The story of Camelot is based on the retelling of the Arthurian tales
in T. H. White’s The Once and Future King, a novel originally
published in in four books, and then issued with all four parts in 1958.:
- The Sword in the Stone (1938) tells of Arthur’s childhood and youth (when he was known as Wart), being raised by his foster
father, Sir Ector, and his foster brother, Sir Kay, and the magician Merlyn. Merlyn
uses his magic to turn him into various animals as a means of teaching him some life lessons. Arthur then finds the sword Excalibur in a stone, with the legend that whoever can pull it
from the stone shall be King of England.
- The Queen of Air and Darkness (originally titled The Witch in the
Wood, 1939) tells of Arthur’s early years as king and his seduction by his half-sister Morgause, by
whom he begets Mordred. Through Merlyn’s guidance, Arthur conceives of the idea of the Round Table.
- The Ill-Made Knight (1940) tells of the affair of Lancelot and
Guinevere, and its effect on Arthur and Elaine (who loves Lancelot,
but does not come into the musical). About one quarter of this book
deals with the quest for the Holy Grail.
- The Candle in the Wind (1958) tells of the fall of Camelot.
- The Book of Merlin, published separately (1971) after White’s death, tells
of the final lessons Arthur learns before his death. Merlin allows him
to see the world as some animals, and he comes to the conclusion that the
main problem with the world is boundaries, which are artificial. Do
away with boundaries, and all strife would disappear!
The title of White’s work is derived from the inscription
that, according to Le
Morte d’Arthur, was said to be written upon King
Arthur’s tomb: Hic jacet Arthurus, rex quondam, rexque futurus
— "Here lies Arthur, king once, and king to be". (After his fall
in battle, Arthur was said to be taken to the Isle of Avalon, to be healed of
his wounds. This Avalon is usually identified with Glastonbury.0 The legend
arose that Arthur would return to England in her time of greatest peril.
Probably the two times of England’s greatest peril were at the end of the 8th
century, when King Alfred the Great saved his kingdom from the Danish
invaders, and 1940, with the Battle of Britain.
The first known mention of Arthur in literature was in the Historia
Brittonum, or The History of the Britons, a historical work first composed around 830.
In it Arthur is not called king, but dux bellorum (Latin for "war
leader"). Arthur is said to have been the victor in 12 battles, the last of
which was the Battle of Mount Badon, in which Arthur is said to have killed 960
men single-handedly. The Annales
Cambriae, or Annals of Wales, is a chronicle probably from the
10th century consisting of a series of years, from AD 445 to 977, some of which have events added. Two notable events are next to
AD 516, which describes The Battle of Badon, and 537, which describes the Battle of Camlann, "in which Arthur and Mordred fell." The
Annals also mention Merlin.
The story of King Arthur first became popular in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s 12th-century
Britanniae (History of the Kings of Britain), completed around
1138. This work included many familiar elements of the story, including Arthur’s father Uther Pendragon, the wizard Merlin,
Arthur’s queen Guinevere, the sword Excalibur, his final battle against Mordred at Camlann, and
his final rest in Avalon. The 12th-century French writer Chrétien de Troyes added Lancelot and the Holy Grail to the story,
and began a tradition of Arthurian romance that was important in medieval literature. In these French stories, the narrative focus often shifts from King Arthur himself to other characters, such as various Knights of the Round Table.
The development of the medieval Arthurian story culminated in Le Morte D’Arthur, Thomas
Malory’s retelling of the entire legend in a single work in English in the late 15th century. Malory based his book—originally titled
The Whole Book of King Arthur and of His Noble Knights of the Round Table—on various previous
versions. Le Morte D’Arthur was one of the earliest printed books in England, published by William Caxton in
1485. Most later Arthurian works are derivative of Malory’s. Arthurian literature
waned after the middle ages, but was revived in the 19th century, particularly
with Tennyson’s Idylls of the King.
See also list of characters.
Act I, Scene 1
- Sir Thomas Malory is the author of Le Morte D’Arthur, one of the principal sources of Arthurian legend. The title
was selected by the printer, William Caxton; Malory’s original title was The hoole booke of kyng Arthur & of his noble
knyghtes of the rounde table. Malory’s work was the principal source of T. H.
The Once and Future King, which in turn was the principal source of Lerner &
Camelot. Malory appears as a character in both The Once and Future
King and in Camelot as Tom of Warwick.
- Alfred, Lord Tennyson is the author of the 19th century Arthurian
poem "The Lady of Shalott" (1832) and the Arthurian romance
Idylls of the King (1859).
