King Arthur: History and Legend

Course No. 2376
Professor Dorsey Armstrong, Ph.D.
Purdue University
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Course No. 2376
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Course Overview

The saga of King Arthur and his knights and ladies is perhaps the most enduringly popular mythic tradition of Western civilization. For over 1500 years, the Arthurian narrative has enthralled writers, artists, and a limitless audience in countries spanning the Western world and beyond—and its appeal continues unabated in our own times.

With origins in the exploits of a 5th-century Celtic warrior, the legend of a noble king and his knightly cohort caught fire across Europe, spawning a vast literary tradition that reached its height in the Middle Ages, with major contributions from writers both in Britain and throughout the Continent.

But the appeal of the saga far outlived the medieval era. It remained dynamically alive in folk culture and theater through the Renaissance, only to see an epic literary and artistic resurgence in the 19th century, which continues to the present day in multiple forms—from fiction writing and visual arts to film and popular culture. No other heroic figure in literature compares with King Arthur in terms of global popularity and longevity; today, each year sees literally thousands of new versions of the story appear across diverse media.

What does this amazing phenomenon tell us about our culture, our civilization, and ourselves? What is it about this particular story that has so deeply gripped the human imagination for so many centuries, in so many places?

King Arthur: History and Legend speaks deeply to these key questions and many more, revealing the full and astonishing scope of the Arthurian tradition, from its beginnings in post-Roman Britain to its extraordinary trajectory across the centuries and its latest incarnations in our own times. Within 24 content-rich lectures, you’ll encounter all of the most essential portrayals of the Arthurian saga in literature and art, encompassing:

  • the preeminent treatments of the legend in Latin, Welsh, and English texts, including milestone versions from Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain to T.H. White’s The Once and Future King;
  • seminal versions of the narrative and major thematic additions by writers in France, Germany, Scandinavia, the Netherlands, and other European countries, including monumental texts such as the Perlesvaus and the Prose Lancelot;
  • iconic representations of Arthurian themes in visual art, from medieval stonework and woodcarving to the flowering of the saga in 19th-century painting and decorative art; and
  • the remarkable transformations of the stories in 20th- and 21st-century literature, art, and film.

Your pathfinder in this world of mythic adventure and romance is Professor Dorsey Armstrong of Purdue University, an expert Arthurian scholar and current editor-in-chief of the academic journal Arthuriana, who brings rare insight and depth to this most unusual and compelling inquiry. Through her incisive commentary, you’ll draw out the core archetypes and cultural values that drive the saga, exploring in depth its elemental themes of kingship, courage, virtue, loyalty, romantic love, and devotion to God.

You’ll also trace how the myth developed across time, clarifying many misunderstood aspects of the narrative, such as the origins of the Round Table and the figure of Merlin, the illicit love between Lancelot and Guenevere, and the varied manifestations of the magical Holy Grail. You’ll discover how the legend was appropriated and assimilated by differing cultures, and how each writer in the tradition reflected and commented, through the Arthurian narrative, on the concerns of their own time and place. The result is an illuminating look at one of the most engaging, entertaining, and impactful legendary traditions the world has ever known.

A Myth for the Ages

In the course’s opening section, you’ll delve into the historical mystery behind the figure of Arthur, finding that the real-life model for the legend bore little resemblance to the noble monarch so many of us imagine. Within the grand legacy of Arthurian literature, you’ll study integral elements of the tradition such as:

