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black knight

Black Knight (Monty Python)

The Black Knight is a fictional character in the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. As his name suggests, he is a black knight who guards a tiny bridge for unknown reasons. Although supremely skilled in swordplay, he suffers from unchecked overconfidence and a staunch refusal to ever give up. Though he only appeared in one scene, he has become one of the most popular characters of the entire film.

Overview

In the film, King Arthur (Graham Chapman), accompanied by his trusty serf Patsy (Terry Gilliam), is traveling through a forest when he enters a clearing and observes a fight taking place between a Black Knight (John Cleese) and a Green Knight (also played by Gilliam) by a bridge over a small stream. As he watches, the Black Knight defeats the Green, stabbing his sword straight through the eye slot of the Green Knight's helm.

Arthur then congratulates the Black Knight and offers him a place at his court on the Round Table, but he only stands still, holding his sword, and makes no response until Arthur moves to cross the bridge; he then refuses to stand aside. Reluctantly, Arthur fights the Black Knight, and after a short battle the Knight's left arm is severed.

However, even at this the Knight refuses to stand aside, insisting "'tis but a scratch" and fighting on. Next his right arm, which had been holding his sword, is also removed, but he still does not concede. As the Knight is literally disarmed, Arthur assumes the fight is over and kneels to offer a prayer to God. The Black Knight interrupts Arthur's prayer of thanks for his victory by kicking him in the side of the head and accusing him of cowardice; when Arthur points out his injuries he insists it's "only a flesh wound". In response to the continued kicks and insults, Arthur chops off first one leg and finally the other, at which the Black Knight then concedes to "call it a draw". Arthur summons Patsy and "rides" away, leaving the Black Knight to scream threats at him ("I'll bite your legs off!"), where the scene fades out.

Behind the scenes

According to the DVD audio commentary (Cleese, Palin, Idle audio track), the sequence originated in a story told to Cleese when he was attending an English class during his school days. Two Roman wrestlers were engaged in a particularly intense match and had been fighting for such a substantial length of time that the match had degraded to the two combatants doing little more than leaning into one another with their body weight. When one wrestler finally tapped-out and pulled away from his opponent, it was only then that he and the crowd realized the other man was, in fact, dead and had effectively won the match posthumously. The moral of the tale, according to Cleese's teacher, was that, "If you never give up, you can't possibly lose" - a statement that, Cleese reflected, always struck him as being "philosophically unsound".

Cleese said that the scene would seem heartless and sadistic except for the fact that the Black Knight shows no pain and just keeps on fighting, or trying to, however badly he is wounded. Also, as the scene progresses and Arthur becomes increasingly annoyed, his dialogue lapses from medieval ("You are indeed brave, Sir Knight, but the fight is mine.") to modern ("Look, you stupid bastard, you've got no arms left!"), and finally to just plain sarcastic ("What are you gonna do, bleed on me?!") while the Black Knight remains just as defiant ("I'm invincible!" he yells with only one leg left).

This scene is, perhaps, the best-known of the entire film. Arguably the most famous line of the scene, "It's just a flesh wound!", has since become an expression used by someone who ignores a fatal flaw or problem, either out of optimism or stubbornness.

The Knight was, in fact, played by two actors: John Cleese is in the Knight's armor until he is down to one leg. The Knight is then played by a real one-legged man, a local by the name of Richard Burton, a blacksmith who lived near the film shoot (not to be confused with Richard Burton, the Welsh actor of the same name), because, according to the DVD commentary, Cleese couldn't balance well on one leg. After the Knight's remaining leg is cut off, the quadruple-amputee that remains is again Cleese. Cleese still boasts that he had Richard Burton as his stunt double.

Cultural references

Notes

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