- Bower has three meanings: (1) a leafy shelter or recess; arbor; (2)
a rustic dwelling; cottage; (3) a lady’s boudoir in a medieval castle.
- St Genevieve: The patron saint of Paris, St Genevieve lived in the
5th to 6th centuries. She was born in Nanterre, and she moved to Paris and dedicated herself to a Christian life. In 451 she led a "prayer marathon" that was said to have saved Paris by diverting
Attila’s Huns away from the city. When the Merovingian Childeric I besieged the city in 464 and conquered it, she acted as an intermediary between the city and its conqueror, collecting food and persuading Childeric to release his prisoners. Her feast day is January 3.
A new church to house her remains was
begun in the reign of Louis XV, but was not completed when the French Revolution took it over, and rededicated it as the
- A knight, in the middle ages, was a mounted warrior. (The original
Old English term cniht meant "servant" or "boy",
and had nothing to do with horsemanship. Eventually it came to mean a
military follower of a king.) The word did
not acquire the sense of mounted warrior until the Hundred Years’ War
(1337-1453). In chivalric romance it came to have the sense of an elite warrior sworn to uphold the values of faith, loyalty, courage, and honor. By the end of the war, heavy armor was obsolescent, and it
became a social order, members putting "Sir" before their first
name. The first order of knighthood in England was the Order of the Garter,
founded by King Edward III around 1328. Other famous orders include the
Knights Hospitallers (1099), Knights Templars (1118-1307), Teutonic Knights
(1190-1525), Order of the Golden Fleece (Burgundy, 1430), Order of the
Thistle (Scotland, 1687), and the Order of the Bath (Great Britain,
1725). Today knighthood is still conferred, put is purely honorific,
bestowed by a monarch usually for meritorious service.
- tilt: to rush or charge in a joust
- Kith and kin refers to one’s familiar surroundings and kindred.
Originally kith meant "native land or home" and kin
one’s relatives. So the alliterative phrase meant "country and
- Excalibur is the name of Arthur’s famous magical sword. There are
two stories of its origin. It is said to be the sword that the young Arthur
pulled from the stone to be proclaimed king of Britain. But it is also said
to be the sword that the Lady of the Lake gave to Arthur after he became
Act I, Scene 2
- Nimue is the Lady of the Lake in Arthurian legend, and it was she
that gave Arthur the sword Excalibur.
Act I, Scene 3
- Gothic in architecture refers to the style prevalent in the 13th
and 14th centuries, featuring high vaulted ceilings supported by
"flying" buttresses, which allowed for large windows.
- Chess was introduced to Europe in the 9th century. The movement of
the men was not the same then as now, but was settled around the 16th
- Might makes right was a common notion in the Middle Ages, and was
the basis for trial by combat, where two contestants in a dispute would
fight, or have a champion fight for them. The contest would be blessed by a
priest, and, presumably God would determine the outcome so that right would
prevail. However, the 4th Lateran Council (1415), which defined the seven
sacraments, and, a sacrament was understood that God would perform an action
on human initiative. Since trial by combat (or ordeal) was not included,
priests were no longer allowed to bless such trials, and they began to
- The bobolink is a small New World blackbird. Its scientific name is
Dolichonyx oryzivorus. It breeds in the northern United States and
southern Canada, and winters in South America. It was unknown in Europe, at
least in the Middle Ages.
- If Arthur were to rule a kingdom with no borders, his kingdom would
include all Britain, meaning both England and Scotland. (In one version of
the story, Arthur conquers much of western Europe; in order to have no
borders he would have to continue conquering until he ruled all Europe,
Asia, and Africa!) Although in most cases borders cannot be seen from the
air, but there are important exceptions. Because of the street patterns, the
border between the cities of Palos Verdes Estates and Rancho Palos Verdes
can be discerned. The most dramatic borders can be seen on the map National
Geographic published of the world at night: both boundaries between North
Korea and South Korea, and between North Korea and China is pretty clear
from the dramatic darkness of North Korea!
- Knights love battles. They adore charging in and whacking away. So
says Guenevere. This was the kind of thinking that got the French in trouble
in the Hundred Years War, especially at the battles of Crécy (1346),
Poitiers (1356), and Agincourt (1415): the French knights were more
concerned about personal glory in combat that they did not form a coherent
fighting force, and were thus cut down by the English bowmen.
- Arthur chose a round table, presumably because his vassals were so
vain that none would give place to another, but at a round table all would
- A herald was originally a messenger sent by a king or nobleman to
carry proclamations. After the development of coats of arms, they wore a
surcoat bearing the standard of their king or noble. Later, they came to be
regulators of who could wear what coats of arms, and that is the sense used
today. They are thus experts in the science of heraldry, the study of
coats of arms.
