Camelot

This night, I watched the movie version of the musical Camelot.  It was an interesting experience to say the least, with the story seeming to be making fun of itself at the beginning, but then becoming much more serious later on.  During the first part of the movie, King Arthur was introduced as a man that possessed the valued traits of courage and bravery, that kings and knights possessed, but also wit and wisdom.  His dream was to unite Britain, and lead it into an age when violence was a thing of the past and might no longer made right, but was rather used to defend right.  

His ideals were difficult for those around him to accept, but eventually he found a companion in Guinevere, who he was at first terrified of but eventually fell in love with.  For quite some time, the two share a happy romance, with Arthur having someone to bounce his ideas off that will actually listen and consider them.  In conversation with her he creates the slogan, Might for Right in opposition to the phrase Might makes Right.  Additionally he seeks to spread this doctrine by promoting chivalry and making that a popular ideal.  When his wife insists that assembling a group of knights will simply make them compete for status, Arthur comes up with the idea of a round table of knights, so that they are all equals united in pursuit of chivalry.  He forms his table and begins to call for the best knights of the land to come and join his round table.  It becomes a thing of honor to live up to knightly chivalry and the very best knights all seek a spot at the round table.  

The next character that is introduced is Lancelot, a french knight of unparalleled skill at arms and devotion to god.  His introductory song is a self sung song about how great and wonderful he is, that seems to continue for his entire months long trip from France to England.  He arrives in England and quickly becomes fast friends with Arthur.  The initial song and his initial attitudes seem to make him a caricature of an arthurian knight, seeming to think far too highly of himself.  He is presented as a man different than other men, both extremely skilled in combat and very close to god, but also lacking in all worldly pursuits.  Arthur and he discuss various ideas for the round table, but when he meets Guinevere he makes a bad first impression.  She sees him as a proud and vain knight and wants to knock him down a peg or two.  In a clever little song she convinces three other knights of the round table to challenge him to jousts upon the same day in an attempt to see him defeated.  Up to this point, there is much that seems to indicate that Lancelot is indeed a braggart, if perhaps a skilled one.  

Lancelot fights the three other knights and defeats them, but the last is struck with such force that he appears to be dead.  Arthur lays his cloak over the man and Guinevere cries next to his body.  It is here that we see that Lancelot is indeed the man he claims to be, for he is overcome with grief and is crying himself when he sees what happens.  He takes the dead man in his arms and begs him to be alive.  After several seconds of this, the man begins to breathe again and it is clear to all present that Lancelot performed a miracle.  In doing so however Lancelot and Guinevere for the first time really look at each other, and it is here that they fall in love, creating the tension that leads to the conflict in the second half of the story.  Only minutes later Arthur finds out, after seeing them gazing into each others eyes but goes to another room to think about how he should deal with this.  

It is here, with Arthur examining his own motives that I really decided that I liked this movie.  Arthur begins by talking of how Guinevere is the perfect woman for him and Lancelot is the perfect friend and then goes into how they betrayed him and that as a man he must take his revenge.  Then however, he controls his anger and speaks about how he must not be a man however, but rather a king, and that as a king he has opposed the idea of revenge and violent response his entire life and it is not fair to hurt the entire kingdom or even those two just because of his personal pain.  He hopes he is imagining the love he saw between them but decides that even if he is not, it is better for everyone if he ignores it and does not pursue revenge.  This monologue really made me respect Arthur in a way I have respected few characters, for you could hear the pain that this decision caused him, but his willingness to stick to his principles over his own satisfaction or happiness is something I admire and seek to emulate.  

In the second act, Arthur’s kingdom collapses as his estranged bastard son begins turning people against each other and the rumors of Guinevere and Lancelot’s love begin to permeate the court.  Arthur manages to create a court system to replace the system of trial by combat, just in time for that court to decide to find proof of Guinevere and Lancelot’s relationship and sentence Guinevere to burning at the stake.  Arthur is forced to watch and hope that Lancelot will break into his castle and save her, as he is unwilling to shatter the principles that he spent his life putting forth by overruling the jury.  

Eventually Lancelot does indeed rescue Guinevere and Arthur is forced to wage war upon him.  Arthur is able to meet with the two and tell them that he personally forgives them both, but that his nation seeks revenge and he cannot stop them.  Before the eve of his battle with Lancelot, he encounters a young boy who says he wants to join the round table.  Said table had been shattered in the fighting and the knights turned against each other by Lancelot and Mordred, but Arthur asks why the boy wants to become a knight of the round table.  The boy says it is because of stories he had heard of the knights and there motto of might for right.  Arthur commands the kid to stay out of the fight and go home and tell these stories for the rest of his life, and though his kingdom is in pieces and he is fighting against this best friend, Arthur finds peace knowing that even if the age of Camelot is over, its ideals have made there way into the stories of the common man and that his ideas are shaping the dreams and hopes of generations.  With that thought the movie closes.

All in all this movie was amazing to me on several levels.  Specifically the character of Arthur was heroic in a way that very few characters in movies or novels are, a quiet courage that seeks to create strong principles and stick to them.  The story that was told is an old one, but it is a strong one and the idea that the ideals of Camelot exist as long as the stories are told is a profound one.  I have a bit of a hard time putting into words how incredible some of Arthur’s ideas were and how difficult those around him found them to comprehend, but suffice to say the movie is worth watching and its moral elements are worth analyzing.  

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