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Study Guide: A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court

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FREE STUDY NOTES: A CONNECTICUT YANKEE IN KING ARTHURíS COURT

SHORT PLOT / CHAPTER SUMMARY (Synopsis)

Mark Twain, the author and narrator of the tale, is on a visit to Warwick Castle, England, when he meets a stranger. The stranger, introducing himself as Hank Morgan from Connecticut, hands Twain a manuscript that he claims to have written during the sixth century, thirteen hundred years earlier, about his life during that time. He explains that he was injured in a fight and woke in Camelot, the court of King Arthur. What follows is his story about Camelot and the effect that he, a man of the nineteenth century, had on society of that time.

In his story, he reveals that he used his own nineteenth century understanding of technology and industry to try and revolutionize the crude country ways of the medieval people. As a result of his much more modern behavior and understanding, he was thought to be a magician whom the medieval men soon grew accustomed to calling The Boss.

His narrative, which begins in Chapter 2, starts from the moment of waking in Camelot. When he wakes, he is immediately captured by a Knight and led to the city. Once there, he is sentenced to die for speaking impertinently to the knight, whom he thinks is insane. Using his knowledge of astronomy, he remembers an eclipse that is about to happen and tells the superstitious people of Camelot that he will blot out the sun if he is not released. When the eclipse happens, the people think he is a terribly powerful magician. He is released and given a position of honor in society. The Kingís primary magician, Merlin, is jealous and skeptical of this new magician, and openly declares he is a fraud. The Boss, in an effort to bolster his position and humiliate the old magician, declares he will cause lightning from the sky to blow up Merlinís tower. With a few of his supporters, he produces explosives and a lightning rod and proceeds to put on a magnificent show of blowing up the old magicianís tower.

Just when he is basking under the glory of power and position, he is challenged by Sir Sagramour Le Desirous to fight a duel in a tournament. However, the date is unspecified since Sagramour is leaving to find the Holy Grail. The King and other Knights insist that the Boss must also go on a quest to prove his eligibility to face Sir Sagramour. He requests some time before he leaves in order to introduce education and technology in Camelot. With the help of Clarence he thus establishes schools, military academies, factories, telephones and telegraph operations, making Camelot very much like nineteenth century England. He does all this without the consent or knowledge of the church, which very much opposes modernizing Camelot since it will make the people more difficult to rule.


Finally, it is time for The Boss to start his quest. He accompanies Demoiselle Alisande Le Carteloise, or Sandy, on a mission to free her mistress and forty-four princesses from captivity. Burdened with a heavy armor, The Boss braves heat, exhaustion, the continuous chatter of Sandy, and a horde of Knights to reach the castle of Morgan le Fay. Morgan is pleasant to look at but cruel in her attitude to her subordinates. The Boss wins her favor by projecting himself as a powerful magician and moves on. They encounter various difficulties and meet many mythical people, including the notorious Morgan LeFay of Camelot lore. At some point, they are summoned to the Valley where the pilgrims meet, since there is a problem with the Holy Well and the people believe only The Boss can help.

When they reach the Valley, the boss realizes that the problem is a mere leak. Still he uses the ignorance of the people to his advantage. He informs the monks that he can work a miracle that will bring back the water to the well. He orders equipment and help from Camelot and waits till Merlin gives up trying to fix it with his magic. Then The Boss secretly begins to repair the hole in the well. Soon after the work is completed, he exhibits his miracle with pomp and show to a large audience. Once more he is successful and much admired for his skill.

The King comes to the Holy Valley to do his work there and he and The Boss decide to take a trip together. They both disguise themselves in order to travel incognito. The King finds it difficult to act the part of a peasant, since his pampered nature and royal breeding seem inseparable from his personality. He witnesses firsthand the cruelty of his knights toward the common man, and since he himself is disguised as a commoner, he is often the brunt of their misdeeds. He and The Boss encounter several tragic stories among the poverty stricken people. They also find themselves in frequent trouble.

The King and The Boss come upon a burning house where a man has been killed. Someone tells them the dead man is the Lord of the Manor, who has been killed by three peasants that he wrongfully put in prison. The peasants, on escaping prison, set his house on fire and killed him.

The Boss befriends some people in the town, but cannot resist showing off his wealth and superior knowledge in front of others. The peasants are suspicious of him and the King. A ruckus ensues and the King and The Boss are forced to flee. They are rescued from an angry mob by an Earl, but find that he has saved them only so that he may sell them as slaves. From that point, their hardships only multiply. They bear the brunt of the severe climate as well as the wrath of their master. The King, who in the past had made his subjects slaves, is now the slave of his own cruel master.

The Boss manages to escape but is caught before he can rescue The King. He is taken to court, where he concocts a story about being the servant of a noble man and is thus released (since the courts are biased in favor nobility and the clergy). He then contacts Clarence on the telephone and asks him to send Knights to rescue the King from the prison cell. When he reaches the market place, he learns that the slaves had killed their cruel master and are now going to be executed. Before he can do anything to help, he is also captured and corralled for execution.

In the open courtyard, three of the prisoners are executed and the King awaits his turn. Suddenly, the Knights led by Sir Launcelot arrive to free His Majesty and The Boss. Rescued, they all return to Camelot. The King has gained more sympathy for his subjects, having experienced firsthand the hardships of being a commoner in a country that favors clergy and nobility. But the trials are not over for The Boss. Sir Sagramour has returned from his search for the Holy Grail, and is ready to duel. The Boss defeats Sagramour, as well as many other outraged Knights (including Launcelot) who are too proud to see a lowly man defeat the much lauded Knights. Still, The Boss emerges victorious over all

Shortly after this incident, the boss starts revolutionizing England with his forward-looking policies and technical skills. He openly encourages enrollment in schools and other institutions like the military academy. He popularizes telephone, telegraph, and railways. Slowly and steadily he realizes his dream of making Camelot into a modern city. He now nurtures ambitions of making England a republic. He marries Sandy and they have a daughter. She becomes ill and the doctor urges him to take the child out of the country, to the sea. The Boss complies, and spends about a month away from Camelot.

When their daughter recovers enough, The Boss leaves for Camelot, promising to return for his wife and daughter. But Camelot is not as he had left it. England is gloomy and dark. His inventions and implements are out of use and he observes fear in the eyes of the people. Soon he realizes that the church has taken over the state in his absence and an Interdict has been issued against him. On reaching Camelot, he gathers information about the sequence of events leading to the Interdict. Sir Launcelot, after manipulating the shares, had antagonized other knights. He had also angered the King by openly expressing his affection for the queen. A war resulted between the King and the other knights against Launcelot. The King was killed, the queen vowed to live as a nun, and all The Bossís progress had been undone. Except for a small army of young men (about fifty) that Clarence had organized, there was no one left to fight this coup.

The Boss, Clarence, and the small group of rebels lay a trap for the knights by hiding in a cave equipped with explosives. They lure the knights there and promptly defeat them. The Boss is stabbed when he tries to help one of the knights he has wounded. At that time, Merlin casts a spell on him, causing him to fall asleep for thirteen hundred years. In this way the tale of the Connecticut Yankee in King Arthurís court ends. The novel closes as it began--with the encounter between Mark Twain with the stranger. Twain has finished reading the manuscript and goes to meet the stranger in order to return the manuscript. Hank Morgan is on his deathbed and in his delirious state remembers Sandy and his daughter Hello-Central. He longs to return to Camelot and experience its idyllic charm, regardless of the fact that he had once thought it crude and undeveloped.


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