  • The History of the Kings of Britain: Take the measure of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s 12th-century blockbuster bestseller, perhaps the single most significant Arthurian text. Assess the acutely political nature of the work, and observe how Geoffrey established many core features of the legend as we’ve come to know it.
  • King Arthur and the French: Discover how French writers working between the 12th and 14th centuries expanded the Arthurian narrative in essential ways, fully developing the ethos of courtly love, contributing characters such as the heroic figure of Lancelot, and linking Arthur’s knightly community with spiritual and religious endeavors.
  • The German Arthurian Tradition: Grasp the vital impact of German treatments of the saga. Note how German writers grappled with philosophical questions of the relation of worldly undertakings to devotion to God, and see how they developed important narrative strands such as the Tristan legend and the Grail quest.
  • Le Morte Darthur: Explore Sir Thomas Malory’s definitive 15th-century account of the story, which essentially “set” the legend for all subsequent writers. Observe how Malory brought together the entire Arthurian narrative in a comprehensive retelling, and also introduced the Pentecostal Oath, a knightly code of honor and key thematic element.
  • Idylls of the King: Learn how Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s great poetic cycle—some of the most beautiful, idealized writing in the tradition—almost singlehandedly triggered a huge resurgence in Arthurian expression in the 19th century and deeply influenced Victorian visual art.
  • The Mists of Avalon: Among noteworthy 20th-century treatments of the legend, contemplate Marion Zimmer Bradley’s revolutionary feminist retelling of the saga, portraying Arthur’s rise and fall through the perspectives of Arthur’s half-sister Morgaine and the druidic faith of the Mother Goddess.

A Tradition of Astounding Richness and Diversity

In the course’s final section, you’ll travel into many additional areas of Arthurian expression. Within the realm of visual art, you’ll trace the remarkable contributions of the artists of the 19th-century Pre-Raphaelite movement. Marvel at the Arthurian paintings of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Edward Burne-Jones, Edmund Leighton, and others, as well as the decorative art in stained glass and tapestry of William Morris and his circle.

You’ll take account of how Richard Wagner adapted and modified the legend in his two Arthurian operas, Tristan und Isolde and Parsifal, and how Mark Twain lampooned both British and American society in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. Finally, you’ll track the saga into our own times in examples ranging from Mary Stewart’s remarkable Merlin trilogy to the ingenious comic book rendering of Camelot 3000 and noteworthy film treatments such as John Boorman’s Excalibur and Antoine Fuqua’s King Arthur.

Demonstrating both encyclopedic knowledge and an infectious passion for the subject, Professor Armstrong is the perfect guide in this epic quest. The lectures are enriched with striking visual images, including important manuscripts, photos of locations associated with the legend, and Arthurian-related art and architecture from around the world.

King Arthur: History and Legend offers you a comprehensive and detailed overview of the Arthurian phenomenon in all of its extraordinary diversity and enduring impact. These fascinating lectures speak to the essence of what is arguably the Western world’s most beloved and deeply cherished myth.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 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. x
  • 2
    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. x
  • 3
    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. x
  • 4
    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. x
  • 5
    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. x
  • 6
    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. x
  • 7
    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. x
  • 8
    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. x
  • 9
    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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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 Turlin's encyclopedic saga The Crown. x
  • 12
    The Arthurian Sagas of Scandinavia
    Follow the legend of Arthur into the literary traditions of medieval Iceland and Norway. Learn how Norwegian king Hakon Hakonarson 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x

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Your professor

Dorsey Armstrong

About Your Professor

Dorsey Armstrong, Ph.D.
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,...
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Reviews

