In Search of Camelot - Arthurian Literature from Medieval Past to Present: A Five-Part Course with Margaret McCurry

In Search of Camelot - Arthurian Literature from Medieval Past to Present: A Five-Part Course with Margaret McCurry


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The legend of King Arthur has become so finely interwoven into our everyday lives that it is difficult to imagine the world without Arthuriana in it. This course will investigate the enduring strength and attraction of the Arthurian legend from its beginnings in the medieval period to the 20th century. Together, we will read several Arthurian legends and observe how each new version serves a new agenda, whether it is to establish a national foundation myth, to endorse specific religious values, to revive medieval values in an industrial age, or to indicate the spiritual emptiness of modern society. Throughout the lecture series, we will follow the recurring themes of chivalry, courtly love, magic, and the grail quest. Most importantly, we will examine “Why Arthur, particularly? Why this figure, this narrative, this myth?” These are the questions that will guide our quest, and, as we shall see in the tales of the Holy Grail, asking the right questions is essential for initiation into the Arthurian realms.

Led by an emerging scholar of medieval literature, Margaret McCurry, this course will guide participants through the enthralling stories of King Arthur, the knights of the round table, and their lady loves. Designed to inform curiosity as well as future travels, participants will come away with a deeper understanding of Arthuriana and its enduring appeal. This course is intended for participants with little to no prior experience in studying medieval literature.

Lecture 1: Geoffrey of Monmouth, The History of the Kings of Britain

Upon what historical bases are the legends of King Arthur based? Geoffrey of Monmouth’s early medieval account of England will offer a glimpse into the personage of Arthur and the genealogy of the Pendragon family. This lecture will provide an overview of the history, culture, and language of early Medieval England. We will also explore theories of reception history, including legend, folklore, and the evolution from history to pseudo-history. Recommended Reading: The History of the Kings of Britain by Geoffrey of Monmouth - Recommended Edition: Penguin Classics 1977 (ISBN-13: 978-0140441703)

Lecture 2: Chrétien de Troyes, Percival, the Story of the Grail

Percival introduces the trope of the knight errant by playing upon the multiple meanings of the word “err.” Not only does its young protagonist wander widely in search of adventure; he makes several embarrassing errors along the way! This lecture will introduce the holy grail of legendary renown and the role of relics in the medieval Christian tradition. We will also analyze the duties of the medieval knight and chivalric code. Recommended Reading: Percival, the Story of the Grail by Chrétien de Troyes - Recommended Edition: Yale University Press 1999 (ISBN-13: 978-0300075861)

Lecture 3: Thomas Malory, Le Morte d’Arthur

Featuring what is perhaps the greatest betrayal in literary history, Le Morte d’Arthur reveals the passionate affair between Sir Lancelot and Lady Guinevere and its devastating ramifications. This session will introduce the tradition of courtly love as well as analyze the magic, the mysticism, and the supernatural elements of Arthuriana. Recommended Reading: Le Morte d’Arthur by Thomas Malory - Recommended Edition: Parlor Press 2009 (ISBN-13: 978-1602351035)

Lecture 4: Alfred Lord Tennyson, The Idylls of the King

Written at the height of the Industrial Revolution, The Idylls of the King resurrects Arthurian legend for a Victorian audience. This lecture will highlight the allegorical parallels between the kingdom of King Arthur and the empire of Queen Victoria. Recommended Reading: The Idylls of the King by Alfred Lord Tennyson - Recommended Edition: Penguin Classics 1989 (ISBN-13: 978-0140422535)

Lecture 5: T.H. White, The Once and Future King

White’s novel traces the humble beginnings of King Arthur, also known as Wart, who miraculously pulls an immovable sword from an anvil, thereby designating him as the king’s successor. While the novel is based largely upon Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, the story gained new meaning for readers recovering from the aftermath of World War II. Our final session in the series will discuss the process by which ancient texts are adapted for modern-day audiences and it will invite a contemplation of our continual return to Arthurian literature century after century. Recommended Reading: The Once and Future King by T. H. White - Recommended Edition: Ace Books 1987 (ISBN-13: 978-0441627400)

Margaret McCurry holds a master’s degree in English Literature from New York University, where she is currently working towards completing her decorate degree. She is an emerging scholar of medieval literature, particularly of the medieval mystical tradition. Fascinated by the moments when words fail to fully capture or articulate meaning, her theoretical interests lie in non-verbal linguistics, musicology and sound studies, and disability studies.

How does it work?

This is a five-part journey series held weekly and hosted on Zoom. Please check the schedule for the specific dates and times for each lecture.

Is there a reading list in advance?

Though the course is open to participants with no background in literary history, there are suggested readings for further investigation. You will receive this soon after course registration.

How long are the lectures?

Each lecture is 90 minutes long with time for Q&A.

How much is the course?

The course is $175 for five lectures.

Is a recording available?

In general, our courses are not recorded. However, if you need to miss a lecture please let us know in advance and we can arrange for a recording for that session on an individual basis.

This course is suitable for all ages

90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.

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