Article
Randy Pollak
The Sword in the Stone

Adventure awaits.

By Spencer Kayden, based on the legends of King Arthur
From the May 2020 Issue

Learning Objective: to explore the key ideas of a play based on the legend “The Sword in the Stone” and then reimagine a scene from the play as a graphic novel, short story, or video

Other Key Skills: text structure, character, interpreting text, key ideas

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As you read the play and study the images, think about how Arthur is different from the knights competing to be king.

SCENE 1

The king's castle, England, 495 A.D.

SD1: Lady Igraine stands before a crowd of nobles.

SD2: Her voice quavers.

Igraine: I have called you here with terrible news. My husband, King Uther Pendragon, has died.

Crowd: Gasp!

Rawlins: How is this possible?

Igraine: He was poisoned—by a Saxon!

Beldon: Those wretched Saxons! They have long sought to kill the king and steal our lands.

Rawlins: Now it seems they will.

Wallace: I will form an army and stop them!

Beldon: Surely there are leaders more qualified than you.

Gwyn: You mean such as yourself, Sir Beldon?

Beldon: King Uther had no heir. Britain needs a leader!

Saffir: What Britain needs is a king.

Rawlins: Yes. We should choose a king right now, or soon every nobleman in Britain will be vying for the crown.

Wallace: And I suppose you think we should choose you, Sir Rawlins?

Rawlins: Why not? I would gladly take on the burden of being king, for the good of the realm.

Gwyn: Oh, please. Power is the only thing you desire.

SD3: Everyone begins shouting at each other.

Igraine (loudly) : Stop this bickering at once!

SD1: The room quiets.

Igraine: We will never defeat the Saxons so long as you are ruled by your petty ambitions. We must unite—or Britain will be lost forever.

SD2: The nobles glance at each other sheepishly.

SCENE 2

A small side room, moments later

SD3: Lady Igraine paces in front of a window. Outside, rain is coming down in sheets.

SD1: The wizard Merlin quietly enters. He is a tall man with a long white beard, dressed in a dark robe.

Igraine: Merlin! Why did you not come sooner?

Merlin: Not even my powers could have loosened the grip of Death’s spindly fingers on Uther. And I am afraid I have more bad news. Evil forces are at work in these lands.

Igraine: What do you mean?

Merlin: Your nobles care nothing for the people of this country. Dark years lie ahead.

Igraine: Tell me, is our secret safe?

Merlin: Yes, he is safe. But you, my lady, are not. Go to your sister in France.

Igraine: Preparations have already been made. But Merlin, you must swear to protect him with your life.

Merlin: I swear it, Igraine.

SD2: Igraine turns to leave. She looks back, but Merlin has already vanished.

Igraine (to the empty room): The fate of Britain is in your hands, old friend.

Illustration by Randy Pollak

The Joust

In medieval tournaments, knights competed for honor and glory in front of packed arenas. One of the most popular events in these tournaments was the joust. Two knights would try to knock each other off their horses using a lance—a long stick made of wood. (It was not a very safe sport. Injuries were common.)

SCENE 3

A castle in the countryside, 15 years later

SD3: A fire roars in the hearth of a grand room. Arthur is playing the lute. His mother, Lady Edith, plays the harp.

SD1: Ector listens attentively as Kay slumps in a chair.

SD2: As Arthur and Lady Edith finish the tune, Sir Ector bursts into applause.

SD3: Kay stands up.

Kay: I’ve had enough of this! I am going to joust.

Ector: Kay, if you want to be a knight, you’ll need more than skill with a lance.

Kay: Like what?

Ector: Patience, generosity, manners . . .

Kay: So, you want me to be like Arthur? Spend my time nursing baby birds back to health instead of learning to actually protect our family? You know what is going on out there.

Edith: There’s no reason to criticize Arthur. (to Arthur) It is a virtue to be tenderhearted, son.

SD1: Kay rolls his eyes and stomps out.

Edith: One day, Kay will realize he has nothing to prove.

Ector: He is right about Britain, though. The nobles do nothing but wage war against one another. This has made us weak.

Edith: And the Saxons know it.

Arthur: I long to join my countrymen on the battlefield.

Ector: Do not yearn for battle, Arthur. Yearn for peace.

SD2: Arthur is quiet for a moment.

Arthur: Tell me the story again.

Edith: Again?

SD3: She looks at Arthur’s hopeful face and sighs.

Edith: Fifteen years ago, a powerful wizard named Merlin knocked on our door. In his arms was a baby, barely a week old. You, Arthur, so small and so fragile.

Ector: Merlin asked us to look after you.

Edith: And to raise you to be strong and just.

Ector: From then on, we loved you as our own son.

Arthur: And this Merlin, he never gave you a clue about who I am?

Edith: No, I am afraid that is all we know.

