In this section, Dr. Bahr describes how he set up 21L.460 Medieval Literature: Legends of Arthur Fall 2013 around a central question.
On the first day of class, before students had completed any readings, I asked everyone to give me three words to describe King Arthur. Each of the students—no matter what his or her cultural heritage—was able to come up with adjectives or nouns that they associated with the legend, which often included the word, “chivalry.” The entire first class was an attempt to validate the idea that there was some shared cultural conception of King Arthur—but then to juxtapose that conception with what we know about the historical Arthur. I took them through a brief history of Britain—from the departure of the Romans, to the invasions of the Germanic tribes that Arthur was fighting against, and then to Eleanor of Aquitaine and the creation of the Angevin Empire. I then discussed how the troubadour/courtly love ethos was fused with these native British legends of Arthur to create the Lancelot/Guinevere/Arthur love triangle. The question of what was real and what was illusory became one of the key questions for the course. We started asking this question on the very first day, and it was a theme in all of the texts. In fact, the texts generated versions of the question at a meta-level because of our historical vantage point.