Romance to Ritual: Literary Transformations Of The Holy Grail

Module code: EN7247

Perhaps no aspect of the Arthurian legend has been so doggedly investigated as the origin and development of the Holy Grail. This is due in part to a certain uneasiness with the shifting nature of the symbol itself. From its initial appearance in the romances of the twelfth century to its reemergence in contemporary cyberfiction, we are presented with detailed descriptions of the Grail’s various epiphanies, yet a clear perception of its actual substance remains elusive. Indeed, the crucial question that we must ask, ‘what is the Grail?’, must be addressed within the context of the particular work in question. This module will focus on this question and the evolution of the Grail quest as it is presented in texts from the twelfth century to the twentieth. The approach is thematic and comparative, exploring the principal theories of origin concerning the Grail in relation to its presentation as a vessel in Chrétien de Troyes, La Queste del Saint Graal and Thomas Malory’s Tale of the Sankgreal, before going on to consider its political dimension in Tudor propaganda. We then turn to such modern interpreters of the symbol as William Blake, Alfred Tennyson, John Masefield, T.S. Eliot, Charles Williams, David Lodge and Umberto Eco.

Teaching for this module will consist of five two-hour seminars. Students will be assessed by one 3000-word essay, and will be offered the opportunity to submit an essay plan (up to 500 words) and receive oral feedback on it in a one-to-one meeting.


  • 10 hours of seminars
  • 140 hours of guided independent study


  • Essay, 3,000 words (100%)
  • Formative exercise, 500 words (0%)