Poetry and Prose of the Medieval Period: The Arthurian “Remix”

Prof. Eileen Joy

Summer 2005

MWF 11:00 a.m. – 1:45 p.m.

Peck Hall #0306

"Force is as pitiless to the man who possesses it, or thinks he does, as it is to the victims; the second it crushes, the first it intoxicates. The truth is, nobody really possesses it. . . . Perhaps all men, by virtue of being born, are destined to suffer violence; yet this is a truth to which circumstance shuts men's eyes. The strong are, as a matter of fact, never absolutely strong, nor are the weak absolutely weak, but neither is aware of this. They have in common a refusal to believe they belong to the same species. . . . The man who is the possessor of force seems to walk through a non-resistant element; in the human substance that surrounds him nothing has the power to interpose, between the impulse and the act, the tiny interval that is reflection. Where there is no room for reflection, there is none either for justice or prudence."—Simone Weil (from "The Iliad, or The Poem of Force")

“There would be a day—there must be a day—when he would come back to Gramarye with a new Round Table which had no corners, just as the world had none—a table without boundaries between the nations who would sit to feast there. The hope of making it would lie in culture. If people could be persuaded to read and write, not just to eat and make love, there was still a chance that they might come to reason.”—T.H. White (from The Once and Future King)


Arthur and his knights are the most popular male heroes in the Western tradition, from the Middle Ages to the present. What might account for their cultural staying power? In order to begin to try to answer this question, we are going to focus primarily on the supposed “real” Arthur in the medieval English historical tradition, the literary Arthur within the French and English medieval “Romance” tradition, and the cultural “return” of Arthur in contemporary literature and film. We will also spend some time thinking about what might be called the development and attraction of the chivalric and heroic mentality in literature and society from the Middle Ages to modern times.

As this is a senior seminar-style course, preparing for and participating in class are vitally important to your ultimate success, and therefore, your contribution to in-class discussions as well as your attendance record will be factored into your final grade. Although I will provide much guidance and commentary, the students are expected to take a leading role in class discussions and debate. As this is also a reading-intensive course, not keeping up with the reading could be extremely detrimental to your progress and final evaluation.


(available at University Bookstore in Morris University Center)

Chretien de Troyes. Arthurian Romances. Trans. William W. Kibler. Penguin Classics, 1991.

Sir Thomas Malory. Le Morte D’Arthur. Norton Critical Edition, 2004.

T.H. White. The Once and Future King. Ace Books, 1987.

As an aid to reading Malory, which can be difficult, you may consult a modern English translation here and also here.

*SOME of the readings for the course are writings that have been placed on Electronic Course Reserve (these are indicated on "Schedule of Events" below); OTHER readings may be online material (these will be hyper-linked below on “Schedule of Events”), critical readings in the Norton Le Morte D’Arthur, or handouts.


1 CRITICAL PAPER, 10-12 pages, MLA-style documentation (60%)

You are expected to develop your own topic for a critical essay that should deliver an original perspective and consistent argument relative to any aspect of one or more of the literary works we study during the semester (Chretien, Malory, and White). You might want to focus on just one Arthurian character (i.e., Malory’s or Chretien’s Lancelot, OR, you may want to undertake a comparative approach in which you analyze the differences, let’s say, between Malory’s and Chretien’s Lancelot, OR, you may want to analyze a particular theme, such as adultery or violence or romantic love or heroism or war or the chivalric ideal, in one or more stories). Ideally, class discussion and debate will provide some inspiration for the direction in which you may want to head, and your final paper should incorporate a minimum of 5 secondary sources. Because this is a COMPRESSED summer course, there is absolutely no time to waste, and I will expect each student to meet with me in my office during the third week to discuss with me your ideas for this paper.

M.A. Students: your paper should be 15-20 pages in length, and should incorporate a minimum of 8 secondary sources. I am happy to provide bibliographical guidance, and I suggest that M.A. students should meet with me by the beginning of the SECOND week of classes to discuss this assignment further.

Go here for a bibliography of Arthurian scholarship.


To facilitate class discussion, you will write short responses (roughly in the neighborhood of 2 typed pages) to each week's readings and/or films. It is up to you to decide which reading (or film) to respond to, and in what manner. These will be due each week on Wednesday and Friday for the first four weeks (for a total of 8 short papers). There will be no responses due the last week of the course, so that you can devote all of your time at that point to the critical paper. These responses should in NO WAY be summaries of what you have read, but rather should demonstrate that you are thinking CRITICALLY about what you have read. [I will spend some time in class explaining in more detail how to approach these short writings.]


You will make ONE oral presentation on one of the topics highlighted below on the Schedule of Events (they are indicated by asterisks: *). These presentations should be prepared to fit within a twenty-minute time scheme, and it would be a good idea to rehearse them ahead of time, and to also have some kind of detailed handout that can be passed out to your fellow students. I will provide the resources (books, articles, and/or online sites) that you will need to consult in order to prepare your presentation.


