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

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Hank Morgan wakes in prison and thinks he must be dreaming. When Clarence, the young boy from an earlier scene, arrives to talk to Morgan, he thinks the boy is a vision. Clarence matter-of-factly informs Morgan that he is real, and that Morgan has truly been sentenced to die in King Arthurís Court. Morgan asks the boy to help him escape. Clarence says Merlin has cast a spell around the cell to keep Morgan imprisoned. Morgan devises a plan to save him in this delicate situation. He asks Clarence to tell King Arthur he is a great magician (greater than Merlin) who can create calamities with his super powers. Clarence returns from delivering his message with disappointing news. Merlin has interceded and cautioned King Arthur not to believe the words of the stranger. Remembering the eclipse, Morgan asks Clarence to tell the King he will darken the world to prove his magic.


Mark Twain recreates the medieval age through its superstitious and ignorant people. Clarence believes that a spell has been cast on the prisonerís cell and hence it is impossible for him to aid Morganís escape. Morgan, being a practical modern man, does not believe in the powers of Merlin or the superstitious beliefs of the people. Later, he will try to educate the people to not be so superstitious and gullible. Now, however, he takes advantage of the ignorance and false beliefs of these illiterate people to declare himself a magician capable of creating calamities.

Since science has not yet made its advent in the 6th century, the common people have no base of knowledge on which to identify an eclipse. Morgan uses science to defend himself from his superstitious enemies, performing the first miraculous feat that will convince the people to listen to him. He gains credibility and thus influence by lying to the people. Later, he will use his credibility and influence to teach the people not to be so ignorant.



After Clarence delivers Morganís threat to cover the world with darkness, the Yankee is assailed with doubts. He is afraid that he has made a mistake with the dates. To add to his confusion, messengers soon arrive to take him to the stake for execution. When questioned, he is told the execution orders have been moved up a day. Morgan feels helpless to free himself from bondage when a real miracle occurs. Darkness slowly envelops the sky. People shout in horror as Merlin asks for a torch. Though Morgan is relieved, he is also puzzled, since he remembered clearly the date of the eclipse. He discovers it is June 21, not the 20th. Clarence had made a mistake about the date earlier. His powers ďprovedĒ, Morgan is spared.

The King believes the calamity to be the outcome of Morganís magical powers and asks him to name his terms for lifting the darkness. Morgan buys time by pondering over the Kingís offer, finally giving his answer when it is quite dark. He asks the King to make him his minister and provide him with adequate compensation. The King agrees to the terms and also orders a set of clothes for Morgan as per his wishes. To postpone giving an answer till the eclipse is complete, Morgan asks the King to reconsider his decision. After the King confirms his offer, and when Morgan realizes the eclipse is almost up, he throws his arms toward the sky and orders light. Slowly the rim of the sun becomes visible. People cheer and bless him.


This chapter introduces the first scene of dramatic intensity in the story. The chapter opens with a cloud of doubt as Morgan is sentenced to die and has begun to doubt he can save himself. This is followed by a momentary hope, quickly doused when the sentinel arrives to take him to the stake. His only hope for survival is threatened by the earlier date encouraged by Clarence, who truly believes in Morganís magic and therefore wants to save him a day earlier. As apprehension builds, darkness suddenly begins to envelop the sky. Convenience again thrusts the novel forward.

Science and superstition are in confrontation. Ironically, Morgan has often scoffed superstition in the past, but now uses it to save his life. Where his narrative had once mocked the knights for telling lies, now he himself tells an outrageous lie. Already his Yankee customs are conforming, however slightly, to the medieval way of survival.

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