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

Mark Twain

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A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court | Chapters 5–6 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 5: An Inspiration

Hank Morgan sleeps. When he wakes up, he has almost convinced himself the whole thing was a dream until Clarence shows up. Hank asks Clarence to help him escape, but Clarence refuses. Clarence says Merlin has put a spell on the dungeon, and he is afraid of Merlin. Hank gets an idea. He tells Clarence he is a magician, and a much better one than Merlin. He tells Clarence to warn King Arthur that a great calamity will occur if they try to burn Hank, as they plan to do. Clarence delivers the message, but is terrified Hank will hurt him. Hank promises to always treat Clarence as a friend. Merlin and Arthur ask Hank to name the calamity, so Hank delivers a message through Clarence, promising to "blot out the sun" if he is threatened. He has remembered an old story about an explorer using an eclipse to trick native peoples and plans to do the same.

Chapter 6: The Eclipse

Hank Morgan expects to hear from the king with an offer of compromise, but instead he is sent to the stake for burning. Clarence tells Hank he arranged it in order to help. Hank is despondent because he can't really control the sun and it is the wrong day. Hank is strapped to the stake and a monk begins praying for his soul, but stops when the eclipse begins. Hank is confused by the eclipse's appearance, but he seizes control of the moment. He questions the monk and learns Clarence had told him the wrong day: the eclipse should be occurring at this moment. King Arthur begs him to return the sun, so Hank bargains with him. As a result, Hank is named "perpetual minister and executive," the second most powerful person in the land, and paid a rich salary. Hank stalls a bit to give the eclipse time to develop fully, then he "commands" it to disperse, and after a few minutes it does. This makes Hank the most widely praised and feared man in Camelot.

Analysis

In the previous chapters, Twain spent time establishing the naïveté of the courtiers and their willingness to accept obviously false statements as true. This pays off in these two chapters. Hank Morgan uses a bit of scientific knowledge to make himself one of the most important men in the kingdom.

Hank remembers "how Columbus, or Cortez, or one of those people" used an eclipse to fool "savages." Twain was alluding to a real historical event, when Columbus used a predicted lunar eclipse to trick the native peoples of Jamaica into helping his crew.

Twain is playing on the intersection between "magic" and "science." To today's reader—or even to the 19th-century readers of Twain's time—some "magic" is easily explained by scientific principles. Hank is quick-witted enough to take advantage of the fact. Twain doesn't try to make him into a genius, however. He can't remember exactly how long the eclipse will last, so he makes up excuses for why he doesn't immediately bring back the sun. Twain wants his protagonist to be smart, but still plausible as an ordinary 19th-century American.

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