SCENE 4

Meanwhile, in London

SD1: Merlin visits the Archbishop of Canterbury in a towering cathedral.

Archbishop: Merlin, you are a burst of light in these dark times. But had I known you were coming, I would have feared for your safety. Britain is a lawless pit. No one should travel alone, lest they be set upon by thieves and murderers.

Merlin: I was quite safe. I find that I am treated with a certain . . . respect.

Archbishop: Ah, of course. Who would dare attack a mighty sorcerer? If only you could conjure us a king.

Merlin: There is no need. Fate has already chosen one.

Archbishop: Then why has this king not come forward?

Merlin: He does not yet know his destiny. That is why I am here—to help him learn it.

Archbishop: How will you convince the people to accept this new king?

Merlin: I have a plan—a special test. Listen . . .

SD2: The lights fade.

Illustration by Randy Pollak

THE LEGENDS

Legends about Arthur have been passed down for centuries. Arthur has been the subject of countless books, movies, TV shows, video games, and comics. Why do you think these legends are so enduring?

SCENE 5

London, a few weeks later

SD3: A large crowd has gathered in a patch of forest on the Archbishop’s cathedral grounds. The Archbishop stands next to a large, mossy stone.

SD1: Thrust into the stone is a mighty sword. Its jeweled hilt glitters.

SD2: The Archbishop addresses the crowd.

Archbishop: Good people of London! As you know, tomorrow a tournament will be held in the arena. Every knight in the realm has been invited here for the chance to demonstrate his courage and skill.

Crowd: Woooo!

Archbishop: But this will be no ordinary tournament. At this tournament, our king shall be revealed!

SD3: He gestures toward the sword.

Archbishop: Behold, the sword in the stone. A spell was cast on this sword by Merlin himself. Only our true king will be able to pull it from the rock.

Wallace: Then I shall save us all time and go first.

SD1: Wallace marches up and pulls on the sword with one hand. Then two. Sweat pours down his face.

Gwyn: The sword isn’t moving.

Wallace: No, I felt it budge.

SD2: He pulls harder, then slips and falls backward.

Crowd: Ha ha ha ha!

Rawlins: Fool! Step aside.

SD3: Rawlins grasps the hilt and yanks with all his might. His face reddens. The sword does not move.

Beldon: Let me show you how it’s done.

SD1: Beldon plants his feet and pulls with both hands.

Beldon (straining ): I just . . . need . . . a better grip.

Wallace: Give up, Beldon. You’re no king.

SD2: Ector, Edith, Kay, and Arthur ride onto the stage.

Arthur: Why is everyone staring at that sword?

Kay: I’m sure it doesn’t concern you. Why don’t you take our horses to the stables?

SD3: Arthur leaves. Kay, Ector, and Edith join the crowd.

SCENE 6

The arena, the next day

SD1: All of London has gathered for the tournament.

SD2: Arthur sits near Lady Gwyn and Lady Saffir.

Herald: Let the melee begin!

SD3: A rousing fanfare of trumpets sounds.

Gwyn: Do you think we shall really find our king?

Saffir: Sir Kay down there looks quite kingly.

Arthur (interjecting ) : Sir Kay is my brother. He has just become a knight; this is his first tournament.

Saffir: Well, your brother is quite the champion.

Gwyn: Indeed! Look—Sir Kay has knocked yet another opponent off his horse!

Crowd: Hooray for Sir Kay! Hooray!

SD1: When the fighting ends, Kay strides up to Arthur.

Kay: Arthur, bring me my sword!

SD2: Arthur runs off, but returns a few moments later.

Arthur: Kay, your sword isn’t here.

Kay: You forgot my sword?!

Arthur: I saw you with it at breakfast. I think you may have left it at the inn—

Kay: I left it? I ? Listen here, you blithering, incompetent—Oh . . . I think I did leave it.

Arthur: I will fetch it for you.

Kay: Hurry. If I miss the next battle, I’ll be disqualified.

SD3: Arthur dashes across the stage as the scenery changes. The arena is replaced by the inn.

SD1: Arthur runs up to the inn’s door, but finds it locked.

Arthur: No! No! No! What am I going to . . . oh, I know!

SD2: Arthur races to the sword in the stone.

SD3: He does not notice Merlin and the Archbishop watching him from the shadows.

SD1: Arthur grabs the mighty sword, and as he does—

SD2: The clouds part and sunshine pours down on him.

SD3: Arthur jumps back. Immediately, the sun fades.

Arthur (to himself): How strange—I feel as if a bolt of lightning has run right through my arm.

SD1: Again he grabs the hilt. Again, the clouds part. This time, Arthur pulls the sword free and sprints off.

Archbishop: This is the boy you told me about?

Merlin: Indeed, that is our king.

Archbishop: The knights will never accept one so young.

Merlin: He will unite Britain. Or he will die trying.