King Arthur: History and Legend is rated 4.7 out of 5 by 83.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Tales of the Tale: Fabulous Professor Armstrong is definitely one the GC's 5-star teaches. Her enthusiasm and wit are infectious. This course hardly needs another high rating; but I will give it another anyway. This is the story of how a legend migrated across Europe, got modified, and interpreted through the centuries. It certainly enlightened me. You may want to quickly review the very early history of what we call the British Isles today before launching into the course. Rating the "value" of this course is a bit different than the many science, philosophy, and religion courses I have taken. There is some history in this course but I think it is mostly for fun. This course is not going to change your mind on how the universe was formed or if God really talked to Moses; but it will enlighten you on how a legend (or legends) can evolve through time, country, and language. My one suggestion for the course is: this course just begs for a 'glossary' of people's names. So many characters show up with different names as the legend migrated through countries and languages it would have been useful for the guidebook to have such a glossary.
Date published: 2017-03-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent professor! The instructor is very engaging and enthusiastic about Arthurian legends and artifacts. I highly recommend this to people interested in the development of medieval stories.
Date published: 2017-02-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Dr. Armstrong is fantastic!! I was thrilled to receive this course as a Christmas gift and have listened to it non-stop ever since Christmas afternoon. Dr. Armstrong is so passionate and knowledgeable about Arthuriana, is a wonderful speaker, and has a delightful presentation. I would sign up for anything she teaches!! I wish she were my everyday friend! Kudos!!
Date published: 2017-02-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Perfect balance - introduction, interest, detail Prof. Armstrong was down-to-earth, exceptionally well-versed in the history and detail and entertaining. I'm in the middle of a long project of "catching up" on all the courses I would have loved to have taken in college/graduate school, and this was high on the list. I found this a wonderfully digestible and informative course.
Date published: 2017-01-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great course, but "The British Worthy" is missing! I viewed this lecture series via The Great Courses Signature Collection on Amazon. This is a wonderful course! The presentation is fascinating and comprehensive. Professor Armstrong structured her presentation like a symphony, one episode leading smoothly to another, holding (at least my) interest all the way through to the end -- which came far too soon! I loved the little personal anecdotes she added and the delightful bits of humor thrown in to help make the material more entertaining and relevant to an interested audience. I say "interested audience" pointedly, as a lot of the material is pretty academic and specialized. If you're expecting the Hollywood take on the Arthurian legend, this course will probably not be your cup of tea. If you're willing to stay with it, though, the rewards would hopefully make it worthwhile. So, why four stars and not five? Dr. Armstrong laments the fact that interest in the Arthurian legend reached a nadir in the period from the Renaissance through the Enlightenment, only picking up again in the Romantic movement of the 19th-century. True enough, but there were some important exceptions. Notable among these is the semi-opera “King Arthur, or The British Worthy,” with music by Henry Purcell and libretto by John Dryden. Premiered in 1691, this delightful piece falls well within the “dry spell” of Arthurian works. I feel Dr. Armstrong should have, at the very least, mentioned this popular and important contribution to Arthuriana. That she did not takes away from the overall presentation.
Date published: 2017-01-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Generally great... You always ask for a review well before I have had a chance to start a course, as I order new courses before I have finished the last..so here is a general comment: I LOVE the Great Courses. I use them on a one-hour drive and back, weekly, to a volunteer job, and on long solo road trips. With one exception where all myths seemed to be tied to a theory of American exceptionalism, I have found them quite outstanding...BUT, I can do without the trumpet fanfares and the applause!! he lectures themselves are quite wonderful enough.
Date published: 2016-12-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Sit in the siege perilous, and hang on! A great overview of Arthuriana throughout the centuries. Professor Armstrong's passion for the topic comes through in the lectures, and makes the story come alive. The early lectures address the historical evidence for Arthur, and then she traces the development of the legend from Britain to Brittany to France and beyond. Very informative and entertaining.
Date published: 2016-10-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from She is GOOD! Professor Dorsey Armstrong is a dynamic, personable speaker. She is authoritative, but not pontifical, about her subject. Her enthusiastic and animated presentation inspires her viewers to maintain attention, lest they miss an interesting point. She is clear, organized, and she makes excellent use of illustrative materials. Both sides if the issue are discussed in controversial subjects, but she also presents the most rational resolution of the differences when possible. I don't know what she could do to make the topic clearer or more interesting. If there were a six star choice, I would give it to her.
