So our protagonist is tired and falls asleep. Very reasonable. After all, he was transported in time back to a bastardized sixth-century England; after surviving knights and inanity, you too would have a right to be exhausted! But then Clarence comes to wake him up… or comfort him, you know, whatever it is in this sort of homoerotic relationship. Protag man still refuses to accept that this is a dream.
“’What dream? Why, the dream that I am in Arthur’s court—a person who never existed; and that I am talking to you, who are nothing but a work of the imagination’” (33).
Seeing as how this book was written in the late 19th century, it is understandable that Twain would take a firm stance in believing that Arthur never existed; indeed, even today it is a debated topic. But I should at least mention that many Arthurian scholars believe that an ‘Arthur-figure’, of a type who managed to rally and lead the Britons to a small victory over the Anglo-Saxon invaders, did exist at some point in history, as there is a great deal or oral and some written material which suggests as much. Again, it is debated, but I felt the need to at least mention that his existence is not a closed circle.
Clarence tells Protag-man that he is to be burnt soon at the stake. Needless to say, this distresses Protag-man and he soon—desperately—hatches an escape plan; but before he can do so there is this short but intense coaxing out of Clarence some information about the dungeon, namely, that Merlin has cast a spell on it to prevent escape. What is noteworthy about this exchange is that it has many parallels to an experienced partner trying to talk a virgin into sex; seriously, if Clarence was not, I think, eighteen, I would find this creepy.
Anyways, Protag-man finds Merlin’s spells cheap and curses him but quickly capitalizes on how Merlin as wrought everyone into a state of fear.
“Now this strange exhibition gave me a good idea and set me thinking. If everyone about here was so honestly and sincerely afraid of Merlin’s pretend magic as Clarence was, certainly a superior man like me ought to be shrewd enough to contrive some way to take advantage of such a state of things” (35).
Protag-man continues to be asshat man. What a hero! Taking advantage of people like that! *swoons* …still, he is facing death, so I supposed it is more than understandable that he would use the local populace’s superstitions against them; I mean, fuck, would you just let them kill you? Of course not! That’s weak sauce, bro.
At any rate, remember Clarence? Well, he sank to the floor after Protag-man cursed Merlin. Now, he is told to get up and deliver a message to the King and Merlin; Clarence is to tell them that he, Protag-man, is a magician as well, and that if he is not left out of his cell then he will wrought a great calamity upon the land.
“But he [Clarence] promised everything; and on my side he made me promise over and over again that I would remain his friend, and never turn against him or cast any enchantments upon him. Then he worked his way out, staying himself with his hand along the wall, like a sick person” (36).
One has to feel bad for Clarence and, indeed, the rest of the population which Merlin has, evidently, so terrified with his pretend-magic that they can only cower in fear at displeasing him. Poor Clarence, being so scared that he forces the other magician to swear that he will never be harmed in any way by his magic. Really rams home just how much bodily insecurity these people have about their relationship to the ruling class.
“You see, it was the eclipse. It came into my mind in the nick of time, how Columbus, or Cortez, or one of those people, played an eclipse as a saving trump once, on some savages, and I saw my chance” (37).
Yup. Protag-man is definitely being set up as an allegory for colonialism. I love how Twain captures the ignorance and haughty demeanor of imperial ideologies by having Protag-man not even know which mass-murderer he was ripping off; he just knows that he is doing it and has no shame in doing it! I love it.
So, Clarence comes back and says that the king was about to release him but then Merlin came in and acted like a real dick—he said that if Protag-man was a real magician, then why hasn’t he named the calamity that he is supposed to bring? Check-mate, loser!
Well… until he uses the eclipse to his betterment and says that he will smother the land in darkness unless he is freed. Clarence faints, Protag-man goes back to his cell while the dramatics play out.