Thomas Malory’s Le Morte Darthur and Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Professor’s comment: This student uses a feminist approach to shift our value judgment of two works in a surprisingly thought-provoking way. After showing how female seduction in Malory’s story of King Arthur is crucial to the story as a whole, the student follows with an equally serious analysis of Monty Python’s parody of the female seduction motif in what may be the most memorable and hilarious episode of the film.
Much of the humor in Monty Python and the Holy Grail derives from the pure absurdity of its characters and situations. King Arthur roams the British countryside on an imaginary horse, evil enemies can only be appeased with offerings of shrubbery, and the knights of the Round Table battle a bloodthirsty killer bunny, to cite just a few examples. The movie contains a great deal of such explicit comedy, but much of its humor works on a more subtle level, plot and dialogue shrewdly satirizing the unjustness of such Arthurian conventions as autocracy, severe social class distinctions, and vainglorious codes of chivalry. The movie also pokes fun at the rather demeaning view of women in traditional Arthurian legend. In Thomas Malory’s Le Morte Darthur women primarily serve as figures of sexual temptation who bring great danger and suffering to the men that interact with them. Monty Python and the Holy Grail,on the other hand, satirizes the idea of the destructive temptress and presents women characters in a manner that undercuts this negative Arthurian stereotype.
In Malory’s famous account of the King Arthur legend, the most notable example of woman as destructive sexual temptation is, of course, Queen Guinevere. Sir Lancelot’s affair with Guinevere results in an immense amount of physical and emotional suffering for the knight, who repeatedly risks bodily harm to protect the queen and also bears the brunt of her frequent angry tirades. For example, when Sir Mellyagaunce kidnaps the queen, Lancelot undergoes much physical hardship to rescue her, including confronting archers, crossing rough terrain, and escaping imprisonment. Another time, when Sir Mador de la Porte accuses Queen Guinevere of treason, Lancelot enters into trial by combat in the queen’s defense. Mador gravely injures him in the battle: “Sir Mador…smote [Lancelot] through the thick of the thighs, that the blood brast out fiercely. And…[Lancelot] felt himself so wounded and saw his blood.” (124–125) In addition to such physical pain, the queen often causes Lancelot great emotional distress. Once, for instance, Guinevere devastates Lancelot when she wrongly accuses him of being unfaithful to her and angrily banishes him from her court: “Right so Sir Lancelot departed [Camelot] with great heaviness that unneth him might sustain himself for great dole-making” (115).
Not only does Lancelot’s affair with Guinevere cause him a great deal of suffering, it wreaks havoc on the lives of...