Follow TV Tropes


Theatre / Camelot

Go To
The original Broadway cast: Robert Goulet as Lancelot, Julie Andrews as Guinevere and Richard Burton as Arthur

"Don’t let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment that was known as Camelot."

A 1960 musical by Lerner and Loewe, shortly after the success of My Fair Lady. It is an adaptation of T. H. White's The Once and Future King, following Arthurian Legend.

At the start of the story, King Arthur is a young man, anxiously awaiting the arrival of his bride, Guinevere (or "Jenny"), who shares a similar amount of anxiety. Hilarity Ensues for a short while before they are married, but Merlin is abducted by Nimue before he can warn Arthur of the perils of the future. King Arthur decides to write a new code of chivalry, "where violence is not strength, and mercy is not weakness," and forms the round table.

Then comes along Sir Lancelot, an enormous braggart. Nobody really likes him that much, until he wins the tournament and seems to bring a slain knight back from the dead. Jenny and Lance fall in love, which Arthur becomes painfully aware of.

Then Mordred, Arthur's illegitimate son comes, with the intention of ruining his father. He turns the knights back to their barbaric ways, and exposes the affair between Jenny and Lance, leaving Arthur no choice but to have her executed. Lancelot comes rushing in to rescue her, but it incites a war.

The musical is most heavily associated with the Kennedy Administration, as JFK was a fan of the show.

Later adapted in 1967 by Warner Bros. into a movie starring Richard Harris as Arthur, Vanessa Redgrave as Guinevere and Franco Nero as Lancelot.

In April 2023, a Broadway revival of the musical opened, with a new book by Aaron Sorkin.

For the 2011 television series produced by Starz and GK-TV, see here.

This work contains examples of:

  • The Ace: Sir Lancelot - and boy, does he know it.
    "I've never lost in battle or game, I'm simply the best by far,
    "When swords are crossed, 'tis always the same, one blow and au revoir!"
  • Adaptational Attractiveness: In White's works Lancelot is described as looking like an ape; here he has all the good looks of a conventional leading man. In fact, his character, strangely, seems to have basically been inverted. Whereas in White’s works Lancelot’s ugly appearance humbled him and made him put that much more effort into other aspects of what makes a good person, here he’s a knight with an Awesome Ego well aware of his dashing looks, to the point of essentially being a non-villainous Gaston before there was a Gaston.
  • Adaptational Distillation: The Once and Future King is made of five separate books, the musical is primarily based on the last two, the Ill-Made Knight and the Candle in The Wind, while pulling elements from the Sword in the Stone along with some original material such as how Arthur and Guenevere meet.
  • Adaptational Jerkass: While Mordred was never a good guy in T.H. White’s original works, he also wasn’t actively malicious for the sake of it so much as being an emotionless shell of an abused, broken young man whose humanity has been ground into dust and knowing only destruction. This musical’s incarnation of Mordred, in its simplification of the story and omitting of the darkest elements of the story, cutting out Morgause entirely, instead actively revels in his evil.
  • Adaptational Personality Change: Merlin in the film adaptation is much more serious and loses the quirkiness of the book's Merlyn with his anachronistic references.
  • Adapted Out: The Grail Quest is removed entirely from the narrative, and a number of characters are cut from the story including the other Orkney siblings, Elaine, Galahad, and Pellinore's entire family.
  • Antagonistic Offspring: Mordred.
  • Aren't You Going to Ravish Me?: When first meeting Arthur in the woods, Guinevere accuses him of being highwayman that intends to force himself on her...and then claims offense when he assures her he has no intention of doing so.
  • Audience Monologue: Arthur delivers a pivotal one just before the first assembly of the Round Table.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Guinevere prays for "The Simple Joys of Maidenhood," which includes a knight pining for her, her being competed for, and people starting a "little war" for her. She gets all she asks for, but at the cost of her marriage and Camelot itself.
  • Being Evil Sucks: Arthur tries to convince Mordred of this.
  • Being Good Sucks: Mordred convinces the knights of this in "Fie on Goodness."
  • Bittersweet Ending: Arthur's Utopian dream is crushed, and he's about to head into a war that you know will result in a massacre if you've read the legends. But he's assured that at least what he and his men did will be remembered, as one young boy escapes the battlefield to tell the tale.
    • And in a literary Shout-Out the young boy, Thomas of Warwick, eventually becomes better known as Sir Thomas Malory, whose Morte D'Arthur is one of the best-known tellings of the Arthur legend ... and is also the basis for The Once and Future King.
  • Break the Haughty: Jenny's plan for Lancelot at the tournament. She goads Camelot's three best jousters into challenging him in the hope of seeing him defeated. The plan backfires with Lance proving to be just as awesome as he claims. Both Lance and Jenny are subsequently brought down by their love for each other.
  • Card-Carrying Villain: Mordred.
  • Catchphrase: Arthur is fond of beginning his thought process with the word "proposition". He is also big on being "civilised".
  • Celibate Hero: Lancelot starts out as one. Then he meets Guinevere.
  • Cool Sword: Excalibur as usual.
  • Crowd Song: "The Jousts" and "Guenevere", as well as "Fie on Goodness" are the chorus's big numbers with few lines from the leads.
  • Dark Reprise: Of the title song, towards the end. Though it's more bittersweet than dark.
  • Demoted to Extra:
    • An extreme example with Gawain and his brothers who are only obliquely referenced by Mordred and Arthur as being at Camelot and remain The Ghost.
    • Likewise Sir Kai is only referenced by Arthur in his story and never appears.
    • Archimedes is only shown on Merlin’s shoulder and has no lines.
  • Direct Line to the Author: At the end of the film, Arthur meets a boy named Tom and orders him to spread the tale of Camelot. The film suggests that this is in fact Thomas Malory, a person who compiled a famous chronicle of Arthurian Legend in real life.
  • Doing In the Wizard: Aaron Sorkin's book for the 2023 revival excises all magical elements, making Merlin into a political advisor who dies of old age and Morgan into a scientist.
  • Excalibur in the Stone:
    • Averted. Arthur tells Guenevere how he drew the Sword from the Stone, and Excalibur shows up as Arthur's sword but the two are never said to be the same.
    • In the 2023 revival, Arthur was able to take Excalibur from the stone not out of destiny, but because it had been sufficiently loosened by the many attempts at pulling out by previous people.
  • Flashback: The re-worked version (taken from the film) has the entire show be a flashback from the perspective of King Arthur on the night before the final battle.
  • Fling a Light into the Future: The high ideals of Arthur's reign are lost in the midst of infighting and intrigue. But at the end of the film, Arthur meets a kid who actually understands the high ideals in spite of it all. He makes the kid a knight and commands him to spread the tale of Camelot, in hopes that future generations will bring his ideals to fruition.
  • Forgiveness: Arthur towards both Lance and Jenny.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Arthur wrestles with one of these briefly, but it is quickly vanquished by the realisation that he still loves Lance and Jenny, they still love him, their feelings for each other are not their fault, and it would not be "civilised" to hurt them. He thenceforth devotes himself to helping them conceal their affair.
  • "I Am" Song: "C'est Moi."
  • Idiot Ball: The moment when his knights are fighting and his table is being trampled underhoof is probably not the best time for Arthur to go hunting. He also puts rather too much trust in Lance and Jenny's ability to stay away from each other when he agrees to stay in the wood and let Mordred return to Camelot alone.
    • Lance and Jenny also deserve credit for seeking each other out on the very night that Mordred has Camelot all to himself.