Act I, Scene 4
- Mail is flexible armor made of interlinked rings or scales.
- Unwinceable is a word that Lancelot (or, rather, Lerner) may have
invented. The word wince means to draw back or tense the body, as from pain or from a blow;
to start; or to flinch
- Prometheus Unbound is the second of a (presumed) trilogy by the
Greek poet Aeschylus.
It is concerned with the torments of the Greek mythological figure Prometheus
and his suffering at the hands of Zeus.
It inspired the play of
the same title by Percy
Bysshe Shelley. Although most of the text is lost, it continues the
story in Prometheus Bound, where Prometheus has been imprisoned by
Zeus and his liver is consumed by an eagle every day, and then renewed. In Prometheus
Unbound, Prometheus is freed. It is followed, presumably, by a third
play, Prometheus the Fire-Bringer. According to the story,
Prometheus, although a Titan, had not sided with the other Titans in the Titanomachy,
the war between the Titans and Olympians. Zeus gave him the task of forming
mankind out of clay. But Prometheus also brought fire to man, for which he
was punished by Zeus.
- Eden (meaning "delight"), according to the Bible, was the original home of Adam and
Eve. It was a paradise garden, which they were to tend, and were allowed to
eat of any tree except one, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Because of their disobedience (Genesis
3), they were expelled from the garden.
- May 1 (often called May Day) was long considered the first day of
Summer in England and Ireland. Maying is the celebration of May Day,
usually by gathering flowers, dancing around a may pole, and crowning a may
queen. In Northern temperate climates, flowers are in full bloom around this
time. Since 1890, May 1 has been celebrated as International Workers’ Day, or
Labor Day, a day of political demonstrations and celebrations organized by communists, anarchists, socialists, unionists, and other groups.
The date was was chosen to commemorate the Haymarket Riot in Chicago in
1886, which actually came to a head on May 4. Because of the association of
the day with communists and anarchists, which the labor movement in the
United States wished to dissociate itself from, in the United States Labor
Day is in September.
Act I, Scene 5
- A moat is a deep, broad ditch, either dry or filled with water, that surrounds a castle, building or town, historically to provide it with a preliminary line of
- The word mollock
is fairly obscure, but means to frolic, dance; play about; in modern British
slang, it means to engage in sexual dalliance.
- He probably walked across the Channel. This is a reference
to Christ walking on the Sea of Galilee: Matthew
6:45-52, and John
Then you may take me to the fair (song not included in our production)
- Gaul has always been divided into three parts. (In Latin: Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres.)
So begins Caesar’s Commentarii de Bello Gallico (Comments on the
Gallic Wars). It is traditionally the first authentic text assigned to students of Latin.
- En brochette refers to food cooked, and sometimes served, on brochettes, or skewers. The French term generally applies to French cuisine, while other terms like
shish kebab, satay, or souvlaki describe the same technique in other cuisines. Food served en brochette is generally grilled.
- Dust to dust is taken from the burial service:
In sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our
Lord Jesus Christ, we commend to Almighty God our brother N.;
and we commit his body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes,
dust to dust. The Lord bless him and keep him, the Lord
make his face to shine upon him and be gracious unto him, the
Lord lift up his countenance upon him and give him peace. Amen.
Act I, Scene 6
- In Great Britain, the Lord Chamberlain is the senior official of the royal household,
and chief spokesman for the monarch in the House of Lords. The position was
at times practically equivalent to prime minister. During the reign of Queen
Elizabeth I of England (1559-1603), Shakespeare was a member of the Lord
Chamberlain’s men, a theater troupe, which, on the accession of King James
I, became the King’s Men.
Act I, Scene 7
- The Sermon on the Mount (a reference by Sir Dinadan to Lancelot
astride his horse) is the first of the five great discourses
in the Gospel according to Matthew, found in chapters 5,
- Pate is the crown of the head, or the skull.
Act II, Scene 1
- A closer translation of Lancelot’s song:
Toujours j’ai fait le même vœux,
Sur terre une déesse, au ciel un Dieu.
Un homme désire pour être heureux
Sur terre une déesse, au ciel un Dieu.
I always made the same vows
A goddess on earth, to God in heaven.
A man wants to be happy,
A goddess on earth, to God in heaven.
- The seven virtues are usually given as: Prudence, Temperance, Justice, Fortitude, Faith, Hope, and Charity (or Love).
