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The Evolution of Arthurian Legend

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Beth Dies

on 28 August 2013

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Transcript of The Evolution of Arthurian Legend

The Evolution of Arthurian Legend
The Legendary "Arthur"
- 5th-6th Century: first references to King Arthur appear, though he is most likely a mix of oral legends and literary references (from a wide variety of geographical areas and genres).
- insufficient/contradictory evidence of Arthur appears in the historical record (further encouraging poetic license (and hence the changing nature of his story))

15th Century: Sir Thomas Malory's
"Le Morte D'Arthur"
- Malory's text was written in the mid-15th Century
while he was in prison
- 1485: published by William Caxton (Malory died in 1471)
- Malory's text is an attempt to consolidate/collect the
Arthurian legends/stories; some poetic license
- Malory's text was not printed from the late 17th -early 19th Centuries: British rejection of the historical inaccuracies
- early 19th Century: resurgence of interest in medieval,
chivalric romance and the legends of Arthur
- Malory's text as primary influence on T.H. White's
"The Once and Future King"
The Resurgence of Arthurian Interest
late 19th Century:
- "Idylls of the King": Alfred, Lord Tennyson; series of 12 narrative poems;
Victorian interpretation
- American : write Sidney Lanier's "A Boy's King Arthur"
- Mark Twain's "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court"
20th Century:
- growing interest in Arthurian legend heavily encouraged by the end of WWII
- 1958: "The Once and Future King": T.H. White; inspiration for
the Broadway musical "Camelot" (1960) and
the Disney film "The Sword in the Stone" (1963)
- 1975: "Monty Python and the Holy Grail": spoof of Arthurian legend
- 1982: "The Mists of Avalon": Marion Bradley
- 1961-1963: the American Camelot: President John F. Kennedy's
comparison to King Arthur
Inspiration and Early References
12th-14th Century:
Arthur as Heroic "King"
12th Century:
- British writings (most notably Geoffrey of Monmouth): Arthur as greatest of British Kings
- Monmouth's "History of the Kings of Britain" includes references to Uther Pendragon, Merlin, Guinevere, Excalibur, Mordred, Avalon
- Welsh tales: Arthur as fairy-tale King battling both mortal and supernatural forces
- French verse (most notably Chretien de Troyes): references to Camelot; Arthur and his Knights as representative of the rise/fall of chivalry, leading to genre of "chivalric romance" prevalent throughout European literature
-13th Century:
- French Vulgate Cycle: prose; references to Lancelot, the Round Table, the darker side of Arthur and his Knights (spiritual idealism at odds with human tendency to sin)
14th Century:
- Middle English verse: "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight"
Gustave Dore, 1863

Lancelot relating his adventures in the Crusades to King Arthur and Guinevere

1385: tapestry of the "Nine Worthies"

Illuminated page from The Winchester Manuscript, early drafts by Sir Thomas Malory (

The Trojan Bunny of King Arthur....
- IF a man inspired the Arthur legends, he was most likely a Celtic leader in the British army (during the 6th century British defense against the invading Anglo-Saxons)
- the Britons had converted to Christianity under the Roman Empire, but became increasingly cut-off from Rome during the 5th Century (and thus became more self-reliant in their defense against the Saxons)
- circa 600 A.D.: Welsh poem (Arthur as a mysterious hero)
- circa 800 A.D.: "History of the Britons"- Latin text: Arthur as a Christian crusader/leader of British army (NOT a King)
- circa 950 A.D.: "Annals of Wales": similar reference HOB
Roman Empire under Trajan, 117 A.D.
BRIEF Overview to Medieval Period in England
Occupation of England before the Medieval Period:
- Celts (500 B.C.)
- Romans (55 B.C.- 407 A.D.)(drove the Celts to Scotland and Wales)

The Old English and Medieval Periods (A.D. 449- 1485):
- 449 A.D.: Anglo-Saxon invasion (Germanic tribes: Angles, Saxons, Jutes): ‘Angle-land’ became ‘England’
- 559: Invasion of Roman cleric St. Augustine, brings Christianity and Latin to the Isles
- 700-900s A.D.: Scandinavian invasion
- 1066: Norman Conquest, led by William the Conqueror (Duke of Normandy)
Feudal Era: 1100- 1485
- 1215: Magna Carta (beginning of parliamentary government in England), limited the powers of the King
- In the 14-15th centuries, England was besieged by plague, civil unrest, uprisings, and civil war
- 1485: Henry VII becomes King of England and the territory is united---beginning a new era of discovery and expansion
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