  • Important Haircut: Arthur is appalled at the end of the movie to see that Guinevere's beautiful strawberry blond tresses have been hacked off by the nuns. Lancelot can't even bear to look.
  • Inconvenient Attraction: Lance and Jenny for each other.
  • Informed Ability: Arthur is supposedly a great warrior, but in keeping with his pacifistic ideals he is never actually seen in combat. The movie has Lancelot easily knock him off his horse.
  • Let's You and Him Fight: At their first meeting, Lancelot knocks Arthur off his horse. They become best friends.
  • Lighter and Softer: Most of the truly horrific, dark stuff in T.H. White’s novels is cut from the movie to focus on the romance plot for the sake of Pragmatic Adaptation, resulting in this.
  • Love Confession: Lance to Jenny on the day of his knighthood. She reciprocates.
  • Love Confessor: Lance confesses his love for Guinevere to Dap on the night of the tournament.
  • Love Epiphany: Lance and Jenny both seem to have one after the tournament.
  • Love Hurts: As Arthur, Jenny, and Lance know well.
  • Love Triangle: Arthur loves Jenny but she and Lance love each other. Romantically, at least. Platonically they all love each other and none of them wants to hurt the others.
  • Manipulative Bitch: Guinevere, who promises three different knights the honor of accompanying her to various events if they can defeat Lancelot at the tournament.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: At least in the movie, it's unclear whether the stuff with Merlin is actual magic or simply a product of Arthur's imagination.
  • Might Makes Right: Discussed by Arthur. He comes to the conclusion that might for right is the best ideal to strive for.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Arthur institutes the trial by jury system in part to protect Lancelot and Guinevere from unproven accusations. Unfortunately, the system ensures that when Lance and Jenny are caught red-handed together there is no way he can get out of sentencing his wife to death at the stake.
  • Only Mostly Dead: Sir Lionel at the jousting.
  • Parody Sue: Sir Lancelot. Invincible in battle, incorruptibly pure, and completely insufferable. Exemplified in his signature song "C'est Moi", where he exalts the perfect knight as impossibly strong, brave and chaste, then "humbly" confesses that he happens to be this knight.
  • Perfectly Arranged Marriage: Arthur and Jenny have never laid eyes on each other prior to their wedding day. Despite this, they take an instant liking to each other and have a very happy marriage — at least until Lance shows up.
  • "Ray of Hope" Ending: In the film, Arthur hopes to remake society with concepts like "Might for Right" and trial by jury. Unfortunately it all blows up in his face. By the end he's stuck in a pointless war with his former best friend, and it seems that everyone has forgotten his higher ideals. But in the final scene, he meets a young boy who actually understands all the ideals and sincerely commits himself to obeying them. Arthur knights him and commands him to stay out of harm's way, so he'll live to tell the tale. Since trial by jury exists in the modern day, it's implied that Arthur's ideals lived on through this boy and eventually improved the world, even if they didn't do much within Arthur's lifetime.
    "Ask every man if he has heard the story, and tell it loud and clear if he has not, that once there was a fleeting bit of glory...called Camelot"
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Lancelot and Arthur.
  • Revenge: Arthur has no patience for it. His knights feel otherwise.
  • Sadly Mythtaken: Arthur describes himself as "a king who fought a dragon, hacked him in two and fixed his wagon". This likely comes from the Saint George legend, as Arthur never fought any dragons. Instead the dragon was his (or rather, his father Uther's) motif through the name "Pendragon" (Welsh for "chief dragon").
  • Self-Deprecation: Lancelot engages in a bit of this when admits to Pellinore all fanatics are irritating and he is a fanatic.
  • Setting Update: The 2023 revival explicitly takes place in the 14th Century rather than the mythical middle ages of the original.
  • Shaped Like Itself: Arthur explains that a standard for chivalry is a good idea because "that way, chivalry will have a standard."
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Sir Lancelot is this, to everyone's irritation. He ultimately more than lives up to his boasts.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: King Pellinore, who gets killed off half-way through The Once and Future King and in Mallory’s work, survives until the end of the movie and is with Arthur in his final battle. It probably helps that his killers, the Orkney brothers, are all no-shows save for Mordred.
  • Sword In The Stone: Arthur relates the story of how he became King by pulling it out to Guenevere.
  • Thicker Than Water: Arthur cites this trope to Mordred. And scoffs at it.
  • To Be Lawful or Good: Mordred turns this into an Exploited Trope, as it is the dilemma Arthur faces after Jenny's arrest. On the one hand, if he upholds the law the woman he loves will be burned alive. On the other hand, if he overrules the court's decision England will return to the days of trial by combat and retributive justice he has worked so hard to do away with. Under these circumstances, he is understandably relieved when his wife's lover arrives to carry her off and he is spared the decision.
    Mordred: Arthur! What a magnificent dilemma! Let her die, your life is over; let her live, your life's a fraud. Now, which will it be, Arthur? Do you kill the Queen or kill the law?
  • Unrelated in the Adaptation: Sir Lionel was Lancelot's cousin in the book and fought on his side, something the show drops entirely. Dap was Lancelot's uncle but this is never brought up.
  • Villain Song: "The Seven Deadly Virtues" and "Fie on Goodness"
  • Virtue Is Weakness: Mordred sings a song called "The Seven Deadly Virtues", saying that courage, purity, honesty, humility, diligence, fidelity and charity are "ghastly little traps" fit only for those more foolish than he.
  • You Cannot Kill An Idea: At the end of the Musical, Arthur believes that his belief of might for right instead of might makes right will die and be forgotten. But when he meets Thomas of Warwick, he asks him to tell the stories of himself, the knights, and Camelot, so that hopefully his belief will live on and inspire future generations to continue the belief.