Date published: 2016-10-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating, from a truly great teacher I've enjoyed each course by Professor Armstrong, and just listened to her King Arthur course on CD. It's great. She's a very compelling lecturer, and loves her material. She starts with a very condensed history of Celtic Britain, the Romans in Britain, the Anglo-Saxon invasions and colonizations, and what we know from old texts and archeology about the British Celtic leader known to us as King Arthur. All of this is well told and very interesting. The rest of the course covers the evolution and variation of the tales of King Arthur, in England, Normandy, France, German, Scandinavia, etc. It's very well done and well worth buying and enjoying. I hope that Prof Armstrong does more TC course -- I've bought and enjoyed each one that she has done so far.
Date published: 2016-09-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A most unique course This was by far the most unique course I’ve listened to from the Great Courses, and one of the best. A mixture of history, myth, literature, art, music, film and pop culture. Professor Armstrong begins with the historical Arthur, and moves seamlessly into the development of the literature over time. She traces the development of the story as it becomes legend and myth, and we watch it become a sort of proto-fan fiction as the story spreads and is picked up by new writers who add their own take on the story and as already existing stories are grafted on to Arthur. All the most famous versions of Arthur stories are touched on, and many with which I was not familiar, especially from the modern era. She covers both the heavy (Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde and Parsifal) and the light (Monty Python and Twain’s Connecticut Yankee). I am now excited to go back and read or re-read many of the stories (or watch the movies or listen to the operas or study the paintings) that were covered in this series, now with a more critical and understanding eye. The best professors convey their own enthusiasm for the subject to their students, and that was never more true than with Professor Armstrong. She plainly loves the subject, and I get the impression that she would happily offer a few more lectures worth of Arthuriana over a pint of Holy Grail Ale if given the chance. Her style is casual, informal and easy to listen to, but at the same time leaves no doubt as to her scholarship and expertise.
Date published: 2016-09-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from King Arthur and Dorsey Armstrong My husband and I have gotten several courses by Dorsey Armstrong, and she is our favorite Great Courses professor. We enjoyed especially her sharing her knowledge of languages in this course. There are far more primary sources related to the Arthurian tradition than one would think, and she shares them, often reading them in the original language, then English. There were so many things she presented that we had never even heard of, and we have borrowed several of her recommended books from the Library to continue our interest in Arthur. She gives good advice which I have always followed: if you want to get a flavor for a particular historical period, read fiction about that time.
Date published: 2016-08-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Dorsey Armstrong is Amazing I was interested in the King Arthur legend but I had no idea how interesting it would be in the hands of Dorsey Armstrong. What an amazing professor, her enthusiasm and ability to explain complex ideas using modern examples made the course very relatable. She also shed a lot of light on what I feel is a mysterious and little understood time and place in world history. I would highly recommend this course.
Date published: 2016-07-05
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Perfect introduction to medieval literature This is a medieval literature course taught using the device of King Arthur stories. The teacher is fantastic. You can really feel her enthusiasm. But the material is hard. It's in foreign languages. The stories are all over the place. And the subject matter can get a little heavy, especially when it comes to the subject of infidelity, purity, and the holy grail. The course is great at the beginning few and ending few lectures. The middle lectures are a bit of a slog, so it's possible that this material could have been shortened. At the same time, she is so knowledgeable about the subject that I would have liked a few more lectures on Arthuriana in modern culture. But alas, the course is designed as a historical trip through the writings in each century -- hence the medieval literature course. Suggest that for the next iteration, take out three or four lectures out of the middle (say, merge the Scandanavian lecture with some of the German lectures) and add more to the end (say, separate course on modern literature, movies, references, etc.).
