Acephalic History: A Bataillian Reading of Monty Python and the Holy Grail

  • Daniel T. Kline
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


After being roundly insulted by French types, having a cow catapulted over the rampart walls upon them, and seeing their Trojan Rabbit most disrespectfully heaved back at them, Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table are foiled in their attempt to take Guy de Loimbard’s castle. Loimbard’s taunting French “k-niggits” tell Arthur that their lord will not join his quest for the Holy Grail because Guy’s “already got one.”1 In the following scene (scene 10), the film breaks form in the manner of a History Channel special—“Pictures for Schools”—to present a distinguished elderly man, “A Very Famous Historian,” to explain breathlessly that:

Defeat at the castle seems to have utterly disheartened King Arthur…The ferocity of the French taunting took him completely by surprise and Arthur became convinced that a new strategy was required if the Quest for the Holy Grail were to be brought to a successful conclusion. Arthur, having consulted his closest Knights, decided that they should separate and search for the Grail individually. This is now what they did. No sooner…


Round Table Ventional Sociality Film Break Romance Convention Zone Book 
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  1. 1.
    Scene 9, p. 24. All citations to Monty Python and the Holy Grail are from John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin, Monty Python and the Holy Grail: The Screenplay (London: Methuen, 2002). The scene number will be indicated parenthetically in the text. I have also preserved the screenplay’s rather erratic punctuation and capitalization.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Wlad Godzich reaches a similar conclusion in “The Holy Grail: The End of the Quest,” North Dakota Quarterly 51 (1983): 74–81. See also Christine M. Neufield, “Coconuts in Camelot: Monty Python and the Holy Grail in the Arthurian Literature Course,” Florilegium 19 (2002), 127–47.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    For the biographical details to follow, I am indebted to Michael Richardson, Georges Bataille (London: Routledge, 1994).Google Scholar
  4. 6.
    Cited in Alastair Brotchie, introduction to Encyclopaedia Acephalica, ed. Robert Level and Isabelle Walberg (London: Atlas Press, 1995), 14.Google Scholar
  5. 7.
    In “Monty Python and the Medieval Other,” Cinema Arthuriana: Essays on Arthurian Film, ed. Kevin J. Harty (New York: Garland, 1991), 83–92, David D. Day argues that the film exploits “anachronism to attack all modern attempts to grasp the alterity of the Middle Ages and its artifacts” (84).Google Scholar
  6. 10.
    Cited in Nick Land, The Thirst for Annihilation: Georges Bataille and Virulent Nihilism, An Essay in Atheistic Religion (London: Routledge, 1992), 123 (emph. Bataille).Google Scholar
  7. 11.
    The classic statement on the carnivalesque is Mikhail Bakhtin, Rabelais and His World, trans. Hélène Iswolsky (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984). See also Ellen Bishop, “Bakhtin, Carnival and Comedy: The New Grotesque in Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” Film Criticism 15 (1990): 49–64.Google Scholar
  8. 12.
    The Bataille Reader, ed. Fred Botting and Scott Wilson (Oxford: Blackwell, 1997), 150.Google Scholar
  9. 13.
    See Georges Bataille, The Accursed Share, Vol. 1: Consumption (New York: Zone Books, 1991).Google Scholar
  10. 14.
    Terry Jones, in Graham Chapman, Michael Palin, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Bob McCabe, The Pythons: Autobiography by the Pythons (New York: St. Martins, 2003), 239.Google Scholar
  11. 15.
    See Susan Signe Morrison’s Excrement in the Late Middle Ages: Sacred Filth and Chaucer’s Fecopoetics (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008) for a full treatment of the theme.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 19.
    Paul Hegarty, Georges Bataille: Core Cultural Theorist (London: Sage, 2000), 11.Google Scholar

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© Gail Ashton and Daniel T. Kline 2012

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  • Daniel T. Kline

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