Study Guide

Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Monty Python and the Holy Grail Summary

As the fog clears in the opening scene, we meet our hero, King Arthur, and his faithful servant, Patsy. 

Arthur's on a quest to round up some knights for his court at Camelot. Unfortunately, this isn't as easy as he'd hoped. His journey is impeded by a skeptical guard, a politically conscious peasant unwilling to submit to Arthur's divine authority, and a knight in black who doesn't understand the meaning of defeat.

Yeah, get ready for some slapstick.

Arthur meets his first knight, Bedevere, when he witnesses Bedevere's uncanny skill in solving the question of whether or not a woman is a witch. With that, we fast-forward to Arthur's completed cadre of brothers in arms: Sir Robin, Sir Galahad, and Sir Lancelot. They're about to go to Camelot when Arthur realizes that it is "a silly place."

So they don't.

But just before we're left without a plot, God descends upon the company and orders Arthur to seek the Holy Grail. They journey to a castle where they're met by a rather rude French guard who goads the company until they attack without success. Then they pull the old Trojan Rabbit trick...also without success. 

They're really not very good knights.

So they decide to split up. Robin meets a giant with three heads that argue among themselves about whether to kill him. Robin runs away and is branded a coward. Galahad the Chaste enters Castle Anthrax and, although strong at first, eventually begins to succumb to evil temptresses until Lancelot "saves" him at the last moment.

Arthur and Bedevere come across the Knights Who Say Ni. They demand shrubbery which Arthur and Bedevere miraculously find and give to the Knights, who then demand another. Arthur refuses and defeats the knights by saying the word they cannot hear… whatever it is. 

Oh, and at some point, a modern-day historian giving a lecture on the Middle Ages is killed by a knight in a ride-by.

What can we say? It's British humor.

Meanwhile, Lancelot is off slaying wedding guests on his way to rescue a damsel in distress who turns out to be a lad wanting to escape his wedding. Lancelot joins up with the rest of the crew and they run into an Enchanter named Tim. Tim tells them about a cave guarded by a terrible beast. The beast turns out to merely be a cute little bunny rabbit, who proceeds to viciously kill several of them.

Luckily, they have the Holy Hand Grenade and blow up the bunny, allowing them to investigate the cave. That is, until they're again almost killed by a giant animated beast that's only defeated when the animator has a heart attack. How meta.

Continuing their noble quest, the Knights of the Round Table arrive at the Bridge of Death, which spans the Gorge of Eternal Peril. The Bridgekeeper makes them answer three very random questions. Arthur, Bedevere, and Lancelot make it across, but Lancelot disappears.

Arthur and Bedevere continue on and find the castle which supposedly has the Grail, but it's already been occupied by the same rude Frenchmen as before. Art and Bed fall back and summon an army seemingly from thin air. Just as they begin to charge the castle, they're stopped by policemen investigating the murder of the historian. The historian's widow IDs Arthur as the murderer, and he's taken into custody and thrown into the squad car.

The End...wait, what?

  • Scene 1

    Scene 1

    • We enter a foggy, hilly scene and hear the hoof beats of a horse rising behind the nearest crest.
    • Oh, it turns out it's one dude pretending to ride a horse and the other banging two coconuts together to sound like hoofbeats. The first man is King Arthur of Camelot, and the second is his servant Patsy.
    • They come upon a castle wall and speak to a man to ask for audience with his lord. They're on a search for knights to join Arthur's court.
    • But the man is more interested in the coconuts, insisting that, as they are not tropical and are too heavy to be carried by a migratory bird like a European swallow, it would have been impossible for Arthur and Patsy to simply "find" them.
    • Arthur can see he's not getting anywhere so he takes off.
  • Scene 2

    Scene 2

    • A man is shouting "bring out yer dead" as he walks with a cart pushed by dirty ragged men that seem barely more alive than the dirty ragged corpses in the cart.
    • The street is wet and muddy and the peasants are muddy and wet.
    • One man tries to put an old, but definitely alive, man onto the dead cart.
    • The man running the show says he can't take him because it's against regulations, but a swift club to the head fixes that problem.
    • Then Arthur and Patsy gallop by—by which we mean skipping and banging coconuts.
  • Scene 3

