace, Layamon, Arthurian Chronicles, trans. Eugene Mason (University of Toronto) (Hand-out of select passages)

Marie de France, Lanval, trans. Robert Hanning and Joan Ferrante (Baker Books) (Hand-out) PQ1494.L3 E5 1982

Chrétien de Troyes, Arthurian Romances, trans. William Kibler (Penguin) 0140445218 $11.20PQ1447 .E5 K53 1991

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, trans. James Winney (Broadview) 0921149921 $9.95 PR2065.G31992

Sir Thomas Malory, Le Morte d’Arthur, ed. Stephen H. A. Shepherd (Norton) 0-393-97464-2

            See Shepherd’s Website: http://faculty.smu.edu/sshepher/MorteDarthur.htm


FILMS (all on reserve) Viewings TBA

Camelot (1967), dir. Joshua Logan PN1997 .C2434 1997  V.1-2  227 mins.

Lancelot of the Lake (1974), dir. Robert Bresson PN1997 .L348 1995  80 mins.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), dir. Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones 90 mins. PN1997 .M68 1991

Excalibur (1981), dir. John Boorman 141 mins. PN1997 .E92 1991 

The Natural (1984), dir. Barry Levinson  PN1997 .K387 2001 138 mins.

The Fisher King (1991), dir. Terry Gilliam PN1997 .F573 1992 137 mins.

First Knight (1995), dir. Jerry Zucker PN1997 .F572 2000 134 mins.

Mists of Avalon (2001), dir. Uli Edel PN 1997 .m632 2001 178 mins.

King Arthur (2004), dir. Antoine Fuqua (at local theatres)


Films will be shown on Sundays 6:30-9:30 (time depending on length) in 117 HUMA 6:30-10 from 10-3 to 11-28




I. Introduction

First Week

Aug. 24 Tues.  Topic: Introduction—An Historical or Legendary Arthur?

            Read Excerpts from Early Chronicles and Histories (Hand-out)

            Gildas, De Excidio et Conquesto Britanniae [On the Fall and Conquest of Britain] (c. 540), pp. 3-4

Bede, Historia Ecclesiastics Gentis Anglorum [Ecclesiastical History of the English People] (c.751), pp. 4-5


II. The Literary Backgrounds and Traditions

Aug. 26 Thurs. Topic: The Legendary Arthur

            Read Excerpts from Early Chronicles and Histories (Hand-out):

            Nennius, Historia Brittonum [History of the Britons] (c. 800), pp. 5-6

            Annales Cambriae [The Annals of Wales] (c. 950), p.7

William of Malmesabury, Gesta Regum Anglorum [History of the Kings of the English] (c. 1125), pp. 7-8   

Giraldus Cambrensis, De Principis Instructionae [On the Education of a Prince]  (c. 1195), pp. 9-11


Second Week

Aug. 31 Tues.  Topic: Arthur of Camelot: Fact or Fiction? The Archaeology

            Videotape on King Arthur: In Class

            Topic: Geoffrey of Monmouth and the History of Arthur

Read Geoffrey of Monmouth, Historiae Regum Brittonum [History of the Kings of Britain] (ca. 1129-1151), dedication & part I, Brutus, pp. 51-74; part IV, The Boy Merlin, pp. 166-69; part V, Merlin; 170-85; part VI,  Merlin, Vortigern, Uther Pendragon, pp. 186-211

Sept. 2 Thurs. Topic: Geoffrey of Monmouth and the History of Arthur

Read Geoffrey of Monmouth, Historiae Regum Brittonum (ca. 1129-1151), part VII, Arthur of Britain, pp. 212-61


Third Week

Sept. 7 Tues.  Topic: Vernacular Arthurs:  French and English Chronicles by Wace and Layamon

            Read Wace and La3amon (hand-outs)

Sept. 9 Thurs. Topic: Welsh Romance and the Battle of Camlann

            Read “Dream of Rhonabwy” from the Mabinogian (hand-out)


 Fourth Week

Sept. 14 Tues. Topic: Gendering the Round Table through Alterity

            Read Marie de France, Lanval (hand-out)

Sept. 16 Thurs. Topic: Chrétien, Lancelot, or Knight of the Cart: Parody or Romance?

            Read Chrétien, Lancelot, or Knight of the Cart, in Kibler 


 Fifth Week

Sept. 21 Tues.

Sept. 23 Thurs. Topic: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: Romance or Ritual?

            Read Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Winney’s trans., Fitts 1-2



Sixth Week

Sept. 28 Tues. Topic: Gay Gawain?

