Black Knight (Monty Python)
The Black Knight is a fictional character who appears in a scene of the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. As his name suggests, he is a black knight who guards a "bridge" (in reality a short plank of wood) over a small stream - which could have been easily stepped over by King Arthur but, for unknown reasons, he does not. Although supremely skilled in swordplay, the Black Knight suffers from unchecked overconfidence and a staunch refusal ever to give up.
In the film, King Arthur (Graham Chapman), accompanied by his trusty serf Patsy (Terry Gilliam), is travelling 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, throwing his sword straight through the eye slot of the Green Knight's helm (during Arthur's battle with the Black Knight, the Green Knight's body can be seen in a ditch beside the area).
Arthur then congratulates the Black Knight and offers him a place at Arthur's court on the Round Table, but the Black Knight only stands still, holding his sword vertically, and makes no response until Arthur moves to cross the bridge. The Black Knight moves slightly to block Arthur and declares "None shall pass". King Arthur, in a conciliatory manner, asserts his right to cross and praises the evident bravery of the Black Knight . Arthur then again moves to pass and the Black Knight moves to stand firm and declares again, "None shall pass". Reluctantly, King Arthur fights the Black Knight and, after a short battle, the Knight's left arm is severed.
Even at this the Knight refuses to stand aside, insisting "'Tis but a scratch", later insisting that he has "had worse", and fights on while holding his sword with his remaining arm. Next his right arm is cut off, but the knight 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 by kicking him in the side of the head and accusing him of cowardice. When Arthur points out the Black Knight's injuries, the Knight insists "'It's just a flesh wound!" In response to the continued kicks and insults, Arthur chops off the Black Knight's right leg. At this point, the Knight still will not admit to defeat, instead he replies by saying, "Right, I’ll do you for that", and attempts to ram his body into Arthur's, by hopping on his left leg. Arthur is incredulous at the Black Knight's persistence, and angrily asks the Black Knight if he is going to "bleed on me" to win. The Black Knight replies by saying, "I'm invincible!" to which Arthur replies "You're a loony!" With an air of resignation, Arthur finally cuts off the left leg as well and sheathes his sword. With the Black Knight now reduced to a mere stump of a man, he says, "All right, we'll call it a draw." Arthur then summons Patsy and "rides" away, using coconuts to simulate the sound of a horse galloping, leaving the Black Knight's limbless torso screaming threats at him ("Running away, eh? You yellow bastards! Come back here and take what's coming to ya! I'll bite your legs off!").
Behind the scenes
According to the DVD audio commentary by Cleese, Palin, and Idle, 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 realised 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 "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, to which Arthur simply replies "You're a looney").
This scene is undoubtedly one of the best-known of the entire film. Arguably the most famous line of the scene, "'Tis but a scratch!", has since become an expression used to comment on someone who ignores a fatal flaw or problem, either out of optimism or stubbornness. The phrase "'Tis but a scratch" is similar to a line the character Mercutio speaks in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. He demurs, "Ay, ay, a scratch, a scratch," referring to his mortal wound. The phrase "'Tis but a flesh wound", following a character entering "with coconut shells tied to his feet" notably appeared in an early episode of The Goon Show entitled "The Giant Bombardon", broadcast in 1954; the Monty Python group has previously confessed to being influenced by the Goons.
The Knight was, in fact, played by two actors: John Cleese is in the Knight's armour 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 could not 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.
In popular culture
- The Black Knight's voice was featured in an episode of the Nostalgia Critic where he reviewed the movie Child's Play. He showed the scene where Karen Barclay (played by Catherine Hicks, shoots off Chucky's arm. The Black Knight shouts lines from the Monty Python skit such as "I'm Invincible!" and "Only a flesh wound!" The Black Knight also made a brief cameo in Lemon Demon's flash animation song, the Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny.
- A clip of the Black Knight was also used on The Daily Show on December 2, 2010, in order to joke about U.S. Senator John McCain's opposition to the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell.
- Goon Show#Monty Python
- Richard Burton (IX) at the Internet Movie Database
- Interview with Eric Idle in HUMO 3691, May 2011