    Scene 3

    • Arthur and Patsy, with heroic adventure music playing triumphantly in the background, come across an old woman. Oh wait, never mind. It's Dennis.
    • Arthur inquires about who lives in a nearby castle, while Dennis explains to him sort of autonomous communal government they're living under.
    • He and his co-worker question Arthur's authority as king.
    • Arthur cites the Lady of the Lake and Excalibur as proof of his authority, but Dennis points out that just because "some watery tart" threw a sword at him, it doesn't give him the right to be King.
    • Arthur grows more and more irate, eventually manhandling Dennis and ordering him to shut up.
    • Arthur is fed up once again, so off he goes.
  • Scene 4

    Scene 4

    • Arthur comes upon a sword fight between a green and black knight. The black knight triumphs and Arthur asks him to join his court at Camelot.
    • The black knight refuses to answer.
    • Arthur, disappointed, tries to pass, but the black knight won't let him.
    • Arthur, whose authority fails him once again, fights the black knight, severing his left arm.
    • The black knight, however, is unfazed and continues to fight until all of his limbs have been lopped off at which point he calls it a draw.
    • Arthur and Patsy move on before he can try to bite their legs off.
  • Scene 5

    Scene 5

    • The pair enter a small village where some villagers have dressed a woman as a witch and want to burn her.
    • The wise Sir Bedevere comes to her rescue. He explains that witches burn because they are made of wood, and because wood floats…wait, we're a little lost and so are the villagers.
    • Luckily, Arthur shows up in time to explain that ducks also float.
    • Ah, so if she weighs as much as a duck then she's a witch. And hey, she does weigh as much as a duck…or was that a goose?
    • Anyway, she'll be burned and Sir Bedevere has proven worthy to be the first of the Knights of the Round Table, a position he gladly accepts.
  • Scene 6

    Scene 6

    • Cut to a picture book where we see the rest of the formation of the Knights of the Round Table including Sir Lancelot, Sir Galahad, Sir Robin, and Sir-Not-Appearing-In-This-Film.
    • We're not going to worry about the gorilla hand turning the pages of the book. (It's Terry Gilliam's.)
  • Scene 7

    Scene 7

    • The knights are now a formidable group of horseless riders and they've finally made it to the great castle of Camelot.
    • Cue the music! A bunch of knights dance on tables and sing a silly ditty about what it's like to live in Camelot. They eat ham and jam and Spam a lot.
    • Arthur decides it's a silly place and they probably shouldn't go so they all turn around to go, uh, somewhere else.
  • Scene 8

    Scene 8

    • God arrives in a thunderclap and appears to the Knights.
    • When they drop to their knees, God complains about how whenever he appears it's always "sorry" this and "forgive me" that and tells the knights to stop groveling and averting their eyes and just stand up.
    • He tells Arthur that his quest is now to search for the Holy Grail.
    • Which brings on some animations describing this new goal.
  • Scene 9

    Scene 9

    • We've got a nice traveling montage with that victorious music which ends with the knights reaching another castle.
    • This one's controlled by a stereotypically rude Frenchman who insults Arthur and the knights about twenty times in one minute, including the classic line, "I fart in your general direction!"
    • When he throws a live cow at them over the castle walls, Arthur's had enough and orders a charge.
    • The charge doesn't work so well, especially when they're pelted with all sorts of animals and produce, so they retreat.
    • Luckily, the always clever Sir Bedevere is a man with a plan.
  • Scene 10

    Scene 10

    • They build a giant wooden rabbit to sneak inside the castle but they forget to go inside the rabbit before the French drag it inside.
    • The rabbit is launched over the wall landing on one of their poor servants.
    • Looks like not being inside the rabbit was a good thing.
  • Scene 11

