Document Type

Article: On-Campus Access Only

Publication Date

Spring 2005

Journal Title or Book Title

Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Teaching (SMART)






Publisher's PDF

Publisher's Statement

Permission has been granted by the Managing Editor to include this article with the agreement that it only be made available to Molloy College.


Following their infamous “Bring out your dead” scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the grimy Dead Collector (Eric Idle) and his filth-ridden Peasant Customer (John Cleese) are momentarily stunned by the entrance of an immaculate King Arthur (Graham Chapman, riding an imaginary horse) and his less-than-immaculate page Patsy (Teny Gilliam, banging two empty coconut halves together). As Arthur passes by, the two peasant types wryly comment on the state of kinghood in medieval England:

Peasant Customer: “Who’s that, then?”

Dead Collector: “I dunno. Must be a king.”

Peasant Customer: “Why?”

Dead Collector: “He hasn’t got shit all over him.”*

As is often the case with a Monty Python sketch, there’s more going on in this scene than simple potty humor. The two shit-covered philosophers make a good point: one can identify Arthur by what he’s not. He’s not a filthy peasant, for one, and therefore (following a comic binary logic), he “must be a king.” In fact, the Dead Collector and his Customer employ a form of the medieval via negativa: the understanding of what something is by establishing what something is not a philosophy of negation. I believe that this important medieval theological tool can still be a useful pedagogical tool in the medieval classroom today, a via to link modem Arthurian cinema to medieval Arthurian literature.

Related Pillar(s)