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Arthurian Literature Portal

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Chrétien de Troyes: "Lancelot, Knight of the Cart" and "Erec & Enide"

This course explores two works by Arthurian legend-maker, Chrétien de Troyes. In the first-ever tale of Sir Lancelot, "The Knight of the Cart," Chretien invents the hero who loves Queen Guinevere beyond all bounds of reason—so much that he will face deadly and (even worse) socially humiliating perils to prove his devotion. In the early work, "Erec and Enide," Chretien perhaps invents the tradition of Arthurian courtly romance itself. With Camelot as its background, the knight Erec and maiden Enide pass through a series of trials testing their bravery and love for each other. Told with a mixture of heroic panache, comic irony, and relish for entertaining detail, these foundational works of Arthurian romance show the genius of master story-teller of the high Middle Ages.
Precepted by Liam Daley

Chretien de Troyes: “Yvain, Knight of the Lion” and “Cliges”

It’s twelfth-century France, and on the battlefield, knights are fighting in deadly earnest—but around the fireside, courtly men and ladies can read about knightly deeds of arms and feats of love in safety and comfort. And today, we still can as well! This course explores two Arthurian romances of the master-romancer, Chretien de Troyes. In “Yvain, Knight of the Lion,” held by many to be Chretien’s masterpiece, Yvain learns that rash attempts at heroism sometimes have unexpected and disastrous consequences—but then again, sometimes earn the friendship of a heroic, feline beast. The story of “Cliges” (what medievalist Derek Pearsall calls Chretien’s most “lavishly plotted” romance) follows, first, the career of a knight, Alexander, and then years later, that of his son, Cliges—two men whose choices in both love and war prove that history doesn’t always repeat itself.
Precepted by Liam Daley

Le Morte Darthur Series

This series explores Sir Thomas Malory’s masterpiece of Arthurian literature, Le Morte Darthur—one course for each of the work’s eight books or tales. This fifteenth-century retelling is for many the consummate version of the Arthur legend, combining notable elements of prior versions in a form that would influence later retellings for centuries. Context will also be provided on Malory’s life and times, the first printing of his writings by William Caxton in 1485, and the remarkable twentieth-century discovery of the now-standard but then-unknown version of Le Morte Darthur in the form of the Winchester Manuscript.
Precepted by Liam Daley

Le Morte Darthur: Arthur's Origins in Malory's "The Tale of King Arthur"

This module explores Sir Thomas Malory’s masterpiece of Arthurian literature,Le Morte Darthur. This fifteenth-century retelling is for many the consummate version of the Arthur legend, combining notable elements of prior versions in a form that would influence later retellings for centuries. The first book of Mallory’s complete work, “The Tale of King Arthur,” includes such crucial Arthurian elements as the Sword in the Stone, the bestowal of Excalibur by the Lady of the Lake, and the founding of the Round Table. Interspersed among these are Arthur’s first encounter with the Questing Beast, an attempted usurpation by Morgan Le Fay, the tragic tale of the two brothers, Sir Balin and Sir Balan, and numerous other episodes and adventures. Context will also be provided on Malory’s life and times, the first printing of his writings by William Caxton in 1485, and the remarkable twentieth-century discovery of the now-standard but then-unknown version of Le Morte Darthur in the form of the Winchester Manuscript.
Precepted by Liam Daley

Le Morte Darthur: Knighthood and Chivalry in Malory's Tales of Sir Lancelot, Sir Gareth, and the War with Rome

This module explores Books II, III, and IV of Le Morte Darthur, offering three short, stand-alone tales of Arthur, his knights, and the wider world they inhabit.

Book II, “The Tale of the Noble King Arthur that was Emperor,” shows Malory’s version of King Arthur as military leader and conqueror of Rome. Adapted from the late Middle English alliterative tradition, this tale was not included in Caxton’s original 15th century printing, but only discovered in 1934 with the finding of the lost Winchester Manuscript.