    Scene 11

    • A Famous Historian, as the text explains, tells us that the Knights of the Round Table have split up, each to search for the Grail on his own.
    • A passing knight riding an actual horse slices the historian's neck, and he keels over dead.
  • Scene 12

    Scene 12

    • Next, the tale of Sir Robin (the not-quite-so-brave-as-Sir-Lancelot).
    • Sir Robin's minstrels sing a gruesome song about his potential deaths; he is not amused.
    • He runs into a giant knight with three heads. The heads bicker about killing him, having tea and biscuits, and personal hygiene. By the time they stop arguing, Robin has fled.
    • The minstrels are singing about Robin's cowardliness; Robin doesn't like that one, either.
  • Scene 13

    Scene 13

    • Sir Galahad the Chaste is up next and he's just stumbled upon a castle which appears to contain the Holy Grail.
    • Inside he meets Zoot and a host of other blondes and brunettes between sixteen and nineteen and a half.
    • Zoot and Co. attempt to persuade Galahad to stay (in which case, he would likely be known as Sir Galahad the Not-So-Chaste-Anymore).
    • Sir Galahad is almost on the brink of defeat when he's rescued by Sir Lancelot.
    • It seems the Holy Grail he saw was just a grail-shaped beacon and Lancelot is there to distract him from the overwhelming temptations of Castle Anthrax.
    • And let's not forget that incredibly odd sequence where Zoot tells us this scene was almost cut and where other random characters tell her to just get on with it.
    • The fourth wall in Monty Python is always quite transparent.
  • Scene 14

    Scene 14

    • Arthur and Bedevere are in an old man's hut; he's a hermit who apparently has knowledge of the Grail's location but only tells them of some very dangerous sounding places before disappearing along with his hut.
    • Arthur and company move through a foggy forest but are slowly surrounded by the sonorously deadly Knights Who Say Ni
    • "Ni" is hardly bearable for the poor knights but they are able to withstand it long enough to learn that the knights demand a shrubbery in order to pass.
    • And not just any shrubbery, one that looks nice. Wherever will they find one?
  • Scene 15

    Scene 15

    • Here's another strange animation, this time about the weather. A scribe hears what sounds like thunder.
    • Investigating, he finds the sun and clouds jumping up and down making booming noises.
    • This somehow transitions us into a beautiful father-son moment.
    • The father and son live in a castle sinking into a swamp.
    • The father is forcing his son into a financially beneficial marriage to a wealthy landowner's daughter.
    • The lad protests; he just wants to sing but his father is having none of that.
    • Dad posts two guards to make sure his son doesn't run away, but they're a bit daft and it takes them a while to catch on to the whole "guarding" thing.
    • Herbert, the son, scrawls a quick note, attaches it to an arrow, and shoots it out the window.
  • Scene 16

    Scene 16

    • Sir Lancelot and Concorde are galloping along when suddenly Concorde is struck in the chest by the very arrow Herbert has shot.
    • Lancelot reads Herbert's note and rushes toward the castle where he's being held against his will, leaving a not quite so dead Concord for dead.
    • Lancelot unnecessarily slaughters multiple wedding guests on his way up to Herbert's room where he's disappointed to find a young man instead of a damsel in distress. The young man attempts to climb out the window but falls out of the tower.
    • But Herbert's father isn't too worried. He tries to get in good with the well-positioned Lancelot and tries to make it up to the wedding party who are a little bit upset (and very bloody) by marrying Lancelot off.
    • Surprise, it turns out the son isn't dead! How did he survive? Well, he'll tell you...through song!
    • Lancelot realizes he needs to get out while the getting's good and sorta swings his way out.
  • Scene 17

