King Arthur: History and Legend : The Great Courses: English Literature

  • by The Great Courses
  • Narrated by Professor Dorsey Armstrong
  • Series: The Great Courses: English Literature
  • 11 hrs and 59 mins
  • Lecture

Publisher's Summary

The saga of King Arthur and his court is the most enduringly popular mythic tradition of Western civilization. For over 1,500 years, the Arthurian narrative has enthralled writers, artists, and a limitless audience spanning the Western world and beyond - and its appeal continues unabated in our time. No other heroic figure in literature compares with King Arthur in terms of global popularity and longevity; now, each year sees literally thousands of new versions of the story appear across diverse media, from fiction writing and visual arts to film and popular culture. Delve into the historical mystery behind the figure of Arthur, and discover the magnificent breadth of these epic tales.
These 24 spellbinding lectures reveal the full scope of the Arthurian tradition, from its beginnings in post-Roman Britain to its extraordinary trajectory across the centuries and its latest incarnations in modern times. Your pathfinder in this world of mythic adventure and romance, Professor Armstrong, is one of the world's leading Arthurian scholars and the current editor-in-chief of the academic journal Arthuriana. Demonstrating both encyclopedic knowledge and an infectious passion for the subject, she leads you in tracing 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 and artist 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 influential legendary traditions the world has ever known.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Twelve Hours in Camelot

Professor Dorsey Armstrong is obviously a real Arthur geek, as well as a serious medieval scholar. Her enthusiasm for all things Arthur - past and present - make this a well-rounded look at the Arthur of the 5th century all the way up to the Arthur of contemporary books, films and advertising (King Arthur flour!).

So we get a look at what evidence exists for a historical Arthur. Whatever that long ago, charismatic and valiant figure may have accomplished, none can argue with the power and scope of the legends and ideals he inspired. Professor Armstrong considers the legacy in literature of the Western world and in fine art ranging from ancient tapestry to the paintings of the Pre-Raphaelites to films and musicals.

Her emphasis is on the idealistic and romantic qualities which spread the legend, expanded it so much, and have kept it alive through the centuries. For me, a middling Arthur fan, there was quite a bit of new and very interesting information here.

I quite like the Professor's rather casual tone and her eagerness to include modern pop references. In this course, thankfully, there is none of the distracting "Great Courses" applause, although you may find yourself looking around for the source of the music that wafts in at the end of each lecture. My one qualification is that Armstrong does repeat herself more than necessary - and with the exact same words she previously used. For teachers in the classroom this may be a necessary and helpful tactic, but it's out of place in an Audible recording.

On the whole, I'd say this is an admirable quest.
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- C. Telfair

Exhaustive History of Authurian Literature

Any additional comments?

This is an exhaustive history of the appearance, growth, diversification and manipulation of the legend of King Arthur and his Knights. Dr. Armstrong is an expert in the literature associated with Arthur's legend through hundreds of years and into modern times. Her presentation is enthusiastic and full of side notes about how various bits developed. If you are interested in the "legend" of Arthur this book is for you. While I found some of this fascinating and have great respect for Armstrong's encyclopedic knowledge and obviously deep research there was a point where it became incredibly tedious. The point I think I began to lose interest is when I realized that the entire legend results from stories about stories about a warrior who may have been named something like Arthur (but probably not), who may have lived around the area of Cornwall in England (but there's no way to know) sometime in the mid 5th century. The entirety of the Arthurian legend (spoiler alert!) is basically 2000+ years of fan fiction. It was interesting to hear how this story, which essentially rose out of the mist and was completely fabricated, influenced and was influenced by culture and politics over two thousand years.

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- John

Book Details

  • Release Date: 04-08-2015
  • Publisher: The Great Courses