Arthurian Legend: Stories, Characters & Summaries

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  • 0:00 What Is Arthurian Legend?
  • 0:22 History Of Arthurian Legend
  • 0:59 Historia Regum Britanniae
  • 1:43 Le Morte D'Arthur
  • 2:01 The Arthurian Legend Itself
  • 3:40 Significant Characters…
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Shamekia Thomas

Shamekia has taught English at the secondary level and has her doctoral degree in clinical psychology.

Arthurian legend tells the fictional story of King Arthur's reign in British royalty. It is a story filled with love, romance, and betrayal. Learn more about the origins of Arthurian legend, characters in these stories, and test your knowledge with a quiz.

What is Arthurian Legend?

King Arthur, Guinevere, and Sir Lancelot are all fictional characters in one of the most well-known legends in British literature. When most people think of Arthurian legend, they think of romance, chivalry, and knights in shining armor. Knights were thought to be chivalrous when they were courteous, honest, brave, and loyal.

History of Arthurian Legend

Arthurian legend has been around for many years; it was developed from stories in Celtic mythology, but it is unclear whether King Arthur's character was based on a real person. There are a number of writers who created various stories about Arthurian legend, including Geoffrey of Monmouth (with Historia Regum Britanniae), Robert de Boron (with Merlin and the Grail), Chretien de Troyes (who wrote several including Erec, Cliges, Yvain, and Lancelot), and Sir Thomas Malory (who wrote Le Morte D'Arthur). Even today, stories about Arthurian legend are told through movies and various works of literature.

Historia Regum Britanniae

The story of King Arthur was first found in the prose piece Historia Regum Britanniae, written by Geoffrey of Monmouth in the early 12th century. Historia Regum Britanniae gives the details of King Arthur's life, tells of the heroism of King Arthur's knights, and gives an account of European history. Following the work of Geoffrey of Monmouth, Robert Wace wrote Roman de Brut about Arthurian legend, chivalry, and romance. The Brut of Layamon used the framework established by Wace to describe King Arthur as a hero. Chrétien de Troyes, also wrote several romances about the knights of Arthur's court. Eventually, Arthurian writing decreased but the Arthurian legend continued to be popular and is still popular today.

Le Morte D'Arthur

Thomas Malory's Le Morte D'Arthur provides the framework for most of what is known as Arthurian legend. It is the most popular, historical piece of writing about Arthurian times. Thomas Malory told the stories of the various characters in Arthurian legend in an understandable way, even though his stories differed from the stories told by other authors.

The Arthurian Legend Itself

King Arthur's story can sometimes become confusing because so many writers have written their own versions of what happened during King Arthur's reign. As various writers told King Arthur's story, they added different turns and twists to the story. Despite different interpretations, the basic story of King Arthur remains the same.

King Arthur was the illegitimate son of King Uther Pendragon and Igraine. He was raised in a secret place and pulled a sword from a stone in order to become king. He was helped in various challenges in his life by a magician named Merlin. When he became King, Arthur created a court, which consisted of many knights who were an honorable group of men. He established his kingdom and called it Camelot. Arthur's knights met at a Roundtable and went on several quests, when they were not in battle, to find The Holy Grail, a popular religious symbol.

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