A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court

by

Mark Twain

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A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court: Chapter 5 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
In the dungeon, Hank is so exhausted that he immediately falls asleep. Waking up, he initially thinks he’s had a strange dream, but then he sees Clarence in his cell. He’s scared when he realizes that this isn’t a dream and he’s scheduled to be executed the next day. He begs Clarence for help escaping. Clarence replies that it’s impossible, due to the number of guards and the fact that Merlin has enchanted the dungeon to keep its prisoners in.
Despite his belief in his own superiority to the medieval population, Hank is momentarily at their mercy. In contrast, people’s belief in and fear of Merlin’s magic means that he holds a great deal of power. Hank recognizes that Merlin’s anti-prison-break spells only work because people believe in them.
Themes
Superiority, Power, and Authority Theme Icon
Hank has no patience for “old humbug” Merlin or the “chuckleheaded […] superstitions” his so-called magic relies on. But Clarence’s very real fear and respect for Merlin’s power give Hank an idea. Hank tells Clarence that he is a powerful magician himself. If he isn’t released, he promises to unleash a terrible calamity on the kingdom. Terrified and begging Hank not to hurt him, Clarence stumbles out of the cell to warn the court.
Clarence’s fear and respect for Merlin demonstrates typical, superstitious medieval beliefs. And while Hank personally considers himself above such ignorant superstitions, he willingly uses them to his advantage. Thus, in his bid for power, he reinforces the very delusions he looks down upon.
Themes
Imperialism  Theme Icon
Superiority, Power, and Authority Theme Icon
With Clarence gone, Hank has two unsettling thoughts. First, he worries that the boy will realize it’s suspicious for such a powerful magician to need his help. But then he remembers that “these animals” don’t use reason, so he’s pretty sure Clarence won’t make this connection. Next, he realizes that he might be called on to demonstrate his magical skills. And, in fact, Merlin does send Clarence back to ask Hank to specify the calamity. Fortunately, he recalls the eclipse.
This early in his adventure, Hank still worries that someone will figure out that he’s just posing and isn’t as powerful as he claims to be. Thus, when Clarence, the king, and everyone else take him at his word, his sense of superiority increases. It’s interesting to note that Hank was bluffing, at least at first; it’s not until Clarence leaves that he realizes he can pretend to control the eclipse.
Themes
Superiority, Power, and Authority Theme Icon
Hank confirms with Clarence that it’s the 20th of June and that his execution is set for the next day at noon. Then, in a threatening voice, he promises to “blot out the sun” at the hour of his execution. His words and delivery are effective: Clarence is so scared that he collapses, and Hank must carry him out of the cell and hand him over to the guards.
Hank’s performance demonstrates that he is a showman at heart. His power seems to stem as much from his ability to bring about the miracle he promises as the drama with which he plays the role of sorcerer.
Themes
Superiority, Power, and Authority Theme Icon
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