This legendary king is the leader of the pack. He's earnest, God-fearing, and determined to defend his role. He knows who he is:
ARTHUR: It is I, Arthur, son of Uther Pendragon, from the Castle of Camelot. King of the Britons, defeater of the Saxons, sovereign of all England!
Not everyone's impressed:
ARTHUR: I am your king
WOMAN: Well, I didn't vote for you.
ARTHUR: You don't vote for kings.
WOMAN: Well, how'd you become king then?
ARTHUR: The Lady of the Lake, her arm clad in the purest samite held aloft Excalibur from the bosom of the water, signifying by divine providence that I, Arthur, was to carry Excalibur. That is why I am your king.
DENNIS: Listen, strange women lyin' in ponds distributin' swords is no basis for a system of government.
Dennis has a pretty ironclad point, there.
It Isn't Easy Being King
The movie begins with Arthur searching for some knights, because he has some very, very important things for them to do… most of which involve sitting around a table. But really, why is Arthur rounding up knights? It's never really made clear. (Maybe he's really tired of having a very quiet servant as his only pal.) He knows who he is, but he's less sure of what he's supposed to be doing.
We see that on his journey he doesn't exactly get a whole lotta love. He meets a man who would rather kill him than get out of his way; two men more interested in the physiology and behavior patterns of swallows than in helping him out; and an old man named Dennis (and Dennis' mom) who completely ignore and ridicule his kingly authority. They not only challenge his divine right, but also berate him for obtaining power through class exploitation.
In many ways, Arthur may just seem like the idiot leader in charge of an even dumber group of grown men. He's taken aback by the faux wisdom of Bedevere about the banana-shaped earth:
ARTHUR: This new learning amazes me, Sir Bedevere. Explain again how sheep's bladders may be employed to prevent earthquakes.
Evidently, the Lady of the Lake didn't hand out brains along with the swords.
At times, Arthur's brave as Sir Lancelot, charging a Killer Rabbit and attacking castles that are impenetrable by his sorry handful of men. He courageously attacks the black knight who stands in his way. But, by the end of the movie, "Run away!" seems to be his catchphrase. He hasn't had much military success, so maybe that's a smart strategy?
Things a King has to Know
Arthur's not completely clueless. In the Bridgekeeper scene, when posed with the omnipresent swallow question, he counters with a question of his own:
ARTHUR: What do you mean? An African or a European swallow?
This foils the Bridgekeeper's difficult questions, casting him into the Gorge of Despair and allowing Arthur and Bedevere free passage. When Bedevere asks how he knows so much about swallows, Arthur replies, "Well, you have to know these things when you're a king, you know." Another Python stab at the uselessness of the monarchy? Probably. (And this was a good ten years before we learned that Prince Charles talks to his plants.)
Then there's the episode in which Arthur's being taunted once again by the French, who have beaten him to the Castle of Aaarrggghhh. Previously, Arthur, enraged by the insults, ordered a very unsuccessful attack on a castle. But this time he tells Bedevere to "walk away; just ignore them" and then proceeds to gather an army which might actually have a chance of success. We think there's a case for some real character growth inside this loony plot.
In the end, Arthur's quest is a complete failure. Three of his knights fall victim to the Killer Rabbit, two more fall into the Gorge of Eternal Peril, and the final two are arrested. The Holy Grail is never found. Arthur's comment that God's idea was great might have been a bit premature. In fact, the whole idea of questing for a desired object seems a bit selfish when he has a kingdom to manage. Who knows, maybe Arthur will learn a thing or two in the slammer.
The character of the well-meaning but hapless Arthur is a Python specialty: a stab at the idea of royal authority—or any kind of authority, really. He looks pretty dapper in armor, though.