            Read Fitts 3-4

Sept. 30 Thurs. Topic: Malory and the Creation of the Round Table

            Reading: Malory, Le Morte d’Arthur, “Fro the Maryage of Kynge Uther Unto King Arthure that Regned after Hym,” pp. 1-112

Sunday viewing: Camelot


Seventh Week

Oct. 5  Tues. Topic: Malory and the Fall of the Round Table, or The Flight from Eden

             Reading: Malory, Le Morte d’Arthur, “The Tale of  Sir Launcelot and Quene Gwenyvere,” pp. 588-645

Oct. 7 Thurs. Topic: Malory and the Death of Arthur

            Reading: Malory, Le Morte d’Arthur, “The Dethe of Arthur,” pp. 646-98

Oct. 8 Fri. MID-TERM EXAMINATION due 9 A.M. at 235 Herring Hall or by e-mail


Eighth Week

Sunday viewing: Lancelot of the Lake (1974), dir. Robert Bresson

Oct. 11 & 12 Mon. and Tues. MID-TERM RECESS


III. Individual Works: The Masterpiece and the Reinterpretation, into the Twentieth Century


Oct. 14 Thurs. Topic: The Postmodern Lancelot

            Film: Lancelot of the Lake (1974), dir. Robert Bresson

            Read: Excerpts from the Prose Lancelot and “Lancelot at the Perilous Chapel,” Perlesaus, in Shepherd, ed. Le Morte d’Arthur, pp. 720-25

Oct. 15 Fri. Short Paper Due at 9 a.m.


Ninth Week

Sunday viewing: Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Oct. 19. Tues. Topic: Monty Python and the Postmodern Arthur

            Film: Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), dir. Terry Gilliam

            Read: Malory, “The Tale of the Sankgreal,” Morte d’Arthur, pp. 496-587

Oct. 21 Thurs. Topic: Monty Python and the Postmodern Grail

            Film: Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), dir. Terry Gilliam


Tenth Week

Sunday viewing: Excalibur

Oct. 26 Tues. Topic: The Postmodern Sword

            Film: Excalibur (1981), dir. John Boorman

            Read: Excerpts from The Prose Merlin and the Suite de Merlin, in Shepherd, pp. 705-713

Oct. 28 Thurs. Topic: The Postmodern Sword

            Film: Excalibur (1981), dir. John Boorman


Eleventh Week

Sunday viewing: The Natural

Nov. 2 Tues Topic: The Postmodern Perceval

            Film: The Natural (1984), dir. Barry Levinson

            Read: Malory, “The Tale of the Sankgreal,” Morte d’Arthur, pp. 496-587, esp. pp. 521-31, 544-87

Nov. 4 Thurs.            Topic: The Postmodern Perceval

            Film: The Natural (1984), dir. Barry Levinson


Twelfth Week

Sunday viewing: First Knight

Nov. 9 Tues. Topic: Postmodern Guenevere

            Film: First Knight (1995), dir. Jerry Zucker

            Read: Excerpts from the Stanzaic Morte and the Morte le Roi Artu, in Sjepherd, pp. 740-58

Nov. 11  Thurs. Topic: Postmodern Guenevere

            Film: First Knight (1995), dir. Jerry Zucker



Thirteenth Week

Sunday viewing: The Fisher King

Nov. 16 Tues. Topic: Monty Python Redux, or The Postmodern Grail

            Film: The Fisher King (1991), dir. Terry Gilliam

            Read: Excerpts from The Queste del Saint Graal, in Shepherd, ed. Morte d’Arthur, pp. 733-39

Nov. 18 Thurs.  Topic:  Monty Python Redux, or The Postmodern Grail

            Film: The Fisher King (1991), dir. Terry Gilliam


Fourteenth Week

Sunday viewing: Mists of Avalon, Part 1

Nov. 23  Tues. Topic: Postmodern Morgan?

            Film: Mists of Avalon (2001), dir. Uli Edel

            Read: “The Tale of Sir Launcelot du Lac,” in Malory, Morte d’Arthur, pp. 151-76

Nov. 25 Thurs.  Thanksgiving Vacation


Fifteenth Week

Sunday viewing: Mists of Avalon , Part 2

Nov. 28 Sun SECOND PAPER DUE 6 pm

Nov. 30 Tues. Topic: Postmodern Morgan?

            Film: Mists of Avalon (2001), dir. Uli Edel

Dec. 2 Thurs.

            Summary and Evaluations

Dec. 3 Fri. SECOND EXAM DUE 9 a.m.


Note: Grades are due in the Registrar’s office Dec. 22 @ 5 p.m.




I. Short Paper (5-7 pp.) Due: Oct. 15 (Fri.)


Write a short paper on some aspect of any of the medieval works we are reading or

on one of the following selected topics (a research bibliography follows). In the first instance, check your idea with me. In the second, you don't need to check with

me unless you have questions, or you'd prefer a different topic.


 List of Possible Topics

            The Figure of Morgan le Fay

            The Lady of the Lake

Merlin the Magician

Wace's Contribution to the Story of Arthur: The Round Table

The Legend of the Return of Arthur

The Origin and Significance of the Isle of Avalon

Chrétien and romance as a genre

Andreas Capellanus: The Meaning of Courtly Love

Chrétien's Concept of a Knight

Chrétien's Yvain and the Welsh "Lady of the Fountain"

             Origins of Lancelot and Chrétien's Presentation of him as Knight of the Cart

Chrétien and Courtly Love

The Origin and Development of Gawain: The English and French Views of his 


            The German Arthur?

            Perceval: Permutations and Combinations

             The Figure of Sir Kay: Welsh or French?

