A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court By Mark Twain Summary and Analysis Chapters 16-18

Summary

Before The Boss and Sandy reach the castle, they come upon a knight who is wearing one of The Boss's signboards advertising soap. They chat for awhile, and this knight informs them that the castle belongs to Morgan le Fay, who is King Arthur's sister and King Uriens's wife.

The Boss encourages the knight, gives him a new advertising idea, and sends him on his way. Then they enter the castle and are taken before Morgan le Fay, her husband, and her son, Sir Uwaine le Blanchemains. While they are talking, a page trips and falls against her knee; she slips a knife into him without a thought and keeps on talking.

In the course of the conversation, The Boss forgets the relationship between the king and his sister and makes a complimentary remark about Arthur. Morgan le Fay orders them hauled to the dungeons, but the order is quickly withdrawn when Sandy informs her that this man is The Boss.

After prayers, they have dinner in a huge banquet hall, with over a hundred guests present. There is music, a great deal of food, and plentiful quantities of wine and mead.

About midnight, an old woman enters the hall and curses the queen for the murder of her grandson (the page whom the queen had stuck a knife into). The queen immediately orders her taken to the stake. Sandy, however, speaks for The Boss, telling Morgan le Fay to either cancel that order or The Boss will cause the castle to crumble around them. The queen cancels the order. So that she won't feel too humiliated, The Boss allows her to hang the musicians, who had played rather wretchedly. The Boss would dearly love to go to bed, but Morgan le Fay insists that he must see her dungeons, especially the man who is on the rack. This man is accused of killing a deer on the royal preserves. The Boss tries to point out that an anonymous accusation is not proper, but le Fay will not accept that excuse. In the meantime, the man on the rack is tortured as they try to get him to confess. After watching for a moment, The Boss decides that the man must be turned loose, and Morgan concedes to The Boss's request.

As The Boss talks to the man, he learns — after word has been given that the man will not die — that the man did, indeed, kill the deer. He would not confess, however, because that would mean that his property would be confiscated, leaving his wife and child with nothing.

The Boss makes arrangements to send this man to Camelot for training and, afterward, sends him home. Then, because he did not like the executioner's actions, and because the priest had complained about him, The Boss makes the executioner the new leader of the new band that will play for the queen.

Before he and Sandy leave, The Boss asks to see the queen's dungeons. There, in small cells cut out of rock, are people, many of whom have been there so long that no one knows why they were put in the dungeons in the first place; indeed, the common practice in the kingdom is to throw them down there and forget about them.

The Boss orders forty-seven of the prisoners freed; the only person whom he leaves there is a lord who had killed a kinsman of Morgan le Fay.

Analysis

In earlier chapters, the knights have been seen as innocent and delightful children playing games and enjoying life. Now, however, when The Boss puts them between advertising sandwich-boards, they become truly ridiculous. The signs that the knights carry introduce another modern concept — advertising. This particular knight is advertising soap, and the advertising campaign is going so successfully that the workers in The Boss's soap factories are being overworked. Were we to be logical — a fallacy in reading a book such as this — we would have to point out that the advertising campaign could not work since no one except the clergy could read, thereby rendering the campaign unsuccessful. In fact, on this particular point, in Chapter 25 ("The Competitive Examination"), the young men who have been born of royal birth consider it an insult to be asked if they can read or write — that is a trivial task reserved for lowly clerks, and nobility should not be bothered by such trivia.

The entire idea of introducing both soap and advertising was done with the "several wholesome purposes in view toward the civilizing and uplifting of his nation." The irony here, as elsewhere, is that The Boss views civilization only in terms of material progress. This is one of the reasons that Twain refers to him as an "ignoramus."

In his meeting with Morgan le Fay, The Boss is again exposed to contradictory reactions in the same person. He has heard that she hates her brother, King Arthur, and that she is a vicious sorceress. Yet when he meets her, he is charmed by her "manner of pretty graces and graciousness." But when a page slips and falls upon her, she kills him with a dagger without a blink of an eye. From this act of atrocity, she immediately goes to her prayers. The Boss is mystified by this course of events, but he realizes that the Church has such a hold on the people that while the aristocracy can kill commoners at will, they must obey the call of the Church, which has the power to forgive them for their actions.

In Chapter 17, Twain is having some more of his good-natured fun. The Boss, after having freed the old grandmother, feels that Morgan le Fay needs someone to murder, so The Boss gives her permission to hang the band leader, the composer, and the entire band because they played so badly the night before.

This is The Boss being arbitrarily cruel, and this is Mark Twain suggesting that bad artists who impose their bad art upon the public should be strung up; interestingly, later in the novel, when the press is prepared to publish books, Sir Dinadan publishes a book of his jokes, which is so bad that The Boss has him hanged because of the bad jokes.

In Chapter 18, Twain strikes out against the Church. Once The Boss is in total control, he will try to abolish the established Church — "my idea is to have it [religion] cut up into forty free sects, so that they will police each other, as had been the case in the United States in my time. Concentration of power in a political machine; it was invented for that; it is nursed, cradled, preserved for that; it is an enemy to human liberty." In this regard, one should note that many great writers and thinkers have seen a strong centralized church as being more of a political force than a spiritual force. Significantly, later in the novel, the Church does assert its political strength, and it proves to be more effective than The Boss's scientific realism.

Also in Chapter 18, Twain reiterates an idea that was the basis of an earlier novel, The Prince and the Pauper. In that novel, the prince and the pauper exchange clothes and no one can tell which is the prince and which is the pauper — except by the clothes which they wear. In this chapter, a man was imprisoned for saying that he believed that "if you were to strip the nation naked and send a stranger through the crowd, he couldn't tell the king from a quack doctor, nor a duke from a hotel clerk." Later on, we will see a verification of this idea when the king dresses as a peasant and goes unrecognized among his people.

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