Date published: 2016-06-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Everything old is new again... Audio download. For those considering this set of lectures be warned that this is not a course dealing with history in a straight-forward way. Professor Armstrong (I really do think of her as simply Dorsey...mostly because of her brilliant speaking style) instead examines the legend (myth?) of (King) Arthur through a tapestry of literature, art and music, with only scant archeologically-based evidence. Did this guy exist? Was he a king? Did he really manage to conquer Rome (or what was left of it after it's demise in 410 CE)? Most importantly, does all that matter? Dorsey describes a vast world of 'Arthuriana' (Google that one!) intertwined within our modern culture in ways that pushes Arthur into the religious realm. Much like religious texts of Jews, Christians and Muslims, oral tradition and myths that were generated to teach the 'right' ways we should live our lives, were eventually recorded or written down, morphing into sacred texts. For example, allegories presented in the New Testament involving Jesus performing miracles assumes that Jesus was a real individual, when, in fact, there is little historical evidence of his existence. It matters more that Jesus' actions show a morality to which we should all strive. In much the same way Arthur's quests and sense of 'chivalric' morality provided fuel for the medieval authors to show the ever-increasing readers-of-yore how they should act, just for goodness sake. We need Arthur to have been real...we need his quests to have been noble and true. We all have our warts (yeah, I went there) that can be made to become a bit more bearable when we ourselves try to be like Arthur. Highly recommended edutainment, mostly due to Dorsey's engaging style and depth of knowledge. As always your quest should be to find this one on sale when you have a coupon.
Date published: 2016-06-11
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Of Two Minds about This Course I thoroughly enjoyed the course and her love of the subject is infectious. Still two thoughts kept running through my mind as I was listening. First, thank God I never had her as a professor as an undergraduate. Seriously, an 1100 page reading assignment. The second was 'Get a life.' I can't image reading the same story over, no matter how many variations it has. My loss, maybe.
Date published: 2016-06-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The professor clearly loves the subject. Her enthusiasm and sense of humour make this a joy to watch and make absorbing the information nearly effortless. We get so much more out of a course when we enjoy the professor.
Date published: 2016-06-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Rounding the Quest: Arthurian Ethos & Pathos Journey through an INTERDISCIPLINARY Arthurian quest of history, archaeology, legends, chronicles, linguistics, literary traditions, various arts, complex thematic topics more enriching with each retelling and innovation, popular folklore, poetry, song, etc. KING ARTHUR: HISTORY AND LEGEND by Professor Dorsey Armstrong is an historical, scholarly, and artistic exploration of an Arthur-like figure of Romano-Celtic-British origins. Pitting Arthur’s commanding warrior skills, charisma, and required military logistics against the Anglo-Saxon invasions of 5th – 6th of late-antiquity following the withdrawal of the Roman legions from Britain and the fall of the ROMAN EMPIRE due to barbarian invasions is simply unimaginable but was temporarily successful. The Arthurian memory honoring this EPIC BATTLE (parallels to Homer and Virgil), its archaeological remains (Camelot), and early chronicles, becomes legendary and develop-mental that evolves into the Arthurian literary traditions across Europe slowly congealing into a MYTHOS influencing the ethos and pathos of chivalry, battles, round-tables, feudalism, Christianity, 2nd comings, knightly adventures, spiritual grail quests, magical powers, courtly love and medieval romance concerning beauty, betrayal, and fatality in the MIDDLE AGES. Literary interest wanes in the Early Modern Period, but reignites with a depth of complexity in the 19th Victorian Era and beyond into many artistic forms and cultural treatments. The professor’s knowledge of the literary traditions concerning ARTHURIANA includes comparative languages, major authors and monumental works, character complexity and development, plots and esoteric themes, classical mythology and tragedy, feminists’ perspectives on the relations and cultural values between goddesses / gods, and the feudal history and great minds of the medieval world, etc. (Note: participation in the course details the works, authors, themes, conflicts, etc., hinted at by the concept literary traditions). When combined, these specialized areas elevate the presentation level into an EXISTENTIAL MASTERPIECE enriching the legend beyond simply another academic subject into an intellectual, emotional, enlightening, and transcending AESTHETIC: An Archetypal Arthurian Worldview that is more than the sum of its parts. Therefore, a MEDIEVAL LITERATURE course presented by Professor Armstrong and offered from the Teaching Company is something needed. I quote from the guidebook to support my request: “In the 20th century, ENGLISH ACADEMICS would start to make the case that while a college education that focused on the classical worlds of ancient Greece and Rome was certainly valuable, there could be merit in studying texts from the native English tradition.” The merits from participating in this course are beyond doubt… *** Very Highly Recommended ***
Date published: 2016-05-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from So much more to the story than I ever knew This course was so much fun. I watched it as part of my subscription to The Great Courses Plus, so while I didn't have access to the guidebook, I was able to watch it instead of just listen to it. Professor Armstrong is funny, engaging, and clearly loves her subject material. And I quickly learned that there is much, much more material involved in the Arthur saga than I knew. This is a course I could watch multiple times, and learn something new-many somethings, actually-each time.
