A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court


Mark Twain

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A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court: Chapter 9 Summary & Analysis

Tournaments—where knights fight each other in jousts and war games—are common at Camelot. Hank appreciates the spectacle even if his “practical mind” finds tournaments pointless. Besides, as a “statesman,” he must participate in the activities that are important to the community. Calling himself a “statesman” reminds him to mention that the first official act of his “administration” is to establish a patent office.
In line with Hank’s ambitions to create a nineteenth-century society in sixth-century Britain, he makes himself into the “statesman” in charge of an “administration.” Thus, while denigrating the monarchy, Hank benefits from singular, unelected authority, which makes him sound suspiciously like a king. 
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One particularly grand tournament lasts more than a week and involves 500 knights. Spectators dressed in gaudy colors flock to the affair, enthralled by the spectacle and the violence. The crowd’s shouts and cheers mercifully drown out the sounds of the doctors amputating the limbs of injured knights. As part of his efforts to establish a newspaper, Hank asks a priest from his “Department of Public Morals and Agriculture” to write a report of the tournament’s events.
Hank has an equivocal response to the tournament. He seems to be drawn to the spectacle while simultaneously rejecting the violence of the combat. Yet, it is important to remember that he isn’t above indulging in violence and contests of power himself. He uses priests as newspaper reporters because, historically, they had the highest literacy rates among medieval people. But this also indicates the various ways that, once in a position of power, Hank must compromise his alleged values. Despite a mortal hatred of the Church, he’s not above using it.
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Although it lacks the “lurid description” of a real newspaper, the priest’s piece captures the day’s action in detail with the “antique wording” of the period. An excerpt details long list of battles between knights. Notably, Sir Gareth defeats many men (including Sir Dinadan and Sir Sagramore) by changing the colors of his armor each time he returns to the field. King Arthur then suggests that Launcelot challenge Gareth, but Launcelot declines, arguing that it would be cruel to defeat a knight on a day of such success and when Launcelot has already won so much honor. 
The priest’s description sounds like the passage from Arthurian legend that M.T. read in the prologue. Its antiquated language and phrasing remind Hank of the distance between himself and his own time and place. In the tournament, Gareth becomes unrecognizable when he wears different armor. This suggests that relying on appearances (of class, status, or power) alone is dangerous, since externalities like dress and decoration can be deceiving.
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One event doesn’t make it into the priest’s final report. While fighting Sir Gareth, Sir Sagramore overhears Hank wishing for a knight’s death. Sagramore (incorrectly) assumes it’s directed at him, and he challenges Hank to a duel to take place three or four years in the future. The lapse of time is to allow Sir Sagramore to go on a quest for the Holy Grail. Hank observes that the knights of the Round Table go off, once a year or so, on this quest, although they never find the Grail. 
Hank attributes Sir Sagramore’s challenge to an accident of fate, even as he exhibits ongoing and clear disrespect for the institution of knighthood.  His discussion of the quest is a good example: Hank clearly finds the search for the Holy Grail—the most elite adventure in Arthurian legend—silly and pointless.
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