My quest with my high school seniors into British Lit continues with one of the last two texts in our Medieval Era unit: Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur. This text, published in 1485, provides the tales of the legendary King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. (A post on our last medieval text, Everyman, is in the works, so stay tuned!)
The translation of Le Morte d’Arthur offered in my classroom textbook presented me with a challenge once again. True, this older edition Prentice-Hall textbook has proven sufficient in many cases this fall; however, its treatment of Le Morte d’Arthur — a mere two-and-half-page excerpt — is just too sparse. Not enough of the text is provided to delve deeply into the various plots, not to mention themes and motifs.
As a result, an Internet search was in order to find additional resources, which I did.
(Read about those excerpts in the list of additional resources below.)
Still, once I found two alternative texts for my students to read, I discovered another problem with Le Morte d’Arthur: how exactly to approach this monumental text.
I gotta be honest. Since it was my first time teaching Le Morte d’Arthur, I was a little overwhelmed.
As a result, I decided to narrow my focus. I knew that if I focused on ONE THING, I could adequately cover this text on my initial experience with teaching it. The narrowed lens through which we viewed this text? Characterization.
With the various characters present in the King Arthur tales, there seems to be value in taking a few minutes to study those characters to learn their traits and how those traits impact the tales.
To address characterization, I decided to create a worksheet that would help students focus on four different characters we came across in our readings from those two alternative texts. (Get links to those excerpts below in the list of additional resources.)
Here’s a link to the worksheet I created, which can be found on TpT:
At the top of the sheet, the instructions read as follows: “One objective of reading Le Morte d’Arthur is that we understand how Sir Thomas Malory built his characters… that is, the characterization he used in the story to provide a chivalric code for the tales. Notice how Malory’s characterization teaches a code for behavior.”
This activity required a fifty-minute class period with students working independently. During our previous read-alouds of the two excerpts, students had listed characters as we approached them in the story. When we finished reading and discussing, students then chose their four characters for this sheet from their lists.
Standards Addressed in This ActivityCommon Core State Standards
Here are a few other Le Morte d’Arthur resources I used
One-Minute Middle Ages: In introducing Le Morte d’Arthur, I asked students to recall the One-Minute Middle Ages presentations they gave at the beginning of the Medieval Era unit.
I called on students to recall and briefly share their topics as a review activity before moving on to Le Morte d’Arthur.
These topics included chivalry, the Black Death, feudalism, the One Hundred Years War, pardoners and indulgences, the Roman Catholic Church of that era, Middle English, pilgrimages, alchemy, and courtly love.
We gave these short talks at the start of our Canterbury Tales unit. Click here for that post.
After this quick Middle Ages review, we watched “Arthur, King of the Britons,” a documentary hosted by Richard Harris, who starred as King Arthur in the 1967 movie Camelot and, more recently, as Albus Dumbledore in the Harry Potter movie franchise.
Extending for 53 minutes, this BBC documentary speculates whether King Arthur actually existed. To do this, Harris visits Tintagil Castle on the western coast, the supposed birthplace of the legendary king. He also visits the towns of West Camel and Queen Camel in Somerset. Many believe these two towns to be the origin of the famed Camelot.
“Arthur, King of the Britons” is a comprehensive documentary. It kept my class’ attention as it showed archaeologists excavating pottery shards, which have been used to date activity at Camel.
Another interesting theory put forth: the marshy tidal lands around Glastonbury Tor may have provided the waterways that carried King Arthur to his final resting place at the Tor.
The film’s makers reach no definitive conclusion on the existence of King Arthur, but does raise thought-provoking questions about the origins and reliability of the King Arthur legends.
As mentioned earlier, our current textbook does not provide much more than an all-too-brief excerpt of the King Arthur tales. In the photo below, the text offers a much more in-depth narrative. I printed out this excerpt for my students and posted it online for my remote learners.
This particular translation of The Crowning of Arthur from Book I of Malory’s text tells the story of how King Arthur found his destiny by pulling the sword from the stone.
This particular translation from Book VIII of Malory’s text tells the story of the fatal fight between Sir Modred and King Arthur that ends with a slain Arthur being taken to his final resting place, Avalon.
I used this article to help students review what they already knew about the King Arthur legends. This article lists fifteen popular books, films, and plays that have featured bits and pieces from the King Arthur tales. My students were familiar with some of these; it’s good to help students new information to their existing knowledge.
I hope the resources listed in this post help you with your British Literature course. Teaching these texts represents new territory for me (as with SO many other aspects of 2020…lol), but I’m managing to introduce my students bit by bit to these foundational texts of western culture.
If you have any resources or teaching ideas to contribute, please feel free to leave a comment or contact me via my Contact page. I look forward to hearing from you!
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