Date published: 2016-02-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Once and Future Review King Arthur is a timeless story, and this course really brings it to life. This is the second course I've listened to by the same professor, and I've concluded that she is one of the best on the Great Courses. Her presentation style is clear, effective, and enthusiastic. You can tell that she loves the stories of King Arthur and the Medieval world. I was not sure what to expect with this course because I was not sure how it would be presented. The professor approaches it as a blend of a history course and a literature course, which works very well. She explores the historical foundations of King Arthur as well as how he has been presented in literature over the last thousand years. I particularly appreciated her non-cynical attitude toward the idea of a historic King Arthur inspiring the legends. She was critical but respectful of the legend's power in a way that many academics fail to achieve. I learned a great deal in this course and consider it among the best Great Courses that I have taken so far. I wish the Great Courses would make a similar course for other literary or legendary figures such as Robin Hood, Dracula, etc…
Date published: 2016-02-11
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Historicity I find myself in agreement with the other reviewers in terms of the breadth of Professor Armstrong's knowledge, her enthusiasm and presentation. Unlike some of the other reviewers, I know how much selective pruning the professor did to restrict this huge field of scholarship to twenty-four short lectures. Malory and Gawain and the Green Knight are often taught as the single focus of a course. Dr. Armstrong does manage to include every major Arthurian text and even some minor ones in her survey. Having said that, I felt that the professor's commitment to the idea of an historical Arthur lead her to spend too much time on tourist attractions like Glastonbury Abbey and the few mentions of Arthur in the aftermath of Rome's withdrawal from Britain rather than the origin of the tales themselves. The historicity of Arthur to me is a sidebar. It isn't until the fourth lecture that she introduces the Mabinogion. Though these Welsh stories were not collected until well into the Middle Ages they are the principal repository of an ancient oral tradition from which the tales we designate as Arthurian arose. It is in these tales from a pre-Christain Britain that the magic of Arthurian legend reposes and perhaps also the secret of their constant re-invention over the centuries. In the last disk of the lectures, Dr. Armstrong mentions the grail as an empty signifer. Semiotics as it is applied to literary criticism normally makes me run screaming from a room, but this was the gem of the course. It raises two essential questions: what about these tales has given them such cultural persistence and how does context inform their meaning? While the scholarly lazy manifestation of myself wishes Dr. Armstrong had addressed those question more directly, the intellectually curious self is utterly delighted. As the best teachers do, Dr. Armstrong has challenged me to go beyond the course and has provided a wonderful bibliography as a tool. I have already ordered Finke and Shichtman's book. Though I have long since left the halls of academia, advanced degree in hand, I miss the intellectual give and take of the classroom. The Great Courses for me is a vehicle for continued engagement with the world of ideas without having to write yet another paper. Dr. Armstrong's lectures are not a graduate course. She gives most people as much as they probably want to know about the Arthurian legend without bogging down in scholarly debate. As for me, while I was already familiar with of the bulk of the material, Dr. Armstrong's references to modern scholarship answered my own peculiar needs. i can recommend Dr. Dorsey Armstrong's lectures without reservation.
Date published: 2016-02-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from King Arthur: History and Legend This is the best of The Great Courses I have watched. The lecturer was easy to watch as she moved around the room and was quite animated. She conveyed her knowledge extremely well. The content was so informative and interesting. The scope of the Arthurian legend is so much greater than I had thought. In fact, I am going to watch it a second time to make sure I didn't miss anything.
Date published: 2016-02-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Course! The professor does an excellent job presenting the facts about Arthur. I couldn't wait for each lecture as I listened each night before sleeping. I'm sure that I will listen again.
Date published: 2016-01-27
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great overview of the centuries of Arthuriana Great presentation of all the myths, legends, lies, truths, misinformation, romantic tales about a legendary(?) Celtic leader. As a Celtic "shaman" (Druid?) I have my own ideas about "King" Arthur--much of it gained through journeys to the source. It is very interesting how these stories touched so many deep emotional needs in the human species to make men (and maybe a few women) into heroes (and heroines). Arthur was not a Christian, but so many writers wanted him to be, because of the "church" wanting to take his attributes to "apologize" for the church (which in my view wasn't very "chivalric" or tolerate, nor did they have a very nice view of women). Interesting to see and hear how the stories were adapted to cultural differences throughout Europe and then translated into Hollywood movies for the ignorant (historically) of the United States. Dorsey Armstrong is an excellent presenter and I enjoyed her very much. I want to watch the series again because there is so much complex information. She gives a very personal touch to her lectures.
Date published: 2016-01-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from excellent! I thought i had a good grasp on the basics about King Arthur, but although not having finished the course, am amazed at the amount of evidence that is emerging and that I had no knowledge of. Extremely well presented.