Book III, “A Noble Tale of Sir Launcelot du Lake,” shows Lancelot’s kidnapping by Morgan Le Fay, with the political and amatory complications that arise.

And finally, Book IV, “The Tale of Sir Gareth,” (evidently the only tale that Malory invented himself) follows Gawain’s younger brother Gareth from seemingly-lowly origins, through trials and mockery, to eventual triumph as full-fledged knight. With a mixture of the chivalry, comedy, and romance, these three tales make essential reading for any fan of the Arthurian cannon.

Note: Students may participate in this series in any month even if they did not take a previous class in the series.
Precepted by Liam Daley

Le Morte Darthur: Looking for Love in Malory's "Tristram and Isolde"

Before it captured the imagination of Wagner and Tennyson, the doomed love affair between Tristan (or Tristram) and the Belle Isolde was recorded by England’s most prolific Arthurian chronicler, Sir Thomas Malory. Included within his sprawling Morte Darthur, Malory’s version of this narrative combines the best elements of the versions that came before and would influence all those that followed.

Placing Malory's version within the broader Arthurian context, this course begins with a brief look at some of Malory’s English and continental predecessors. From there, we read Tristram’s narrative from his anguished origins, through the love-triangle between himself, Isolde, and the scoundrelly King Marc (Tristram’s uncle and Isolde’s husband), to it's tragic conclusion. Amidst war, sorcery, political intrigue, and rancorous family conflicts, the two lovers attempt to snatch what happiness they can before it all comes crashing down.

The story also features the often-poignant and (for medieval audiences) hugely popular adventures of the Saracen knight, Sir Palomides—including his friendship and rivalry with Tristram, his unrequited love for Isolde, and his taking up of the hunt for the Questing Beast. All in all, The Tale of Sir Tristram contains in microcosm all of the major themes and relationship found throughout Le Morte Darthur and Arthurian literature as a whole.
Precepted by Liam Daley

Le Morte Darthur: Seeking the Holy Grail in Malory and Monty Python

To achieve the Holy Grail, Sir Lancelot, Sir Galahad and others must face formidable Black Knights, alluring temptresses, inscrutable hermits, and untold supernatural perils—in two works created five-hundred-and-five years apart.

“The Tale of the Sankgreal,” disseminated as part of Thomas Malory’s Le Morte Darthur (1470) and the incontestable masterpiece of modern Arthurian cinema, Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) are arguably the most popular and influential versions of this story from a twenty-first century standpoint. These contrasting visions of the Grail Quest also share striking and unexpected similarities in terms of plot, form, and tone. This course looks closely at Malory’s text and the Pythons’ oddly-faithful film reinterpretation, side by side. In so doing, we explore what Arthur, the Grail, and the Middle Ages mean to modern audiences, and how changes in form and context radically shape how stories are told and understood.
Precepted by Liam Daley

Le Morte Darthur: Sir Thomas Malory's "The Death of King Arthur"

“Yet some men say in many parts of England that King Arthur is not dead… and men say that he shall come again…”

Is Arthur dead? Or was he taken to Avalon to be healed? And will he indeed come again one day? Written within the confines of a common prison, Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte Darthur (c. 1470) addresses these very questions—trying to make sense of Arthur's legendary reign and “piteous” death for a war-torn England at the very close of the Middle Ages. In reading Malory's widely beloved and arguably definitive retelling of the death of the Arthur, this course examines the final dissolution of the Round Table, from the doomed love affair of Lancelot and Guinevere to Arthur's fatal (or near-fatal) wounding by Mordred—a continuous narrative contained within the last two books of Malory's sprawling chronicle, “The Book of Sir Launcelot and Queen Guinevere” and the titular “The Most Piteous Tale of the Morte Arthur.” Told with a both poignant sense of loss and an undisguised enthusiasm for chivalric adventure, this lively and idiosyncratic tale of Arthur's death combines the best of all the Arthurian epics that preceded it, and would influence all those that would follow after.
Precepted by Liam Daley