    Scene 17

    • We're now back with Arthur and Bedevere who are accosting an old crone by saying "ni" to her because she won't tell them where to find the shrubbery they so desperately need.
    • Then they conveniently meet Roger the Shrubber.
    • But the Knights Who Say Ni are no longer the Knights Who Say Ni; they are the Knights That Say Ekki-Ekki-Ekki-Ekki-Ptang. Zoom-Boing. Z'nourrwringmm and they not only want a second shrub but demand that Arthur cut down the mightiest tree in the forest with a herring.
    • Robin shows up, and his minstrel's still singing about how much of a coward he is.
    • Together, Bedevere, Arthur, and Robin defeat the Knights Who Until Recently Said Ni by accidentally saying the word they cannot tolerate: "it."
  • Scene 18

    Scene 18

    • Another transition with a shot of the dead historian, now surrounded by investigators, and some funky animation about the seasons.
    • It seems Arthur and the gang have reunited and have been on their quest for quite some time now.
    • Suddenly, they come upon a powerful sorcerer of fire known only as…Tim.
    • Tim tells them that he knows a cave where the final resting place of the Holy Grail is inscribed, but this cave is guarded by a most ferocious beast.
    • The Knights of the Round Table are not deterred.
  • Scene 19

    Scene 19

    • This terrible beast turns out to be a mere bunny rabbit. Arthur and Co. are disgusted with Tim.
    • One of Arthur's knights walks out to kill it but it bites his head off. Tim says, "I told you so."
    • Arthur orders a full-on charge but the ferocious rabbit proves too much and they retreat.
    • All of the unimportant knights have been killed, and Arthur is stumped as Tim laughs derisively at the bloody scene before him.
    • Luckily, they remember the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch.
    • Brother Maynard and his attendant read from the holy word and Arthur learns that he must count to three (which he sort of does) and launches the grenade, killing the foul beast.
    • Note: no bunnies (or Pythons) were harmed in the making of this film.
  • Scene 20

    Scene 20

    • Arthur and company enter the cave, where they find an Aramaic inscription carved on the wall by Joseph of Arimathea. It starts by describing where the Grail can be found.
    • Unfortunately, the description ends in "aaarrhhhhggg." Looks like ol' Joseph kicked the bucket in mid-carve.
    • To make matters worse, a horrifying beast appears. It has tons of eyes and eats Brother Maynard and chases the company around the cave.
    • Things look dire for the company but fortunately the animator has a heart attack and the monster ceases to exist.
    • The Fourth Wall isn't so much a wall in Python movies as it is a revolving glass door.
  • Scene 21

    Scene 21

    • Suddenly, the company sees the Bridge of Death.
    • Sir Lancelot volunteers to be the first to cross the Gorge of Eternal Peril and in doing so must answer five, no, three questions from the Bridgekeeper.
    • The bridge keeper asks his name, quest, and favorite color. Lance answers each correctly and goes across. Piece of cake.
    • Robin, however, is asked to name the capital of Assyria. He doesn't know and is cast into the gorge.
    • Galahad's next. He's asked his favorite color—but he gets it wrong. Goodbye Galahad.
    • When the Bridgekeeper asks Arthur the air-speed velocity of a swallow, Arthur asks him if he means an African or European swallow. The Bridgekeeper doesn't know so he himself falls victim to the gorge.
  • Scene 22

    Scene 22

    • Arthur and Bedevere can't find Lancelot (who's being patted down by a police officer investigating the historian's murder).
    • They hear a very strange noise and follow it to a Viking-esque canoe-looking boat and ride it to Castle Aaarrhhhggg. Turns out it really was a castle, not the death throes of Joseph of Arimathea.
    • But—sacre bleu!—the French have beaten them to it. Arthur tries to break down the door but is deterred by an onslaught of randomly thrown things, buckets of feces, and a multitude of insults.
    • Arthur and Bedevere regroup across the unbelievably shallow lake surrounding Castle Aaarrhhhggg. To Bedevere's surprise, Arthur has an entire army assembled to attack the castle.
    • But when he orders a charge and they all rush forward, they're cut off by the police.
    • The historian's wife gets out and points at Arthur, who she accuses of cutting her husband's throat. The police bag him and put him in the back of the car.
    • Then they make the camera crew shut down and…that's it. That's how it ends. Just like that.
    • So Monty Python.