Date published: 2016-01-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from From Before Malory to after Monty Python My given excuse for purchasing this course is that my wife is an Arthur freak. And as with at least one other reviewer, I was not sure if there was enough content for 24 lectures. Well was I surprised, and pleasantly. My knowledge of Arthur and the Round Table was probably pretty much like many others: I read Malory as a young teen, White later, Malory again, Twain many times, Bradley with puzzlement, laughed out loud at "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" and loathed "Excalibur". So I thought that was pretty much all there was. What else could take up 12 hours? Was i, along with another reviewer surprised. Professor Armstrong's presentation style is smooth and appealing and her enthusiasm is contagious coming through even on my iPad screen. It must be a real treat to be one of her students. Her knowledge seems to encyclopedic, and her abilities with dead language can only be envied. My only other language is Spanish and my accent is so bad, I'd not criticize anyone else's accent even if I could understand Welsh. So what did I learn? Pretty much everything in the first four lectures (up to Monmouth) was unknown to me and most everything that had to do with how the legend expanded over time and how each country added its own variations. For example although I knew that the French had put in Lancelot, I was unaware that Tristan and Isolde moved from a Celtic myth to be included in the Arthur stories and across to Germany winding up with Wagner taking that story (as well as Parsifal) for two of his operas (even though I've listened to both, I really never made the Arthur connection). Who knew about Milton? And who knew there was a reason to read the "Idyls of the King". And more. I found this course entertaining and containing a good bit of interesting medieval history as well. I'd buy another of Dr. Armstrong's courses for sure, although in this one, I do wish she could have mentioned a few fewer times how boring Sir Galahad was. True enough, but no reason to run it into the ground. Highly recommended for those with interest in the subject.
Date published: 2016-01-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from King Arthur Legend Still Continues Professor Armstrong does a very good job of explaining the source and evolution of the King Arthur legend. Professor Armstrong’s use of artwork, photographs, and graphics are very beneficial to understanding the points being presented. I found this course to be very informative. I was surprised to learn that the development of the King Arthur legend extended well beyond the boundaries of Great Britain. Hopefully, someday, additional information will be found that will indicate if King Arthur was real or just a legend. As explained by Professor Arthur, the King Arthur legend has extended into modern literature, TV shows, and movies. I have become very critical of these latest TV shows and movies which do not get the facts correct. One item that the TV shows and movies frequently get wrong is Excalibur and the meaning of its removal from the stone.
Date published: 2015-12-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Best Purchase Ever Having listened to all of Professor Armstrong's lectures -- and countless others from the Great Courses -- this lecture series has been my best purchase ever. Professor Armstrong is at the top of her craft and has a melodic speaking voice, which is an added benefit. After listening to the CDs twice, I began reading the King Arthur canon, which may be the ultimate benefit of a lecture series. I only wish the Great Courses would sponsor a trip to visit historical King Arthur destinations in Europe with Professor Armstrong as the guide.
Date published: 2015-12-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Professor is very engaging I really have not read a lot of the King Arthur literature, but I still enjoyed this course very much. The Professor organized the material in such a way that even if you don't know much about the Arthur legends or literature, you could quickly catch on with the information in the lectures. Professor Armstrong speaks clearly and at a good pace. Her tone is pleasant and conversational. I especially enjoyed some of the later lectures which focused on the Arthurian legends in more modern literature, film, and art. Very interesting. I think this course would appeal to anyone with an interest in history, folklore and myth, or literature.
Date published: 2015-11-16
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Issues This is a very interesting course and on the whole well presented. The development is logical and Professor Armstrong's knowledge and enthusiasm are clear. My main concern is the horrible mutilation of the Welsh language. Even words the professor claims are correct certainly are not! Welsh spelling is logical and systematic when when you know the rules. The rules are just not the same as English spelling. It is not difficult to learn and would reward the professor by learning, given that it is part of her expertise.
Date published: 2015-09-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from agree with previous postive reviews Professor Armstrong is an enjoyable person to spend time with. There is a lot of material here which I appreciated having such a comprehensive overview. She a sense of humor and clearly a capacity to relate to her college students, but it is a discplined sense of humor which never goes over the top.
Date published: 2015-08-30
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