Table of Contents | Message Board | Downloadable/Printable Version
CHAPTER SUMMARIES AND NOTES
CHAPTER 2 "KING ARTHUR'S COURT"
Hank Morgan assumes that this magnificent place is an institute for insane people, since they are all so oddly dressed and since they stare at him open-mouthed and puzzled. When he encounters a man who looks sane, he makes inquiries about the head keeper of the asylum. The man looks puzzled and directs him to a boy. This boy, calling himself a page, informs Morgan that are all heading toward King Arthur's court, in Camelot. Further, he tells Morgan the day is June 19, in the year 528 A.D. Morgan is startled but remembers from his own store of knowledge that a solar eclipse will happen in a couple of day, so he will wait for that as confirmation.
The boy tells Morgan that his master is named Sir Kay and that he will punish Morgan for his insubordination. They enter the main chamber where King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table are seated in conversation. For diversion, the knights throw bones at dogs and enjoy watching the animals fight over them. There are other prisoners in the room awaiting trial and punishment.
Mark Twain's irony sparkles when he reveals the attitude of the medieval men in contrast to that of nineteenth century Morgan. The inhabitants of Camelot are simple people who are astonished to spot an apparently refined man in their midst. Hank Morgan, for his part, thinks he is surrounded by insane people. Being a product of the Age of Reason and Practicality, he questions the truth of what the boy says and uses his own extensive knowledge to confirm reality. The fact that he remembers the historical occurrence of an eclipse is too incredibly convenient, but is presented as acceptable fact in the context of the story.
Hank's personality begins to show through in this scene as he decides to make the best out of a bad situation. He has the patience to see beyond the moment to a couple of days ahead when the eclipse is to happen. It is this perseverance and pluck that helps him become The Boss of Camelot in a matter of three months. He feels confident in his superior intelligence and education. His cunning is in striking contrast to the simplicity of the residents of Camelot.
Mark Twain also provides some ironic commentary on the Knights of King Arthur's Court. They are crude and rough. They derive sadistic pleasure by throwing bones at dogs and watching the animals fight. Twain takes great care to present them as "gracious and courtly" and "good and serious listeners," saying they are a "childlike and innocent lot; telling lies of the stateliest pattern with a most gentle and winning naiveté, and ready and willing to listen to anybody else's lie, and believe it, too." He compares them faintly to modern statesmen who tell lies convincingly; however, unlike the statesmen, the knights are unaware of cunning and diplomacy.
CHAPTER 3 "KNIGHTS OF THE ROUND TABLE"
The Knights of the Round table relate their tales of adventure. Sir Kay talks about the valor of Sir Launcelot and his numerous exploits. The queen is impressed by Sir Kay's account. Merlin, the magician, relates his encounter with King Arthur and how the King had acquired his sword from the Lady of the Lake. His monotonous narration puts everyone to sleep.
In this chapter, Twain reveals the characters of the Knights of the Round Table. Hank Morgan is amused by the brainless bombast's of the Knights and observes, "Yet there was something very engaging about these great simple hearted creatures, something attractive and lovable. There did not seem to be brain enough in the entire nursery, so to speak to bait a fish hook with." Men of the sixth century are simple and gullible.
Sir Kay's stories eulogizing the prowess of Sir Launcelot and Merlin's story of King Arthur and the Lady of the Lake are both found in Malory's Le Morte D'Arthur, the book the author was reading in the opening chapter of the story. Mark Twain, author and narrator, is fascinated by the story and hence relates it from time to time in the novel.
This chapter introduces the weird magician, Merlin, who hypnotizes his audience with his monotonous narration. Twain paints an amusing scene in which Merlin relates the age-old story of King Arthur and the Lady of the Lake, causing most of the court to fall asleep.
CHAPTER 4 "SIR DINADEN THE HUMORIST"
Sir Dinaden is the first to wake up after hearing Merlin's tale. He tries to amuse the courtiers with his buffoonery. First, he ties metal mugs to the tail of a dog and lets it loose. As the dog runs around barking, other dogs start chasing it. This game provokes laughter in the crowd. Then Dinaden starts cracking stale jokes that Hank Morgan remembers from his own childhood. Shortly afterward, Sir Kay presents Morgan to the courtiers. He relates the events leading to his conquest of the oddly dressed Morgan. Everyone views Morgan with curiosity as he is condemned to die. Merlin orders his men to remove the clothes of the strange prisoner before taking him to the dungeon.
The knights of the medieval age, instead of discussing important matters of state or developmental projects, narrate stories of conquests and adventure. The stories are repetitive and highly exaggerated. Sometimes when they are bored of hearing an old story, they sleep off in front of everyone without feeling embarrassed about it. Etiquette and propriety are familiar to them. Most of the games of amusement are childish and the jokes are stale. Still they provide entertainment to the courtiers. The authorial suggestion is that people of this ancient and revered time are simpletons who derive pleasure out of base and uncomplicated things.
Mark Twain provides the first of many significant contrasts between the way of life of the people of the medieval age and attitude of the modern man. In the sixth century, men and women are crude and uncivilized, but they are also refreshingly simple. They wear simple garments made of natural fibers and are amazed at the clothes of the modern man to the point that they order him to strip so they may gaze in wonder at his discarded garments. Morgan, a product of prudish Victorian England, is scandalized by the attitude of these people, who consider such behavior normal. When the ladies of the court view his legs and comment, Morgan is embarrassed. Modesty and shame, unknown to the people of the sixth century, make up the armor of the nineteenth century man.