A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain (1835 – 1910) A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain (1835 – 1910) Type of Work: Social satire Setting England; 6th-century, during the reign Of King Arthur Principal Characters Hank Morgan, the Connecticut Yankee “Boss”; in reality a 19th-century mechanic King Arthur, King of England Merlin, Arthur’s court magician Sandy, Hank’s sixth-century wife Story Overveiw Hank Morgan, born in Hartford, Connecticut, was head superintendent at a vast arms factory. There he had the means to create anything – guns, revolvers, cannons, boilers, engines, and all sorts of labor-saving machinery. If there wasn’t already a quick, newfangled way to do a thing, Hank could easily invent one. Supervising more than a thousand men had also taught Hank how to handle just about anybody – until he found himself involved with a bully named Hercules in a “misunderstanding conducted with crowbars,” and was knocked out by a “crusher” to the side of his head. When he came to, Hank was sitting under an oak tree. A man decked out in polished armor appeared and thundered toward confused, groggy Hank. After confronting him rudely, the man claimed Hank as his prisoner and took him to his court in the land of Camelot.
Hank had been captured by Sir Kay of King Arthur’s Roundtable. He was presented before a court led by Merlin, the braggart magician who had helped Arthur in his rise to the throne, and it was quickly decreed that Hank Morgan should die at mid-day on June twenty-first, the year of our Lord, 528. Certainly, King Arthur’s England was not the gallant world depicted in Fairy Tales, but a cruel, feudalistic society; and it looked as though Morgan would be a casualty of this barbaric order. But, resourceful Yankee that he was, Hank remembered that on June 21, A.D. 528 a total eclipse of the sun had supposedly occurred.
If indeed he was a nineteenth-century traveler lost in the days of chivalry, he could use this knowledge to his advantage. The appointed day came and Hank was unshackled and taken out of his dungeon cell to be burned at the stake. While fagots were meticulously piled around him, Hank stood calmly, his hands pointing toward the sun. Then he solemnly warned the on] ookers that he was about to smother the whole world in the dead blackness of midnight. At that moment, the eclipse began. As the earth was covered in shadows, the people turned in terror to Hank, who then extracted a promise from King Arthur: Hank demanded to be appointed the King’s perpetual minister and chief executive.
The clever Yankee supplanted Merlin as Arthur’s advisor, and the magician was cast into prison. Though he was now the second most powerful person in the kingdom, Hank missed the little conveniences he had left behind in modern life, such as soap, matches and candles. The castle walls were barren and cold; there was no looking glass and no glass in the windows; there were no books, pens, paper or ink. And worst of all, no sugar, coffee, tea or tobacco were anywhere to be found in the castle. If Hank’s new life was going to be bearable, he would have to invent, contrive, create, and reorganize things – the very tasks he liked most. Fearing interference from the church, Hank set out in secret to improve, not only his own living standards, but also the dreary lot of the commoners in Arthur’s feudal kingdom.
In a short time he had set up telegraph and telephone services. He scoured the land for bright young men to train as journalists and mechanics. Workmen in his newly built factories fabricated guns, cannons, soap, and almost any handy item imaginable. Known as “The Boss,” Hank also established schools, but he was most proud of his “West Point” – a military and naval academy. Even though Hank was high in command, and feared as a powerful magician besides’, he was not of noble birth, and the nobility looked down on him.
This wasn’t particularly bothersome to Hank, however, since he held them in the same low regard. Three years passed. One day, Merlin, now released from prison and disguised as Sir Sagramor, challenged Hank to a duel. To prepare himself for the encounter, the Yankee decided to go on a quest. He donned a set of uncomfortable armor and off he went through the countryside.
In the wake of his journey he encountered freemen, noblemen, and hermits. He spent many hours thinking about how to banish oppression from the land and restore rights to Camelot’s citizens, without “disobliging anybody.” The Boss, however, also experienced numerous comical episodes. He once turned aside a half-dozen charging knights by blowing a column of pipe smoke from beneath his armored face shield. He later managed to rescue a talkative young maiden, Alisande, from some unknown danger. “Sandy” prattled endlessly as she rode with Hank through the countryside. All the while, he continued in his quest, educating spirited young men, pardoning those unjustly imprisoned, and altering the pitiable state of the commoner. During his various wanderings, Hank was nce commissioned to restore water to a miraculous healing fount that had ceased to flow. Inspecting the well, he determined that it had merely sprung a leak.
