'Camelot' And Hope For Our Future
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The Musical 'Camelot' Was A Great Source Of Hope In The '60s; Perhaps It Can Be So Today

A musical version of the tragedy of King Arthur's court doesn't sound like a great message of hope for our struggling civilization. But it can be.

The Musical 'Camelot' Was A Great Source Of Hope In The '60s; Perhaps It Can Be So Today

Some confessions to start off with: I've never seen the musical "Camelot" performed live (I'm actually familiar with it through a DVD of the 1982 Broadway revival, which you can actually watch in its entirety on YouTube), and I've only read the first few pages of T.H. White's novel "The Once and Future King", from which the musical is adapted. I am, however, pretty familiar with the King Arthur story, and the musical portrays its contours pretty clearly. King Arthur and Queen Guenevere are the royal couple presiding over the court of Camelot, where the Knights of the Round Table epitomize chivalry; Queen Guenevere embarks on a love affair with Sir Lancelot, the most dashing of Arthur's knights; and the sordid situation provokes a war that brings an end to Camelot and the death of Arthur himself. This is the ultimate myth of English history, absolutely essential to the Western literary imagination. (It's not for nothing that the legend of the Holy Grail serves as the framework for T.S. Eliot's masterpiece "The Waste Land", incidentally also one of my favorites.) It's also the perfect tragedy, portraying a golden age doomed through a forbidden love which no one could stop. In a sense, the story of King Arthur is immortal because it is any and all tragedies, from Oedipus to King Lear.

What makes this work of theatre a work of hope and not of despair is the ending. We know that King Arthur is going to die and that Camelot is dying with him. Yet, before he goes off into battle, he commissions a young boy on fire with love of chivalry to keep his dream alive. King Arthur does not die with his heart broken. Even though his dream has failed in his own lifetime, he is left with the hope that it might survive in the lifetime of another.

One of the most important historical twists of this musical's story is that President Kennedy was very fond of it; this naturally led to the furthering of romantic images of the Kennedy White House as a lost golden age. We cannot get lost in romanticization if we want to move forward as a nation into a bright future, but we can pay tribute to a sense of hope filtered through the recognition of tragedy. No great work of art is ever really a work of despair, because beauty has been produced out of whatever evil is reflected, no matter how daunting it might be.

And what a work of art 'Camelot' is! It starred Richard Burton, Julie Andrews, and Robert Goulet; its lyrics were by Lerner and its music was by Loewe; its costumes and sets were renowned for their spectacular lavishness; its base story cannot be beaten in terms of cultural resonance by any other except perhaps that of Christ. Let your heart be swept away into its beauty as Guenevere tries to forget Lancelot in "Before I Gaze at You Again" and allow your sense of shared human flaws to be awakened via Lancelot's silly self-praise in "C'Est Moi".

Most of all, let your faith in hope surviving through tragedy be reawakened.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.

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