Ink Spots and Tea Stains: What we Learn from C.S. Lewis's Writing Habits

C.S. Lewis is one of the most prolific and influential writers of the 20th century. And yet, in his early career as an Oxford don, he viewed himself as a failed poet. Moreover, his most canonical and transformational writing happened during the most stress-filled periods of his life. This short course allows students to peek into the writing life of C.S. Lewis. Our goal is to see through the lines of printed text by visiting the letters and archival remains of Lewis in a virtual setting. Most of C.S. Lewis's papers remain undigitized and unpublished, available only locally at archives in North America and England.

As Professor Brenton Dickieson has visited these archives, he is able to invite students to appreciate C.S. Lewis's writing life by looking at the way that he consciously and unconsciously built his literary career. This course is for writers who are developing their own habits and literary life-prints, as well as folks who are curious about C.S. Lewis's life beyond the biographies and bestselling books.
Precepted by Brenton Dickieson

Inventing King Arthur: Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain

This course offers an in-depth look at the first complete “historical” narrative of the reign of King Arthur, Geoffrey’s Historia Regum Britanniae – as well as the centuries-long controversy this book generated. Comprising almost a quarter of Geoffrey’s History (Books 4 – 11), this crucial first account of the king includes the arrival of the Saxons in England, a battle of dragons, the boy Merlin’s prophetic visions, Arthur’s magically-contrived conception, his conquest of Rome, and his overthrown and death at the hands of his nephew Mordred. This course will also look at the battle of books that ensued following the appearance of Geoffrey’s work, with some contemporary chroniclers alleging that Geoffrey had simply made the whole thing up, and others rallying to Geoffrey’s (and Arthur’s) defense.
Precepted by Liam Daley

Inventing the Holy Grail: Chretien de Troyes's complete “Perceval"

The story of the Holy Grail that was sought by King Arthur’s knights begins with this tale: Chretien de Troyes’s “Perceval, or the Story of the Grail.” This coming-of-age story follows the adventures of Perceval, as he moves from rustic ignorance of his own identity into full-fledged knighthood. As series of mistakes, triumphs, and misadventures leads him almost (but not quite) to the discovery of that most holy of relics. His journey of spiritual understanding, like the quest for the Holy Grail itself, remains incomplete as Chretien’s unfinished romance breaks off in mid-sentence. This course, however, continues Perceval’s story through the numerous continuations of additions by which different authors brought to the tale within a century of its first appearance.

Note on Text: While most of Prof. Daley’s courses are flexible with regard to edition, in this case there is only one English translation that provides the complete text of Chretien’s “Perceval,” and all of the surviving translations: Nigel Bryant’s The Complete Story of the Grail, listed below.
Precepted by Liam Daley

Tolkien and the Romantics: Forging Myth and History

J.R.R. Tolkien famously 'found' his legendarium, translating and editing The Red Book of Westmarch for his twentieth century readers. This is not the first time an author has 'forged' a 'lost' literary history as James Macpherson's 'Ossian' documents from the 1760s started a craze for forgeries. Thomas Chatterton's Rowley and Turgot manuscripts similarly fed off the Ossian controversy while questioning what it really meant to 'forge' a document.

The module will follow an 8-lesson structure as follows:
• Lecture 1: The 1760s, the Age of Forgery
• Workshop 1: Which Red Book are we reading?
• Lecture 2: The Growth of Romantic Nationalism
• Workshop 2: The Book of Lost Tales: a mythology for which England?
• Lecture 3: Oral Traditions: Immortality and Youth
• Workshop 3: Vocalising Myth and History
• Lecture 4: Textual Traditions: Mortal Anxiety and Tangible History
• Workshop 4: Writing myth and history

Note: The hybrid 8-lesson structure above is the new format for this module moving forward.
Precepted by Will Sherwood
If you have any questions about the SPACE program, please reach out to [email protected].