Illustration by Randy Pollak

The Legacy

After the events of this story, King Arthur went on to have many adventures. He was said to possess great wisdom and fairness. For example, he and his most trusted advisers—his knights—ruled from a round table. At a round table, no one sits at the head of the table, which is traditionally considered a position of authority. Instead, everyone has an equal voice.

SCENE 7

Back at the arena

SD2: Kay is pacing anxiously at the edge of the field.

Saffir: Sir Kay, why are you not on the field?

Kay: My useless brother forgot my sword.

Gwyn: Do not be so hard on him. He seems kind.

Saffir: And he has an honest face.

SD3: Before Kay can reply, Arthur runs up.

Arthur ( breathlessly): The inn was locked, so—

SD1: Kay’s eyes widen.

Kay: Where did you get this sword?

Arthur: It was stuck in a stone—in the forest by the cathedral.

SD2: Kay’s face turns pale.

Kay: Did anyone see you take it?

Arthur: No. Why?

Kay: Say nothing. I will handle this.

SD3: Kay takes the sword to Ector and Edith.

Ector: That sword—is that . . . ?

Kay: Yes, Father.

Edith: You freed it from the stone, yourself?

Kay: I did.

SD1: People begin to gather around them.

Gwyn: Look, Sir Kay has the sword.

Rawlins: No, it can’t be.

Saffir: It is. Look at the handle.

Beldon: I don’t believe it.

Wallace: Prove it, Sir Kay!

SCENE 8

The forest on cathedral grounds

SD2: The crowd follows Ector and Kay to the forest. Ector replaces the sword in the stone.

Ector: This is your moment, Kay.           

SD3: Kay locks eyes with Arthur.

Wallace: Come on, Sir Kay. Remove the sword.

SD1: Kay grabs the sword and pulls.

SD2: Nothing happens.

Ector: Son? What is going on?

Archbishop: You’d best confess. You would not want to incur Merlin’s wrath.

Kay (sighing): Arthur gave it to me. But surely he must have taken it after someone else freed it. I mean, look at him. He is just a kid—a nothing!

Gwyn: Let Arthur try. He will be proven either a king or, like his brother, a liar.

Edith: Go on, Arthur.

SD3: Arthur hesitates, then slowly steps forward.

SD1: He takes the hilt. The clouds part and glorious light shines down on him. He easily removes the sword.

Crowd: Gasp. It’s true!

SD2: Kay drops to his knees. Others do too.

Arthur: What’s happening?

Kay (pointing ): Read the inscription on the stone.

Arthur (reading ): “Whosoever pulls this sword from this stone is the true-born King of all Britain.”

Rawlins: This scrawny boy can’t be our new ruler.

Arthur: I don’t understand.

SD3: Just then, Merlin appears.

Merlin (in a thundering voice): Arthur is your rightful king. For he is the son and heir of Uther Pendragon.

Wallace: King Uther had no heir!

Merlin: Arthur’s birth was kept secret. Uther knew if he were killed, neither Igraine nor their child would be safe from the Saxons—or from all of you! So we gave Arthur to Edith and Ector, to be raised in safety.

Archbishop: For 15 years, this country has suffered. Is it not time to stand together?

Beldon: It is true. Our squabbles prove us unfit to rule.

Rawlins: Let us put aside our differences.

Wallace: If Merlin believes this boy is a king, that is enough for me.

Archbishop: Long live the king!

Crowd: Long live the king!

Kay: Oh, Arthur, can you ever forgive my cruelty?

Arthur: Dear brother, I know your heart is good. Join me as one of my knights, and let us rebuild our country.

SD1: Arthur turns to the crowd, his eyes shining.

Arthur: Good people of Britain, I promise I will do my best to bring unity to our great land. Together we will find our way out of the darkness and into the light.

Archbishop: Long live the king!

Crowd: Long live the king!

This article was originally published in the May 2020 issue.

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Step-by-Step Lesson Plan

Close Reading, Critical Thinking, Skill Building

1. PREPARING TO READ

2. READING AND DISCUSSING (45 minutes)

3. SKILL BUILDING

Differentiated Writing Prompts
For Struggling Readers

Choose one character from this list: Merlin, Arthur, or Sir Kay. Then make a list of three traits to describe that character. Support each trait with text evidence from the play.

For Advanced Readers

Rewrite “The Sword in the Stone” as a short story. Write in the first person, from the point of view of Merlin, Arthur, or Sir Kay.

CUSTOMIZED PERFORMANCE TASKS
For Harry Potter Fans

Compare Arthur to Harry Potter. How are they similar? How are they different?

For Future Politicians

Write a speech for Arthur to give on his coronation day. You can write out your speech or present it in a video. Be sure Arthur talks about what kind of leader he intends to be and why he believes he will do a good job.