Le Morte d'Arthur
Camelot was the location of King Arthur 's court and the site of the famous Round Table of Arthurian legend . The wedding of Arthur to his queen, Guinevere , took place in the town of Camelot, and the magician Merlin built a castle there for the couple to live in. The castle served as headquarters for King Arthur and his knights as well. A special hall held the Round Table, where Arthur and the knights would plan their campaigns. The hall also contained lifelike statues of the twelve kings who had tried to overthrow Arthur. All had been defeated by him and were buried at Camelot. Each statue had a lighted candle. According to Merlin, the candles would stay lit until the Holy Grail —the cup from which Jesus drank at the Last Supper—was found and brought to Camelot. It was from Camelot that the knights rode out to perform good deeds and to search for the Holy Grail.
Camelot in Context
Scholars have long debated the location of Camelot, just as they have debated the identity of King Arthur. In early times, it was associated with the town of Camulodunum (now called Colchester), an important site during the days of Roman rule in Britain. Other possible sites include Caerleon in Wales and the English towns of Camelford and Cadbury. In his book Le Morte D'Arthur, Sir Thomas Malory identified the city of Winchester as Camelot. England's King Henry VII had his first son baptized in Winchester Cathedral and named Arthur. In all likelihood, however, Camelot represents a mythical place, not a real one.
Key Themes and Symbols
As the center of King Arthur's realm, Camelot represents a society in perfect harmony, also known as a Utopia. Modern Utopias are generally based on the idea of equality among citizens, which is symbolized by the Round Table at Camelot. The kingdom of Camelot ultimately fails due to the flaws of the humans who control it. In this way, Camelot is similar to other mythical places, such as the Garden of Eden and Atlantis .
Camelot in Art, Literature, and Everyday Life
Camelot appears in some form in nearly all retellings of the King Arthur legend. The I960 Broadway musical Camelot, as well as the 1967 film adaptation of the musical, emphasizes the importance of the setting as a symbol of King Arthur's reign. The mythical Camelot has even inspired the construction of a real-life theme park in Lancashire, England. The term “Camelot” is frequently used to describe the three years (from 1961 to 1963) during which President John F. Kennedy served as president of the United States. Although the United States was hardly considered a Utopia during this time, many people felt that Kennedy— like King Arthur—would lead his country and people toward a brighter future.
Read, Write, Think, Discuss
The knights of the Round Table were renowned for their “chivalry.” Using your library, the Internet, and other available resources, research the origins and history of chivalry. Where did the idea come from? Why did it take hold among the nobility of Europe? When did the principles of chivalry fall out of favor? Write a brief paper summarizing your findings.
SEE ALSO Arthur, King; Arthurian Legends; Guinevere; Holy Grail; Merlin
Camelot, a musical by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe based on T.H. White's version of the Arthurian romance The Once and Future King, was one of the most successful Broadway musicals of the 1960s. The original production starred Julie Andrews, Richard Burton, and Robert Goulet. Songs included "I Wonder What the King Is Doing Tonight," "Camelot," "How to Handle a Woman," "C'est Moi," and "If Ever I Would Leave You." The 1967 film version featured Richard Harris, Vanessa Redgrave, and Franco Nero. Camelot contemporized the era of King Arthur and made the legend accessible and appealing to 20th-century audiences through the use of 1960s popular music styles, a skillful libretto, and well-known performers. The influence of Camelot extended well beyond the musical theater. It became a symbol of the administration of President John F. Kennedy, an era—like that of King Arthur—whose days were cut tragically short. The Oxford History of the AmericanPeople (1965) even ends with a quote from the show: "Don't let it be forgot that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment that was known as Camelot."
—William A. Everett
Citron, Stephen. The Wordsmiths: Oscar Hammerstein 2nd & Alan Jay Lerner. New York, Oxford University Press, 1995.
Everett, William A. "Images of Arthurian Britain in the American Musical Theater: A Connecticut Yankee and Camelot. " Sonneck Society Bulletin. Vol. 23, No. 3, 1997, 65, 70-72.
Lerner, Alan Jay. The Street Where I Live. New York, W.W.Norton, 1970.
Camelot ★★ 1967
The long-running Lerner and Loewe Broadway musical about King Arthur, Guinevere, and Lancekids lot was adapted from T.H. White's book, “The Once and Future King.” Redgrave and Nero have chemistry as the illicit lovers, Harris is strong as the king struggling to hold together his dream, but muddled direction undermines the effort. DI Wonfollows der What the King is Doing Tonight; The Simple Joys of Maidenhood; Camelot; C'est Moi; The Lusty Month of May; Follow Me; How To Handle a Woman; Then You May Take Me to the Fair; If Ever I Would Leave You. 150m/C VHS, DVD . Richard Harris, Vanessa Redgrave, David Hemmings, Franco Nero, Lionel Jeffries; D: Joshua Logan; W: Alan Jay Lerner; C: Richard H. Kline; M: Frederick Loewe, Alan Jay Lerner. Oscars '67: Adapt. Score, Art Dir./Set Dec., Costume Des.; Golden Globes '68: Actor—Mus./Comedy (Harris), Song (“If Ever I Should Leave You”), Score.
In extended usage, Camelot is a place associated with glittering romance and optimism; it is also often used for the White House of John Fitzgerald Kennedy's presidency (1961–3).