English 344


The Arthur of the Britons


Siân Echard’s home page

Office hours for fall term: Tuesdays at 2:00, or by appointment: e-mail me at sian@mail.ubc.ca

Please note that I am currently department Head, which means that sometimes I will have meetings arise at the last minute. I’m always very reachable by e-mail, though I do not normally respond over the weekend.

“As the French book saith”: this is a favourite phrase of Sir Thomas Malory, whose Morte Darthur transmitted the stories of King Arthur and his knights of the Round Table to a fifteenth-century English audience. The phrase acknowledges Malory’s debt to the French Arthurian cycles of the thirteenth century, but Malory’s book is not simply a translation of French originals. The title of this course, “The Arthur of the Britons,” reflects an emphasis on stories about King Arthur produced or read in the British Isles. The course will look at Arthur as a British phenomenon, concentrating on four major British Arthurian texts, in their material, historical, and cultural contexts.

The first work we will read is Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain, the twelfth-century Anglo-Latin chronicle which offered the first connected narrative of Arthur’s life and death. Geoffrey’s Arthuriad is embedded in an account of the history of Britain, from its founding by Trojan refugees, to the final passage of control over the island from the native Britons to the invading Saxons. The civil wars of Geoffrey’s own time colour his emphasis on the rise and fall of kings and kingdoms, and the foundation myth with which he begins his history remained a powerful political and ideological tool throughout the Middle Ages and into the early modern period.

Next we will read the Alliterative Morte Arthure, a fourteenth-century English poem. Like Geoffrey’s work, it takes Arthur’s campaign against the emperor of Rome as the centrepiece of the king’s reign. In form and language it is often trenchantly English, echoing older poetic forms and the heroic world of the epic, even as it displays clear awareness of the courtly world of romance. We will follow it with another alliterative text, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, which focuses on the very English hero Gawain, while showing a clear awareness of the expectations created by courtly French Arthurian texts. Gawain moves through a landscape which is at times the neverwhere of romance, and at other times, very recognizable as the Anglo-Welsh borderlands. Finally, we will read substantial selections from Thomas Malory’s Morte Dartur, exploring how he refashions his sources – how he treats love, war, and the spiritual quest for the holy grail - to create his own version of Arthur.

Throughout the course, we will pay special attention to the material features of our texts. We will make two visits to Rare Books and Special Collections, to view manuscripts and books related to the course material. Geoffrey’s History will be read in translation; we will read the Alliterative Morte Arthure, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and Malory’s Morte in Middle English.

See the Assignments Page for details about course assignments, requirements, and weighting.

The following texts have been ordered from the Bookstore:

Geoffrey of Monmouth, The History of the Kings of Britain, trans. Michael A. Faletra (Broadview)

King Arthur's Death, ed. Larry D. Benson and James Dean (TEAMS; also available for free online here)

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, ed. and trans. James Winny (Broadview)

Thomas Malory, Le Morte DArthur: The Winchester Manuscript, ed. Helen Cooper (Oxford World’s Classics)

This version of the syllabus will be updated throughout the course. You should get in the habit of checking it regularly.


Reading Schedule


Th 8 - T 13 Introduction: King Arthur in history and early literature

I will refer to material found on pp. 218-29, 278-85, and 287-91 of The History of the Kings of Britain, trans. Faletra. You should also read “The Apple Trees,” pp. 239-41 in The History of the Kings of Britain, and Preiddeu Annwn (click here; there is also a YouTube version of the Welsh, here)

Visit the Arthur in History page

Visit the Arthurian Chronology page

See this recent story about excavations at Tintagel in Cornwall

Throughout the course, I will post links to manuscripts related to the works we are discussing.

The links to the right take you to the manuscript, but you will have to navigate from there to the specific folio. In the case of the NLW manuscripts, a small window will open: to find the folio and see it in full view, you will need to click the full screen arrow, and call up the Contents sidebar to see thumbnails of all the folios.

Afallenau starts on folio 24v of NLW MS Peniarth 1, the Black Book of Carmarthen

Preiddeu Annwn starts on folio 25v of NLW MS Peniarth 2, the Book of Taliesin

Culhwch ac Olwen starts on folio 200v of Oxford, Jesus College MS 111, the Red Book of Hergest

and on folio 79v of NLW MS Peniarth 4, the White Book of Rhydderch


Th 15

Write Like a Medieval Scribe Day. Bring your quill!

Here are two links with suggestions for how to turn your feather into a pen: Instructables: Making a Quill Pen

Wikihow: How to Make a Quill Pen

Learn more about parchment at the British Library's Collections Care blog: see Growing a thick skin; and Is not parchment made of sheepskins?

Our parchment comes from Pergamena

T 20

Visit to Rare Books and Special Collections, in the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre

Group A [last names, A - K]

Th 22

Visit to Rare Books and Special Collections, in the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre

Group B [last names, L - Z]

T 27 Geoffrey of Monmouth, History of the Kings of Britain

Dedicatory Epistle: pp. 41-42

Brutus and his descendants: pages 43-83


Visit the Geoffrey and British History page

Visit the Chronology of the Historia regum Britannie page

Visit the Geoffrey’s Britain page for a map of all the locations mentioned, with information and links


Here are links to some of the many manuscripts of the History of the Kings of Britain



BL Arundel 10

BL Egerton 3142

BL Harley 6358

BL Lansdowne 732

BL Royal 13 D v

Oxford, Bodleian Library 514 (or search in ArtStor through the Library)

Oxford, Bodleian Library Laud Misc 579 (search in ArtStor through the Library)

Cambridge, Corpus Christi College 281 (or use Parker Library through the Library)

Cambridge, Corpus Christi College 292 (or use Parker Library through the Library)

Philadelphia, Free Library Lewis E 247 (Digital Scriptorium)

Th 29

The Romans and the Saxons: pages 84-129


For other background and research tools, visit the Arthurian Resources page

Visit the Roman Britain page


T 4

Merlin and Uther: pages 130-62; also pp. 239-59 and 276-77



Visit the Merlin page

Visit the Arthur of the Welsh page

The manuscripts linked opposite show how the Prophecies are treated in manuscripts relating to the story of Merlin.

