Course overview

How did some of the characters and images of British folklore come to be so widely recognised as key elements of British society? We will go on to examine some of the key figures of English folklore tradition, including the main characters of Arthurian and Robin Hood stories, as well as considering the evidence for their origins and historical basis. We will also examine some of the early English and Celtic pagan cults and gods in order to shed light on how those early practices may have gone on to affect habits and customs in later times. We will also identify animals with a British Folklore tradition.

Course description

This course will examine in some detail several of the key elements and characters that have come to form such a major part of distinctively British tradition and myth. To begin with, we will examine some of the notions and traditions around the earliest Saxon and Celtic cults and gods and how their practices may have gone on affect later English society even long after their apparent decline in the face of the rise of Christianity; indeed, how even some apparently “Christian” practices themselves were affected and influenced by those earlier beliefs. We will then go on to consider later traditions and stories such as those of Beowulf, Arthur and Robin Hood and how these later elements came to be such integral parts of British tradition-though ironically themselves sometimes influenced by French and continental sources. Particular emphasis will be placed upon the Arthurian tradition as “the matter of Britain”, and how several of the key figures associated with King Arthur themselves grew up and became attached to his myth. We will conclude with some distinctively British folk elements attached to animals and plants that themselves have continued to remain major parts of mythological and traditional belief in the United Kingdom.

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