A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court


Mark Twain

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A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court: Chapter 38 Summary & Analysis

At around 4:00 in the afternoon, a crowd of Londoners gathers to watch the slaves’ execution. As he is lead to the gallows platform, Arthur proclaims himself King of England and threatens to punish everyone responsible for this affair with treason. He’s hurt when the people don’t recognize him. Three slaves are executed, then the executioners blindfold Arthur and lead him to the rope. Hank instinctively leaps forward to try to rescue the king just as 500 “mailed and belted knights” come tearing down the street on bicycles.
Dressed as a slave, Arthur cannot convince anyone of his identity, and he must reckon with the realization that his power (and Hank’s) depends on the belief of others rather than lying in himself alone. But any humility that he might have learned from the experience evaporates when the knights ride into town just in time—a stroke of good luck that depends on his civilizing inventions, like the bicycle.
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Hank waves his (cloth-wrapped) right arm wildly in the air, drawing Launcelot’s attention, extricates Arthur from the noose and blindfold and shouts that anyone who fails to fall on their knees and salute the king “shall sup in hell tonight!” He always uses grand language when “climaxing an effect.” The crowd drops to its knees before the king, notwithstanding his ragged and filthy appearance, and as Hank looks on, he must admit that there really is something “peculiarly grand” about the king’s bearing that sets him apart from the common man after all. And he’s pleased with the way the situation worked out; it’s one of the “gaudiest effects” he ever “instigated.”
Hank’s flair for the dramatic allows him to seize control of the situation, but not until he has the backing of hundreds of well-armed knights. This suggests that his power lies in his role as the Boss more than in superior intellect or reason. And while the people’s recognition of their king partially reinforces the idea that kingship depends on belief—nothing about Arthur has changed, just the people’s opinion of social status—it also reminds Hank (and readers) of the inherent noble bearing that Arthur couldn’t disguise as a commoner or even as a slave.
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