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Undergraduate Medieval & Post-Medieval Syllabi
Sian Eichard, University of British Columbia, Vancouver

This syllabus is for a mandatory first-year "Introduction to Literature" course, taken by all students at our university; it's a one-term course. The only requirements are that the syllabus include a novel, a play, and some poetry. Themes can be chosen by the instructor, so naturally I run mine as an Arthurian literature course. The students aren't English majors; there isn't much time in a single term; and the course is taught in a combination of large lectures and small tutorials. I make each tutorial group responsible for one class: each group is given the responsibility of researching and presenting on a particular Arthurian figure or phenomenon; you'll see that the syllabus is organized by major figures.

The poetry readings are part of a course packet made by our Bookstore (they research and pay the copyright, then photocopy what we ask for); I have used Alan Lupack's Modern Arthurian Literature in the past, however. I put The Arthurian Handbook on the syllabus as a recommended but not required text. The play is a problem: I use The Tempest, but it's a stretch. You'll note that the second novel in this version is The Dark is Rising. For several years I used C.S. Lewis's That Hideous Strength, and it worked very well for about a third of the class­ the others just didn't get it. This coming year, however, I'm going to read three novels: The Sword in the Stone, and The Dark is Rising, and That Hideous Strength. I'll shorten the poetry section a bit, but in general, I've decided to be more demanding rather than less.

The syllabus in last year's version (shorn of dates) follows.

The Once and Future King: An Introduction to Arthurian Literature

Like all sections of English 110, this course is intended to offer an introduction to the major genres of English literature: the novel, poetry, and drama. This section will concentrate on works with a common subject, the story of King Arthur. From the Middle Ages to the present, this tale of the rise and fall of an ideal king and kingdom has attracted the attention of artists and audiences of all kinds. Arthurian literature can be tragic or comic, "serious" or popular, idealistic or satiric; and while few people are familiar with all the intricate windings of the whole cycle, most, whether from movies and Monty Python, comic books or popular fiction, can name at least some of its famous figures. This course will put some flesh on the bones of those figures, as we tour Arthurian literature through a focus on Arthur, Lancelot, Guenevere, and Merlin. A detour into Shakespeare should help us to identify some of the archetypal themes of the Arthurian story, so that we may come to see how Arthur indeed became, in a literary sense at least, "the once and future king."


Lecture: Who was King Arthur, anyway? The historical Arthur, and the early growth of the Arthurian legend

Class group work: Arthurian places and objects research assignment

Lecture: A King's Childhood: The enfances of the hero in tradition and in T.H. White

Reading: T.H. White, The Sword in the Stone (pp. 7-208 of The Once and Future King)

Lecture: Arthur in modern fiction and film: from T.H. White to First Knight

Reading: White, The Sword in the Stone

Class group work reports on Arthurian places and objects


Group 1 reports: Lancelot

Lecture: Introduction to Lancelot; Arthur in Victorian Verse

Reading: Chapters 1-2, 45 of The Ill-Made Knight (pp. 309-19, 506-11 of The Once and Future King); Alfred, Lord Tennyson, "The Lady of Shalott"

Lecture: Pure Knight and Adulterers: On the development and treatment of the grail quest in Arthurian literature

Reading: Algernon Charles Swinburne, "Lancelot"; Alfred, Lord Tennyson, "Sir Galahad"; John Ciardi, "Lancelot in Hell"


Group 2 reports: Guenevere

Lecture: Introduction to Guenevere

Reading: Algernon Charles Swinburne, "The Day Before the Trial"; Alfred, Lord Tennyson, from Idylls of the King

Lecture: "Anything, except my dog, my spear, my horse, or my wife": Revising Guenevere's Role

Reading: William Morris, "The Defence of Guenevere"; Wendy M. Mnookin, "Guenever Speaks"


Group 3 reports: Merlin

Lecture: Introduction to Merlin; Arthur in Science Fiction and Fantasy

Reading: Susan Cooper, The Dark is Rising

Lecture: Sorcerers and Children: Arthurian fantasy for children and young adults

Reading: Cooper, The Dark is Rising

Lecture: "And Now for something completely different" ... or is it? From Merlin to Prospero

Reading: William Shakespeare, The Tempest

Lecture: Patterns of Tragedy and Comedy; Innocence, Initiation, and Magic

Reading: Shakespeare, The Tempest

Lecture: "Some of them do sparkle": The Appeal of the Ideal

Reading: Chapter 14 of The Candle in the Wind (pp. 625-38 of The Once and Future King)

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