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Five Reasons to Teach King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table

British Literature Five Reasons To Teach Series Mythology World Literature

“Herein may be seen noble chivalry, courtesy, humanity, friendliness, hardiness, love, friendship, cowardice, murder, hate, virtue, and sin. Do after the good and leave the evil.”

~ Sir Thomas Malory, “Preface to Le Morte D’Arthur” ~
Some stories just resonate with students, and the saga of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table is a student favorite time and again. Maybe it’s that the story cycle is so long, spanning fourteen script-stories, with a sprawling cast of memorable characters. Or maybe it’s just the medieval setting full of knights and damsels, wizards and enchantresses, chivalry and jousting. No matter the reason for its popularity among teenage readers, here are five reasons to teach King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.
  1. Arthur’s kingdom is an attempt at utopia. Under the guidance of Merlin the Wizard (mythology’s greatest teacher), Arthur “the boy king” becomes the head of an experimental kingdom, dedicated to law and equality. Unfortunately, the ultimate downfall of any utopia is that it must be populated by flawed human beings. Arthur’s choices, and the choices of those closest to him, lead to Camelot’s ruin, making the story both a triumph and a tragedy.
  2. Le Morte D’Arthur forms a long, interlocking series of stories. Remember the old days when everyone you knew stayed up-to-date with the latest hit show? Le Morte D’Arthur combines the disparate Arthur stories into one long, saga. During this time, the characters have a chance to grow and develop, and careful readers are rewarded with story twists and dramatic reveals. One student commented, “I feel like we were all watching the same television series together. And we were all sad when it ended.” This shared experience makes reading the stories a special experience for students.
  3. The Knights of the Round Table are ultimately on a quest for character. In a time when “might made right,” the Knights of the Round Table believe the opposite. They swear the Pentecostal Oath, a promise for the strong to serve the weak. Each character in these stories is weighed by his or her virtue–specifically, the greatest virtue of all:  mercy. They are all flawed, but ultimately, they are judged by their ability to forgive. This provides an opportunity for discussing the importance of character in our everyday lives as well.
  4. The Knights of the Round Table are diverse, yet united by a common purpose. The Knights of the Round Table hail from a variety of backgrounds and even religions (Palamedes is a Saracen or Muslim knight), yet they unite under the same set of virtues. The message? Diverse groups of people can succeed in a common goal if they all agree on a core set of virtues. It’s a message that many people (young and old) need to hear in such polarizing times.
  5. The story is a morality tale with very flawed characters. You would expect a medieval cycle of legends, grounded in Christianity, to be full of purity, but the legends of King Arthur are anything but. Infanticide, adultery, incest, betrayal, and murder are all integral parts of the story. But the Christian aspect of the legends comes through their emphasis on mercy. Yes, the characters are deeply flawed. They make tragic mistakes. But in the end, nothing is unforgivable, and those that forgive, find forgiveness themselves. This theme makes the legends a “must read” for older teens, who may feel defined by their past mistakes.
  6. Bonus: Lancelot and Guinevere symbolize the conflict between personal happiness and civic duty. Lancelot and Guinevere are literature’s most famous star-crossed lovers (pre-dating Romeo and Juliet.) Their inner conflict is one for the ages. Do they sacrifice their own happiness for the good of the kingdom they helped build? Or do they forsake their vows and bring down a kingdom for their own personal happiness? Ultimately, their choice helps decide Camelot’s fate.
Legends of King Arthur and Camelot

This story collection is my students’ favorite, and it can be your students’ favorite as well! The Road to Camelot adapts Sir Thomas Malory’s classic work Le Morte D’Arthur into 14 Reader’s Theater script-stories, chronicling the rise and fall of King Arthur and Camelot. Click here for more information.

Content Warning:  Although none of the following elements are overly descriptive, the legends deal with the issues of infanticide, incest, and adultery. This set of stories is recommended for grades 9-12.


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