The Medieval Wheel of Fortune

The Alliterative Revival of the Fourteenth Century

Who was Sir Thomas Malory?

Theories of Grail Origin

The Function of the Grail Quest in the Morte Darthure

Malory and Amour Courtois

The Victorian Interest in Medievalism


Scholarship Bibliography (in our library) 

Alcock, Leslie. Arthur's Britain.

Barber, Richard. King Arthur in Legend and History.

Benson, Larry D. Malory's Morte D'Arthur.

Bradbook, Muriel C. Sir Thomas Malory.

Bruce, James Douglas. The Evolution of Arthurian Romance. (2 vols.)

Chambers, E. K. Arthur of Britain.

Dean, Christopher. Arthur in the Middle Ages

Fenster, Thelma, and Mary Erler, eds. Women in Arthurian Literature

Lambert, Mark. Malory: Style and Vision in Le Morte d'Arthur.

Loomis, Roger Sherman, ed. Arthurian Literature of the Middle Ages. (ALMA)

______. The Development of Arthurian Romance. 

Matthews, William. The Ill-Framed Knight: A Skeptical Inquiry into the  Identity of Sir Thomas Malory.

Moorman, Charles. A Knight There Was: The Evolution of the Knight in Literature.

Moorman, Charles and Ruth. An Arthurian Dictionary.

Newman, F. X., ed. The Meaning of Courtly Love.

Paton, Lucy. Studies in the Fairy Mythology of Arthurian Romance.

Steinbeck, John. The Acts of King Arthur and his Noble Knights.

Stewart, Mary. The Crystal Cave.

             The Hollow Hills.

Sutcliff, Rosemary. The Sword at Sunset.

Tatlock, J.S.P. The Legendary History of Britain.

Vinaver, Eugene. The Rise of Romance.

_______________. The Works of Sir Thomas Malory.(3 vols.; Winchester manuscript; 3rd vol.  notes)

Weston, Jessie. From Ritual to Romance.

White, T. H. The Book of Merlyn.

Williams, Charles. War in Heaven


II.   Final Papers (approximately ten pages due at the end of the semester) Nov. 28 Sunday @ 6 p.m.


The major written project in this course will be a paper on a modern filmic treatment of the Arthurian legend that you will view in addition to the assigned reading material. In this paper you are asked to consider two points: the director’s use of Arthurian sources and the work’s artistic merit. That is, you should consider how the director/screenplay writer makes use of the medieval materials related to Arthur and his knights and then determine whether or not the author has written an effective story or work of art. Although all the films will be available for viewing at Fondren, they may not be available elsewhere in Houston. Please make an attempt to see each film at least once for class discussion and more than once if you are writing on the film.

Two-four students will be assigned to each 2-hr. film as well with an eye to an in class presentation/moderation of class discussion that will serve as the basis for the formal paper.


In writing this paper, also be sure to consider the following:


1.     Does the director reach a different conclusion or provide a different outlook on the

 character(s) than does his or her medieval source?


2.     How does the director's source differ from the medieval sources? What does the director

 gain by altering his or her medieval source or including Arthurian materials in the story?


3. Is the author's use of Arthurian materials appropriate to the point s/he or she wishes

 to make? Why?


4. How does film as a medium allow perspectives to emerge differently from romance and chronicle?


5. In what way does the director interweave a contemporary cultural perspective into the film’s treatment or adaptation of Arthurian materials?


You may also choose a work from the following list to write about in your paper:


Berger, Thomas. Arthur Rex.

Bradshaw, Gillian. Hawk of May.

             Kingdom of Summer. 

             In Winter's Shadow.

Chapman, Vera. The King's Damosel.

             The Green Knight.

             King Arthur's Daughter

Labenthal, Sanders Ann. Excalibur.

Lewis, C.S. That Hideous Strength

Malamud, Bernard. The Natural

Monaco, Richard. Parzival or the Knight's Tale.

Pyle, Howard. The Story of King Arthur and his Knights.

Seton, Anya. Avalon.

Steinbeck, John. The Acts of King Arthur and his Noble Knights. 

Stewart, Mary. The Crystal Cave. 

             The Hollow Hills.

             The Last Enchantment.

             The Wicked Day.

 Sutcliff, Rosemary. The Sword and the Circle.

             King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.

-------, Sword at Sunset.

Twain, Mark. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court.

White, T. H. The Book of Merlin.

Williams, Charles. Taliessen through Loges.

             Region of the Summer Stars.

             War in Heaven.


The long paper must be typewritten, doublespaced, with adequate margins, and submitted on the date due. Assignments will be graded on both form and content: strive for originality of 

Thesis and cogency of argument, clear, coherent organization, and sufficient specificity and development.


For additional help with writing problems see William Strunk and E.B. White, The Elements of  Style.


III. Examinations: two, Oct. 8 and Dec. 3. E-exams, honor code-bound.



Office Hours 4-5 Thurs. and by appointment

Office 235 Herring Hall

Office Phone X2625

Dept. Secty: x4840  Office Fax: 348-5991

Home: 713-524-3304

e-mail: jchance@rice.edu

web page: http://www.ruf.rice.edu/~jchance