21L.460 | Fall 2013 | Undergraduate

Medieval Literature: Legends of Arthur


Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 1 session / week, 1.5 hours / session

Course Description

As a quasi-historical, quasi-legendary figure of consistently great popularity, King Arthur has been subject to an extraordinary amount of reinvention and rewriting: as a Christian hero and war-leader; as an ineffective king and pathetic cuckold; and as a tragic figure of noble but doomed intentions. As we trace Arthur’s evolution and that of principal knights, we will ask what underlies the appeal of this figure whose consistent reappearance in western culture has performed the medieval prophecy that he would be rex quondam et futurus: the once and future king.


Writing Assignment 1 25
Final project & poster session 50
Class Participation 25

There is 25% of your grade from your participation in class, by which I mean your attendance, bodily and intellectual, to our conversations and the seriousness and quality of your engagement in those conversations. Especially given this is a once-a-week subject, you simply must come to class; any more than one absence will have a severe impact on your grade (although of course absences that are the result of serious medical situations will be excused).

Course Goals

1. Written argumentation. The first essay provided students with the opportunity to hone the ability to craft a sustained and complex argument, while the final project tested the ability to construct a written project around a specific text, instead of simply responding to a series of essay topics.

2. Literary analysis and appreciation. Often called “close reading,” this really meant noticing cool, weird, or confusing textual details and using them to make arguments: about a theme, a character, or something else.

3. Comfort speaking in front of others. Life rewards the articulate, the assertive-yet-tactful, and class discussions gave students opportunities to improve public speaking, debating, and responding skills.

Policy on Laptops and Electronic Devices

These must be turned off and not used in class. Most of our classroom time will be centered on discussion, and it is very difficult to have a discussion when half or more of the people in the room are looking at a screen instead of at one another. N. B. that I may occasionally bring my laptop to use for educational purposes (looking things up online that emerge in discussion, etc.). Any student who feels that he or she would be at a significant educational disadvantage because of this policy is welcome to discuss it with me individually; I reserve the right to exempt anyone who makes a compelling case.

MIT Literature Statement on Plagiarism

Plagiarism—use of another’s intellectual work without acknowledgement—is a serious offense. It is the policy of the Literature Faculty that students who plagiarize will receive an F in the subject, and that the instructor will forward the case to the Committee on Discipline. Full acknowledgement for all information obtained from sources outside the classroom must be clearly stated in all written work submitted. All ideas, arguments, and direct phrasings taken from someone else’s work must be identified and properly footnoted. Quotations from other sources must be clearly marked as distinct from the student’s own work. For further guidance on the proper forms of attribution, consult the MIT Website on Plagiarism.

Student Support

Please be aware that there is a wide range of resources for anyone who is struggling during the term. Please see Student Support Services.


1 Excerpts from Lacy and Wilhelm, The Romance of Arthur (early Latin and Welsh)  
2–4 Chrétien de Troyes & Marie de France  
5 Robert de Boron, Joseph of Arimathea, Merlin, Perceval First written assignment due after Lec 5
6–11 Malory, Morte Darthur Peer editing of first written assignment due in Lec 6
12 Poster session / Q&A of your Malory projects; guests (including yours) will be invited! Final project due

Course Info

As Taught In
Fall 2013
Learning Resource Types
Projects with Examples
Instructor Insights