BL Cotton Claudius B vii (click the full size tab for bigger)

BL Additional 40007 (click the full size tab for bigger)

BL Harley 1629 (click the thumbnail for bigger and biggest)

BNF latin 3319 (the link takes you to 5r, but you can flip through the whole manuscript)

Bibliothèque de l'Arsena 5229 (complete manuscript of French version of the prophecies; you can flip through)

Fondation Martin Bodmer 116 (another French version, again complete; click the thumbnail to the left to get a gallery of images)

Bodleian Laud Misc 664 (one opening)

Bodley 622 (one opening)

Bodley 623 (several pages; you can click thumbnails for larger)

Bodley 977 (one opening)

Th 6

The Arthuriad and after: pp. 163-217



Visit the Geoffrey’s Reputation page

T 11 The Alliterative Morte Arthure

Introduction: Reading Middle English: lines 1-77

The challenge: lines 78-755


Visit the Reading the Alliterative Morte Arthure page

Th 13

Dreams, dragons, giants: lines 756-1221


  • 760-773 Alex Anderson
  • 774-785 Tom Barker
  • 786-797 Holly Becker
  • 798-805 Janine Binanitan
  • 1110-1123 Theresa Bodnarchuk
  • 1124-1131 Remy Brown
  • 1132-1139 Larissa Canapi
  • 1140-1151 Ashley Chien



T 18

Battles and conquest: lines 1222-3217


  • 2595-2607 Pam Choi
  • 2608-2619 Emily Conacher
  • 2620-2629 Margarita De Guzman
  • 2630-2637 Irene De Souza
  • 2851-2862 Jia Faner
  • 2863-2872 Kleo Fang
  • 3032-3042 Ana Maria Fernandez
  • 3044-3053 Rachel Glassman
Visit the Roman Wars page

Th 20

The Morte D'Arthur: lines 3218-4346


Visit the Arthur and Fortune page

T 25 Sir Gawain and the Green Knight


Fitt I


  • 136-150 Joy Gyamfi
  • 151-164 Saskia Harpe
  • 165-178 Mia Huang
  • 221-231 Jee-Hyun Hyun
  • 232-244 Paul Jon
  • 245-264 Zeke Kearns
  • 265-278 Graeme Kennedy
  • 279-295 Mia Knezevic
Visit the Gawain page

Th 27

Fitt II


  • 691-702 Rachael Lee
  • 703-712 Janice Law
  • 713-725 Drew Lussenden
  • 726-739 Virginia Ly
  • 941-953 Jacqueline Marchioni
  • 954-969 Kristina Maretic
  • 1096-1112 Rebecca Marino
  • 1113-1125 Sinead Matthews


T 1

Fitt III


  • 1182-1194 Jessie McLean
  • 1195-1207 Kathryn Ney
  • 1208-1221 Karen Ng
  • 1222-1240 Jorielle Pablo
  • 1319-1334 Karol Pasciano
  • 1334-1348 Louise Pumilia
  • 1349-1361 Mahira Qadri
  • 1362-1371 Rannylo Reyes

PROPOSAL AND BIBLIOGRAPHY DUE: e-mail to sian@mail.ubc.ca; see the Assignments Page for more details


Th 3

Fitt IV

  • 2185-2196 Blair Smith
  • 2197-2211 Leo Soh
  • 2242-2254 Danielle Tan
  • 2255-2267 Alex Tivoli
  • 2268-2279 Serena Vo
  • 2280-2298 Amir Wachtel
  • 2406-2419 Alex Wong
  • 2420-2438 Jamie Zabel



T 8 Thomas Malory, Morte Darthur



Caxton and Winchester (pp. 528-530)


The Winchester Manuscript is fully digitized here

The Malory Project site has images of both the manuscript and parts of early printed versions

The John Rylands Library in Manchester has digitized images from its copy of Caxton, here; and from its copy of the 1498 printing by Wynkyn de Worde, here

You can use EEBO (Early English Books Online) through our library to see many early printed copies of the Morte Darthur : 1485, 1498, 1529, 1557, 1582, 1634

Th 10

Early Arthur (pp. 3-94)


Visit the Arthurian Swords page

Visit the Morgan le Fay page

T 15

Lancelot and Gareth (pp. 95-168)

Visit the Guenevere page

Visit the Lancelot page

Visit the Courtly Love page

Th 17

Visit to RBSC

ESSAY DRAFT DUE: e-mail to sian@mail.ubc.ca; see the Assignments Page for more details

Group A [last names, A - K]

T 22

Visit to RBSC


Group B [last names, L - Z]

Th 24

The Holy Grail (pp. 310-402)

Visit the Galahad page

Visit the Perceval page

These are manuscripts of the French version of the Quest

BL Royal 14 E iii

BL Royal 20 D iv

Arsenal 3347

Arsenal 3480 (volume 1 and volume 2)

Arsenal 3482

BNF français 95

BNF français 113

BNF français 114

BNF français 115

BNF français 116

BNF français 343

BNF français 344

T 29

Lancelot and Guenevere (pp. 403-467)



Th 1

The Death of Arthur (pp. 468-527)


Essay drafts will be returned by this date; FINAL VERSIONS DUE DECEMBER 12

Siân Echard’s home page
©Siân Echard. Not to be copied, used, or revised without explicit written permission from the copyright owner.