The Arthurian Cycle as a Cross-Cultural Matter

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University of Delaware
Arthurian literature is some of the most pervasive literature to come out of the Western world in the history of the written word. Called the “Matter of Britain,” Arthurian literature centers around a sixth-century Welsh warlord whose dubious existence has led to the development of a legend connected not only to Wales, but to Britain and the rest of Western Europe. Twelfth-century writers from various cultures—particularly French, Germanic, British, and Welsh—adopted Arthur and his court to be representatives of an ideal feudal world. This ideal world was increasingly portrayed in a pessimistic light, as Arthur is increasingly portrayed as a weak king and his court is unable to handle the many competing responsibilities of a world governed by ambiguous rules of chivalry and courtliness. This thesis analyzes a sample of twelfth and thirteenth-century works from various cultures, and examines how these cultures adapted the Arthurian legend to fit their culture. Arthurian literature gained popularity through the Middle Ages and Arthur himself was identified in the fifteenth-century as one of greatest Christian kings to have ever lived—over a millennium after he might have lived. The only thing which remains consistent is the tragedy of Arthur’s inevitable fall. Arthurian literature has been enjoyed by audiences through history. The “Matter of Britain” is actually the matter of a much wider scope, spanning both time and space.