I do not accept late assignments. Period. If there is an extraordinarily good reason for needing an extension on a due date, let me know in advance, and I will do my best to accommodate you.


Attendance, promptness, and participation are essential to success in college courses. Faculty members recognize that unexpected occasions may arise when a student must be absent from class, but my general attendance policy is that if you are absent more than the number of required class sessions per week (in this case, that would be more than 1 session, because each session in a 5-week summer course is equivalent to one week’s worth of a regular semester course), I have the option of lowering your final course grade by one letter grade for each additional session missed. Furthermore, if absences become excessive (more than two weeks' worth of sessions), the SIUE Registrar, at my request, reserves the right to withdraw you administratively. For more information on this, please consult the following: SIUE Class Attendance Policy. Failure to attend class in a responsible and committed manner may thus be grounds for failure in or administrative withdrawal from the course.


Any student found engaging in an act of academic dishonesty will be promptly dismissed from the course with a grade of "F." By "academic dishonesty," I mean PLAGIARISM (the act of representing the work of another as one's own), which the University considers a grave breach of intellectual integrity. All definitions, terminology, concepts, and patterns of organization taken from an outside source must be identified and given credit in any essay or exam you write--whether it be for the English department or any other department. For more detailed information on this, please consult the following: SIUE Plagiarism Policy.


A 90-100
B 80-89
C 70-79
D 60-69
F under 60

(tennis star Roger Federer as King Arthur, by Annie Liebowitz)


(subject to revision as course progresses)

ECR=Electronic Course Reserves (readings indicated with an asterisk--*--are designated for oral presentations) 

Monday, June 27 Introduction to Course
  View: Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Wednesday, June 29 Geoffrey of Monmouth, “The Prophecies of Merlin” & “The House of Constantine” (ECR)
  King Arthur's Cross at Glastonbury[?]
  A Modern Interpretation of Merlin's Prophecies
  Who Were The Picts?
  The Early Monarchs of England: The House of Wessex
Friday, July 1 Geoffrey of Monmouth, “Arthur of Britain” (ECR)

Katie G.

*Student Presentation: “King Arthur—Fact, Myth, or Semi-Legend?” (Chapters 1, 2, & 3)

Jessica R.

*Student Presentation: “King Arthur—Fact, Myth, or Semi-Legend?” (Chapters 4 & 5)
Monday, July 4 [HOLIDAY – NO CLASS]
Wednesday, July 6 Chretien de Troyes, “Eric and Enide” & “The Knight With the Lion (Yvain)”
  The Code of Chivalry
  Robert Marmorstein's Rules of Chivalry
  The Knightly Ethic (according to Prof. Skip Knox)

Tera H.

*Student Presentation: Knighthood and Orders of Chivalry

Adam V.

*Student Presentation: “Chivalry in Principle” & “Tournament and Battle” (Norton, pp. 777-94)
Friday, July 8 Chretien de Troyes, “The Knight of the Cart (Lancelot)”
  Excerpts from Capellanus's De Amore

Tammy K.

*Student Presentation: Courtly Love

Angela I.

*Student Presentation: Fisher King Mythology
Monday, July 11 View: Excalibur
Wednesday, July 13 Malory, “The Tale of King Arthur” (pp. 3-112)

Jennifer G.

*Student Presentation: Sir Thomas Malory—Biography & Catherine Batt, “Malory and Rape” (Norton, pp. 797-814)
Friday, July 15 Malory, “Sir Lancelot Du Lake" (pp. 151-77)

Jared U.

*Student Presentation: The Holy Grail

Amy K.

*Student Presentation: Mark Lambert, “Shame and Guilt” (Norton, pp. 849-56)
Monday, July 18 View: The Fisher King
Wednesday, July 20 Malory, “The Tale of Sir Launcelot and Quene Gwenyvere” (pp. 588-645) & "The Dethe of Arthur" (pp. 646-98)

Bridget N.

*Student Presentation: Geraldine Heng, “Enchanted Ground: The Feminine Subtext in Malory” (Norton, pp. 835-49)

Daniel C.

*Student Presentation: Paul Strohm, “Mellygant’s Primal Scene” (Norton, pp. 894-905)

Carrie C.

*Student Presentation: “The Case of Sir Mordred”
Friday, July 22 [READING DAY – NO CLASS]
Monday, July 25 White, “The Ill-Made Knight”

Jennifer R.

*Student Presentation: T.H. White, The Once and Future King (Synopsis: Books I & II, plus critical reception)
Wednesday, July 27 White, “The Candle in the Wind”
Friday, July 29 View: Garden State
  Critical Essay Due