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.
For the 2011 television series produced by Starz and GK-TV, see here.
This work contains examples of:
- The Ace: Sir Lancelot
- Adaptational Attractiveness: In White's works Lancelot is described as an ape. Here he has all the good looks of a conventional leading man.
- 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.
- Badass Baritone: Again, Sir Lancelot
- Bastard Bastard: Mordred
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Let's You and Him Fight: At their first meeting, Lancelot knocks Arthur off his horse. They become best friends.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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").
- 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.
- Spared by the Adaptation: King Pellinore, who gets killed off half-way through The Once and Future King, survives until the end of the movie and is with Arthur in his final battle.
- 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?
- 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.