Monty Python and the Holy Grail has been a comic success in the film industry for almost four decades. The main reason for its success is because the jokes have kept the audience laughing whether they watched it in 1975 or just saw the comedy for the first time yesterday. Monty Python and the Holy Grail would fall under two categories of comedy, a satire and a parody. In contemporary usage, a parody is a work that imitates another work in order to; ridicule, ironically comment on, or poke fun at the work itself; the subject of the work, the author or fictional voice of the parody, or another subject.
Satire on the other hand is usually witty, and often very funny, although the primary purpose of satire is not humor but criticism of an individual or a group in a witty manner. There are many examples of parody and Satire throughout Monty Python and the Holy Grail. In fact, the whole movie itself is a parody. The movie focuses mainly on King Arthur and his knights’ ridiculous quest to find the Holy Grail and any aspect of society during that time in history is subject to parody as well. The film follows King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table in a chef’s salad of adventures, mainly the quest for the Holy Grail.
Three medieval concepts that reoccur continuously in the movie are knighthood, chivalry, courtly love and the wheel of fortune. These motifs are more seriously depicted in the book Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and from tales in the book the Canterbury Tales. In medieval times the ideal characteristics of a man were knighthood and chivalry both in battle and at home. The physical attributes included strength, skill at arms and horsemanship while as the non-physical ideals included courage, humility, courtesy and loyalty.
In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Sir Gawain is told to leave the Green Chapel by the Lord of the Manor, the Green Knight’s residence, without defending himself. Showing courage, Gawain insists that he stick to their initial agreement instead of taking the cowardly way out of the conflict (Tolkien). This is parodied in Monty Python and the Holy Grail when King Arthur and his band, constantly run away for bad situations (the bombardment of random farm animals on them at the French castle and the massacre of many of their men y a vicious rabbit). On a side note In Medieval times during battle opposing sides would often hurtle dead animal carcasses into their enemy’s camp or castle to spread disease. Another scene that is used much in the same way is the one where Robin runs away from a three-headed monster as background music sings of “brave Sir Robin. ” A different instance where the movie satirizes the Knights courage in a negligent way is when King Arthur cuts off the limbs of a black knight that will not let him pass in the forest.
Even without any legs, the knight still continues to badmouth Arthur in hopes that he will fight him. This scene is paralleled in a more serious way in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Where the Green Knight takes two swipes at the neck of Gawain and intentionally misses and Gawain prompts the Knight to finish the game and strike him dead. The Green Knight obliges and nicks him across the neck. (Tolkien) Courtly love was the idea that love worshipped from afar was superlative, and that only noble people were worthy of love.
In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Sir Gawain is seduced by the wife of the Lord of the Manor three days in a row and expresses chivalry by being loyal to the Lord of the Manor while making the Lady of the Manor feel better about herself (Tolkien). Gawain does not give into temptation at the expense of his chivalric moral code. “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” from the Canterbury Tales also touches on this subject. When a knight rapes a young lady in the court of King Arthur, the knight must find out what all women want or be beheaded.
Right after he gives up all hope on his journey he meets an ugly woman that promises to have the answer. They make a deal; if the woman is correct, the knight will have to marry her. Her answer to the question is that all women want to be in control of their husbands, andy to the dismay of the knight her answer is correct. The hag, realizing his dismay asks him if he’d rather her be loyal and ugly or beautiful and unfaithful. He finally gives her the power to choose and since this is what all woman want, she becomes both lovely and devoted (Chaucer).
This theme is ridiculed in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. In the scene where Sir Galahad the Chaste comes across the Castle filled with beautiful women because he sees the Holy Grail above its highest tower. They seduce Sir Galahad, by cleaning his wounds and talking in a very sexual manner. The scene ends with Galahad being told that the beacon in the tower is in the shape of a grail and he must punish them with a good spanking. The rest of the knights have to pull him away he is so whipped. Poking fun at the seriousness of true love and the important steps it takes to truly find it.
Another relative story from the Canterbury Tales would be “The Knight’s Tale”. The story is about two captured soldiers, Arcite and Palamon, who are both imprisoned in the Athenian king Theseus’ castle. One morning in their cells, they see a beautiful woman out the window named Emily who is Theseus’ sister-in-law. They instantly fall in love with her. After they escape their captivity, they go to extreme lengths for her love, fighting in a field and later battling with large armies (Chaucer). Monty Python and the Holy Grail makes fun of this idea of love by largely exaggerating love at first sight.
When sir Lancelot storms a castle without truly knowing the particular person he is trying to save. He kills dozens of people because he receives a note from a tower pleading for rescue and assumes it is a woman. Only after Lancelot makes his way to the tower does he realize it is a girly prince who awaits him. The wheel of fortune was a belief that the Christian God could alter your life in a positive or negative way in a split second. Palamon, Arcite and Emily all visit separate statues of gods before the battle in “The Knight’s Tale”. Palamon asks Venus to bring him victory in the name of love.
The statue shakes and Palamon interprets this as a positive answer. Arcite stops by the temple of Mars and asks that he give him victory. The doors of the temple clash and Mars whispers “victory” and Arcite believes that he will be triumphant. Emily begs a statue of Diana to stop the fight over her hand in marriage. An image of Diana appears and tells Emily that she has to just go on with it (Chaucer). Mockingly, the Knights of the Round Table in Monty Python and the Holy Grail are interrupted in their journeys by God who gives them the task of retrieving the Holy Grail.
The men are awed at the experience and feel that they have been blessed. In actuality the Christian God doesn’t help them on their quest and their journey becomes a fool’s errand. During his quest to find the Green Knight In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Sir Gawain prays three times to God that he will come upon a shelter where he can rest. Gawain is answered. Much in the same way, the knight in the “Wife of Bath’s Tale” has given up all hope in answering the question that will save his life and he meets the hag. In Monty Python King
Arthur and Sir Benevere come across a mysterious old man who tells them of an enchanter who knows where the Grail is. But the man disappears leaving Arthur and his crew confused. The negative events that set back the characters in the Canterbury tales are also prevalent. When Arcite wins the battle for Emily, Saturn feels sorry that Venus’ knight lost and shakes the earth, throwing Arcite from his horse and killing him (Chaucer). In a parallel response by Monty Python and the Holy Grail, it emphasizes the inequalities of the wheel of fortune.
At the Bridge of Death, Sir Lancelot passes by being asked simple, personal questions. Sir Robin the Brave witnessing the apparent simplicity of the questions volunteers to go next without hesitation but is asked an impossibly hard question and is thrown to his death. After Reading Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, “The Knight’s Tale” and “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” it is obvious where a lot of material originated. There are many examples of parody and Satire throughout Monty Python and the Holy Grail. In fact, the whole movie itself is a parody.
Through comic satire this parody has lived through the ages to become one of the classic films we have today. Although the some of the witty jokes in Monty Python have lost some of their relevance in today’s day and age many have followed in their footsteps. Shows like South Park and family guy take many modern issues in society today and parody them. Although even today these shows haven’t strayed from parodying for comic relief of a serious situation or to show the ridiculousness of some aspects of society.