Much to the chagrin of the meddlesome Merlin, who had unsuccessfully attempted to bring back the water by magic, the Yankee “divinely” restored the water’s flow. Merlin went home in shame, while Hank returned to Camelot a hero. Still, Morgan was appalled by the lives the people led. They were trodden down by churchmen and nobility alike. Hank soon began to secretly work for the overthrow of the church and the end to royal privilege. To accomplish these ends, he donned common peasant garb and set out to travel the land.
King Arthur, hearing of the idea, chose to accompany him. Arthur’s eyes were quickly opened to the plight of his people. He beheld a pathetic family dying of smallpox. A young, broken-hearted girl with a baby was hanged because she had stolen some cloth. They met men confined to prison for thirty, forty, or fifty years, no one knowing why they were there in the first place.
Near the final stage of their quest, Hank and the King were forced into the horrors of slavery and taken, shackled, to London. King Arthur showed himself to be a stately man; never once did he lose his kingly demeanor or his virtuous approach to life. However, due to some slight misbehaviors, both he and his councilor were condemned to die by hanging. At this point, Hank made an ingenious escape, found a telephone, informed Camelot of what was happening, and received the reassurance that five hundred knights would hasten forthwith to London. But before he could rendezvous with the royal army, Hank found himself recaptured.
Time was running out. The King was blindfolded and his head placed in the noose. Then, just at the last moment, Morgan spied Lancelot with his five hundred knights rushing toward the city square on bicycles! By means of a modern invention, Hank and the King had been saved. Back in Camelot, The Boss was still faced with a duel against Sir Sagramor. With no armor, Hank easily dodged the cumbersome knight until he was able to lasso him and pull him from his horse. But when the combatants returned for another round to the field of battle, the Yankee found that Merlin had stolen his lasso. He had no alternative except to shoot Sagramor with his gun.
King Arthur had seen enough of a decayed, immoral Camelot. Slavery was abolished. Knights gave up the deadly art of chivalry – though they still insisted on wearing their armor. Instead they became engineers or conductors on the railway between London and Camelot. They played baseball, sold sewing machines and soap, and played the stock market. Camelot had become a modern American town in the midst of ancient Great Britain. In the meantime, Hank had married Sandy and the had a little girl. As the years passed and things continued to run smoothly, Hank took his family to tour in France. Four weeks later, when they returned to England, the land had been laid desolate by invading forces.
Moreover, King Arthur had finally been forced to admit that Queen Guinevere and Lancelot were embroiled in an affair. In the resulting wars and battles, the King, Lancelot, and most of the major knights of the kingdom were killed. The church declared an Interdict against Hank Morgan and his work, and gathered all the remaining knights to uncover and execute the Yankee intruder. Realizing the danger, The Boss gathered his few remaining supporters and retired to Merlin’s former cave. There, they prepared for the upcoming battle by digging trenches and putting up electric fences.
On the day of the attack, over 10,000 knights came forth to battle – and over 10,000 knights were either electrocuted or drowned. But in the midst of the action, Hank was stabbed. An old hag offered to nurse him to health; no one recognized her as Merlin. Meanwhile, trapped inside the cave by piles of dead bodies of the knights who had earlier attacked, Hank’s men were slowly dying, choked by a poisonous gas given off by the rotting corpses. The gas did, in fact, kill everyone – except Hank. The last spell Merlin cast before he himself perished, caused Hank Morgan to sleep for thirteen hundred years – until wakened safely once again in his own century. Commentary Mark Twain was fascinated by Sir Thomas Malory’s “Morte d’Arthur.” According to his notebook, Twain dreamed one night of being a knight in Arthur’s court and of the many inconveniences this presented. This dream inspired him with his story of a clever Yankee machinist who attempts to modernize and improve Camelot.
A Connecticut Yankee exposes the glorified knight errantry of legend as childish barbarism; a feudal system that abused and deprived the common people. Conversely, Twain’s principles of good government lifted the commoners and the nobility alike into a new life of dignity and purpose. From beginning to end, this book is a surprising and powerful combination of homiletics and humor. For instance, Twain vividly portrays the brutality of slavery, and immediately follows these scenes with a comical rescue of the King and Hank Morgan by knights on bicycles. The novel was originally envisioned as a pleasant burlesque of Camelot; but social conscience and outrage against man’s inhumanity to man consistently found their way to the surface, producing a serious social satire layered with wit and wisdom.
This constant shifting between social humor and social disgust makes this book one of Twain’s most memorable.”.