A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court

by

Mark Twain

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A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court: Chapter 39 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
A few days later, Hank is back at Camelot, perusing the paper. It announces the date of his long-delayed fight to the death with Sir Sagramore, which will take place on the 16th of the month. He pastes into the narrative a torn-away clipping of the editorial Clarence wrote about the affair, which makes several novel points about this duel. First, spectators will have to pay for admission, and the money raised will go to the hospital fund—Hank has established the hospital as a democratic charity, which will help anyone regardless of “race, creed, condition, or color.” Second, readers might “want to make a note” that the contestants can use any weapon they choose. 
The book reproduces not just the pertinent column of the newspaper, but also ragged edges of the columns to the left and right, adding a charming touch of realism to narrative and reminding readers that the book is meant to be a transcription of Hank’s first-person narrative. Even before the duel begins, the article asserts that Hank has delivered Camelot into a new age, with new considerations such as state charity, the theoretical equality of all people in the kingdom, and a relaxing of the old rules of combat.
Themes
New World vs. Old World  Theme Icon
Quotes
No one in Britain can talk about anything but the upcoming contest, which is not just a duel between men but between great magicians. Merlin is enchanting Sir Sagramore’s weapons and armor, and Hank has already shown himself to be one of the “master enchanters of the age.” What no one else knows, however, is that it’s also a contest between “hard unsentimental common sense” and chivalry. Hank will either destroy the institution of the knighthood—or the institution will destroy Hank. For this reason, any knight with “ambition or caste feeling” is there the day of the contest, ready to offer their own challenges to Hank if Sir Sagramore fails.
The duel operates on three levels. The first two—Hank vs. Sagramore and Hank vs. Merlin—are common knowledge. Only Hank and a select group of his followers understand the third, a contest between sixth-century chivalric culture and Hank’s vision of nineteenth-century society. Although the general public remains unaware of Hank’s colonial project, his plan to replace their society with his own, but the knights’ massive show of support for Sagramore suggests an intuition of how much rests on the outcome. 
Themes
New World vs. Old World  Theme Icon
Imperialism  Theme Icon
Superiority, Power, and Authority Theme Icon
Sir Sagramore looks grand in his heavy plate armor on his armored horse. In contrast, Hank sits astride an unarmored horse wearing nothing more than a “gymnast’s costume” of a unitard and shorts. The king gives the signal, and the contestants charge towards each other. On three separate passes, Hank and his nimble mount dodge the tip of Sagramore’s lance at the last minute. This angers Sagramore, who chases Hank around the grounds for a few minutes before returning to his end of the lists. This time, when he charges, Hank lassoes the knight and pulls him off his horse. No one has ever seen a show like this, and the crowd goes wild.
Even the clothes Hank and Sagramore wear point toward the gulf between their sixth- and nineteenth-century worldviews: Sagramore’s grand, nearly impenetrable armor protects him but also makes him clumsy and slow. Hank’s exposed body allows him to be nimble and quick. During the duel, Hank has the opportunity to achieve one of his most cherished goals, which he’s been working at obliquely for years: not just defeating, but utterly humiliating the knighthood.
Themes
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Imperialism  Theme Icon
With Sir Sagramore unhorsed, the field is open for other knights to challenge Hank, and he quickly dispatches Sir Hervis de Revel, Sir Lamorak de Galis, and Sir Galahad in the same way. When Sir Sagramore emerges from his tent to offer a second challenge, this time with a sword, he catches Hank off guard. This gives Merlin the opportunity to sneak up and snatch away Hank’s rope. King Arthur is anguished to discover that Hank has lost his weapon and doesn’t have a spare with him, but according to the rules of engagement, Arthur has no choice but to give the signal for the round to begin.
The deck seems to be stacked against Hank in this second challenge, which Sagramore intends to take place in close quarters and without the benefit of Hank’s weapon. The fact that Merlin resorts to cheating suggests his understanding that he can’t win against Hank in a fair fight. Like Hank, Merlin depends on his reputation for inspiring fear and others’ belief in him to hold power. And like Hank, he’s willing to cheat to get power.
Themes
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This time, when Sir Sagramore charges, Hank stands his ground while the anguished crowd screams at him to save himself. When Sagramore is nearly upon him, Hank snatches a revolver from his belt, fires once through Sagramore’s heart, and hides the gun again before anyone knows what’s happened. Now that Sagramore is dead, it is Hank’s right to offer a new challenge, and he challenges “the chivalry of England” to fight him at once. Instantly, hundreds of knights clamber into their saddles. Hank fatally shoots one after another, but he only has 12 bullets. Fortunately, after the ninth knight falls, the rest give up. Chivalry is dead; the “magic of science” has carried the day against the “magic of folderol.”
Hank’s fights are never fair, thanks to the advantage of his 19th-century education and technological know-how. And it suits his sense of the dramatic for all to seem lost for him in the moment before he evidently fells the mighty Sir Sagramore by an act of magic. Of course, it’s not magic, just 19-century, technologically underwritten violence; Hank brought a gun to a lance-and sword fight. Thus, his challenge to the chivalry generally not only allows him to assert the dominance of science and nineteenth-century ways over magic and sixth-century superstition, it’s also a mini version of the wholesale devastation his technology can create.
Themes
New World vs. Old World  Theme Icon
Imperialism  Theme Icon
Superiority, Power, and Authority Theme Icon