Who was King Arthur?

“England 932 A.D. A Kingdom divided. To the West the Anglo-Saxons, to the East the French… Legend tells  us of an extraordinary leader, who arose from the chaos, to unite a troubled kingdom. A man with a vision who gathered Knights together in a Holy Quest. This man was Arthur King of the Britons.”

–   Excerpt from  “Historians Introduction to Act One”  in Spamalot

As the musical comedy Spamalot begins, the Historian tells the audience about the main protagonist in the show, Arthur, King of the Britons. But who was King Arthur?

Arthur was probably a Celtic British king or chieftain of the 6th century A.D. who fought against the Saxon invaders of England. The name may also be that of a Celtic god whose mythology was possibly confused with the adventures and life of the historical figure. No wonder King Arthur has gone down in history as one of the most enigmatic heroes of all literature.

Except for his name being mentioned in passing in some ancient manuscripts, Arthur’s story was not written until the twelfth century when Geoffrey of Monmouth’s “History of the Kings of Britain” first appeared.

Over the centuries there has been much debate about the accuracy of his reporting. Though there is much circumstantial evidence that the historic Arthur existed, there is very little scientific proof.

Any attempt to validate King Arthur’s historic origins is difficult due to many variations of the languages at the time, inaccurate and careless record keeping and the unfortunate interpolations of many documents.

There has been much scholarly work trying to discover just how much if any of the Arthur legend can be linked to the historic figure.

The fascination with this legendary figure continues today thanks to his story being filmed many times (including Jerry Bruckheimer’s big-budget 2004 Hollywood film, “King Arthur”), plays and stories written (including a work by Mark Twain), and even a couple of hit Broadway musicals, Rodger’s and Hart’s Connecticut Yankee and Lerner and Loewe’s Camelot have told the story of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. There is even flour, cake mix, and a video game using his name.

And now, in Monty Python’s Spamalot, this legendary King continues to live as his noble Quest for the Holy Grail continues to fascinate and entertain audiences, not only on Broadway, but in theaters all across America.