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A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court

Mark Twain

Chapters 15-19

Chapters 11-14

Chapters 20-23

Summary

The Yankee asks which knights were captured, and Sandy launches into a story about Sir Gawaine and Sir Uwaine meeting Sir Marhaus, a misogynistic knight. The Yankee finds Sandy's storytelling style rather vague and monotonous, and he criticizes elements of the style and lets his mind wander. They arrive at a large castle. They meet a knight named Sir La Cote Male Taile riding away from the castle; he is one of the Yankee's soap missionaries, traveling around disseminating soap in a complicated first step of the Yankee's plan to undermine the power of the Church. He is depressed because he failed to convince the inhabitants of the castle to take any soap, as the hermit he was washing in his demonstration died and will now be considered a martyr. The Yankee comforts him by suggesting a new advertising slogan, "Patronized by the Elect."

They go on up to the castle, which belongs to Morgan Le Fay with her husband, King Uriens, and his son Sir Uwaine. Le Fay is beautiful and speaks sweetly, but she is also violent and quick-tempered. She kills a page who accidentally bumps against her. She orders the Yankee thrown in the dungeon when he makes a complimentary remark about King Arthur, her brother, whom she hates, but Sandy saves him by reminding everyone that he is "The Boss." Le Fay quickly plays off her order as a joke, saying she just wanted to see the Yankee strike down her guards in a display of his superior power. Le Fay nags the Yankee to give an exhibition of his powers but is interrupted by the call to prayer. Afterward, they have dinner in a great hall with the full court assembled, and the party dissolves into raucous laughter and carousing.

An old woman enters the hall and curses Le Fay for killing her grandson. The queen orders the woman burned at the stake, but Sandy rises and says the Yankee will destroy the castle if she does not recall her command. She complies, and everyone rushes out of the hall madly, in case the Yankee should decide to destroy the castle anyway. Afterward, Le Fay is cowed and even seeks the Yankee's approval before having the court composer hanged (he tells her, very diplomatically, to go ahead and hang the whole band). She keeps him up that night talking and takes him down to the dungeon to show him a prisoner on the rack. He has been accused by an unknown masked man of killing a stag on the royal preserves, and she says she is torturing him so that he will confess his sin and not die unabsolved.

The Yankee says he would speak with the prisoner, as Arthur's representative, and Le Fay reluctantly tells her followers to obey him completely. He has the prisoner released and sends everyone else away but his wife and child. He asks the prisoner (whose name is Hugo) what actually happened, but he refuses to speak until the Yankee has promised him freedom. The prisoner reveals that he actually did kill the deer, but he refused the comfort of a swift death so his widow and orphan would not have their property confiscated when he confessed. The Yankee promises to send them to his colony for training.

The Yankee arranges to fulfill his promise to the prisoner and his family and punishes the executioner for dealing roughly with the woman by making him the leader of the new band. Le Fay is outraged and does not understand the concept of extenuating circumstances, but she must submit to the Yankee's decree. She says she plans to pay for the page she killed, and the Yankee is obliged to compliment her for this, as she is not legally bound to make any recompense for killing a subject. Still, he determines secretly to hang her for her act someday if he ever has the opportunity. He asks to tour her dungeon, and she consents. He finds a husband and wife in separate cells who were sent there by Le Fay's neighbor, Sir Breuse Sance Pite, for refusing to submit to his lordly right to sleep with the bride on her wedding night.

He reunites the couple, but they have been imprisoned in darkness for too long to take any notice. He frees them and 45 other prisoners and leaves only one imprisoned, a malicious nobleman. He sends one man who was imprisoned for remarking that all men are alike without their clothes to the Man Factory. There is one man who had been imprisoned for calling the queen's hair red instead of auburn; his cell has a small window overlooking his town, where he saw five funerals proceed from his house over the years, leading him to believe he had one family member still living.

The Yankee takes him to his home to find out which one is still alive, and he discovers all of them alive and prospering--Le Fay had invented the funerals to torture him with grief and wonder at which was the surviving relative. Five prisoners' names, offenses, and dates of incarceration have been long forgotten, but it never occurred to the queen to set them free when she inherited them. Sandy continues her story to explain the seven knights who yielded to the Yankee were a duke and his sons who had previously been overcome by Sir Marhaus.

Commentary

Twain includes a footnote in chapter 19, identifying Sandy's story as taken from Malory. Perhaps he feels a footnote is necessary for this excerpt and not for the others in the books because this one is presented as dialogue, with frequent interruptions and a few minor alterations. The Yankee is terribly bored by the story and falls asleep at one point, recalling the court's reaction to Merlin's story in chapter 3. The Yankee criticizes Malory's style, saying it is vague and uninteresting. He suggests varying the dialogue of the characters by giving them regional dialects to reflect their places of origin.

The Yankee sees jousting as an awful waste of horses, although he cares not at all for the wasting of nobles' lives. He compares noblemen to jackasses that don't do anything useful. He plots to eventually destroy the institution of knighthood by making it ridiculous. He convinces knights-errant to wear sandwich-board advertisements for him by covering the billboards with gilded lettering, which appeals to their gaudy sense of fashion. He exploits the chivalric method of overcoming an opponent and then having him swear his loyalty by having his missionary knights force their products and advertisements on the knights they overcome. In the case of the soap missionaries, this disseminates cleaner habits among the nobles, which the Yankee hopes will eventually trickle down into the masses (the ultimate goal being, of course, to undermine the Church).

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