In contrast, the seven capital sins (often referred to, less
accurately, as the seven deadly sins) are Pride, Envy, Wrath, Avarice, Sloth, Gluttony, and Lechery.
- Ennui is the French term for boredom. The English word annoy
also derives from ennui, but in English ennui has come to mean
a feeling of jadedness resulting from too much ease. The poet Charles Lloyd
described it in his 1823 poem Stanzas to Ennui:
THOU soul destroying fiend, I’ve heard
It, by philosophers averred.
That thou alone dost come,
To visit with thy pale unrest
The chambers of the human breast,
Where too much happiness hath fixed its home.
- Beelzebub is a name from Hebrew (בעל
זבוב) meaning "Lord of the
Flies". In the New Testament, it is Beelzeboul (Βεελζεβούλ), which probably means
Lord of Heaven, and represented an ancient Semitic deity. The writers of the
Bible probably changed it to Lord of the Flies in mockery. Mordred probably
is identifying himself with some evil deity in referring to his Beelzebubble.
Act II, Scene 2
- A limerick is a kind of a witty, humorous, or nonsense poem
especially one in five-line anapestic
with a strict rhyme
scheme (AABBA), which is sometimes vulgar with humorous intent. The form
can be found in England as of the early years of the 18th century. It was
popularized by Edward
Lear in the 19th century, although he did not use the term.
- Camilliard was Guenevere’s ancestral castle. (It is also spelled Cameliard.)
- Noblesse oblige means "obligation of the nobility",
meaning to take care of the lower classes. In the song, oblige rhymes
with besiege, which was the usual pronunciation before the 20th
- The doldrums refers to the area in the oceans around the equator
where the northern and southern trade winds converge. Meteorologists refer
to the area as the Intertropic Convergence Zone (ITCZ). It is an area of
calm winds and thunderstorms, where sailing ships can become becalmed. Even
today, sailing ships attempt to cross the zone as quickly as possible to
avoid becoming becalmed. By extension, a person "in the doldrums"
refers to someone who is listless, despondent, inactive, stagnant, and in a
- Columbine (from Latin columba "dove") is a genus Aquilegia
of about 60-70 species of perennial plants that are found in meadows, woodlands, and at higher altitudes throughout the Northern Hemisphere, known for the spurred petals of their flowers.
- A hornpipe is a kind of flute made of horn, frequently played by
sailors. It also came to mean a type of dance in 2/4 time, a variation of
the reel, but with a distinct rhythmic pattern.
Act II, Scene 3
- Chocolate was unknown in medieval Europe; it is made from the beans
of a plant Theobroma cacao native to Mexico and Central and South
Act II, Scene 4
- Marzipan is a confection made primarily from sugar and almond meal.
It is frequently molded into shapes of fruits and animals.
Act II, Scene 6
- Joyous Gard: Lancelot’s castle, according to Malory. In modern
French it would be Garde Joyeux, which
more or less means "Happy Care". Gard is related to the
English word guard, and also ward, which means
"watch". Thus, "happy watch" or "happy care".
Act II, Scene 7
- A joust is a contest between two mounted and armed knights with
lances. The object was to unhorse the other knight. Sometimes there were three contests, such as with lance, axe, and
then sword. The original purpose of jousts was training for combat. But
knights came to enjoy jousts for their own sake. A late occurrence of this
was in 1559 after the Peace of Cateau-Cambrésis between France and Spain.
In a tournament to celebrate the peace, French King Henry II was killed by
the splinter of a lance that entered his eye and pierced his brain. (The
king had been warned about jousting by Nostradamus [1503-66]. The king’s death was
partly responsible for the ending of jousting in France.) Eventually rules
were developed for jousting, including a point scheme: 1 point for breaking
a lance on the chest and between saddle and helmet; 2 points for breaking on the helmet and lance at the base;
and 3 points for unhorsing an opponent or making him drop his lance.
- A tournament is a series of contests. In the middle ages, it
usually featured jousts, but it might also involve archery contests. In the
14th century, French knights were more interested in tournaments than actual
tactics, for which reason they usually lost to the English in the major
set-piece battles of the Hundred Years War.
Act II, Scene 8
- Sergeant of Arms is a variation of "Sergeant-at-Arms",
which was originally an officer whose specific duty was to arrest those
charged with treason. In the Middle Ages, treason was personal, having to do
with loyalty to a king. Today, the Sergeant-at-Arms has the duty of
maintaining order in a deliberative body, including expelling disorderly
members or observers.
- Last updated: 01/20/2013.
- For additions, suggestions, corrections,
or comments on this glossary, please email me: tf_mcq
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