'Just A Flesh Wound:' 13 Best Monty Python & Holy Grail Quotes
In 1975, Monty Python And The Holy Grail, a quote-laden classic farce from British troupe Monty Python, opened in theaters. The low-budget film went on to reap millions at the U.S. box office and would become a strong performer in the home-video market that would soon gain steam. Like the hit TV show Monty Python's Flying Circus, the Arthurian adventure Holy Grail is not merely watchable, but re-watchable. If you like it, you've watched it many times (if you don't like it, you may have given up halfway through). The movie has given us the unlikely touchstone phrases as "just a flesh wound," "she turned me into a newt," "airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow," "bring out yer dead," "run away!" and the enigmatic "Ni!"
'Wi nøt trei a høliday in Sweden this yër?'
In Monty Python and the Holy Grail, when God sends King Arthur and his knights of the Round Table on a quest to find the Holy Grail, they must contend with taunting French knights, a bridge-keeper who demands they answer three questions before crossing a bridge, and, of course, a killer rabbit. The film begins with pseudo-Swedish subtitles, which soon transition to an appeal to visit Sweden:
Wi nøt trei a høliday in Sweden this yër?
The mysterious subtitle writer touts the furry animals, "including the majestik møøse," then seems to wander off on a personal anecdote:
A Møøse once bit my sister...
What follows is a struggle in real time between the movie's producers, who are just trying to show the opening credits, and a Swedish subtitle-writer gone rogue, who keeps inserting commentary about moose into the credits and changing job titles to be moose-related. Once the Swedish subtitler is banished, the credits conclude with different visuals, faux-Latin music and singing, and a new obsession with llamas...
JOHN GOLDSTONE & "RALPH" The Wonder Llama
The Pythons created the credits to take advantage of the spot and pack in a few more jokes while not spending any money.
After the opening credits, King Arthur (Graham Chapman) and his servant Patsy (Terry Gilliam) approach a castle to recruit knights for the round table, and once again we see a famous element that resulted from the movie's low budget. Arthur and Patsy mime riding horses, while Patsy clicks coconuts to create the sound. This was a solution to the lack of money to spend on horses. Despite the lack of funding, the film would go on to be remembered as one of the best comedies of all time.
'Strange Women Lying In Ponds Distributing Swords...'
Arthur and Patsy encounter Dennis (Michael Palin), a peasant who is hard at work arranging "filth" with a female peasant companion. Dennis has anachronistic left-wing political beliefs, and begins questioning King Arthur about his authority. King Arthur tells him how the Lady of the Lake gave him Excalibur.
DENNIS: Listen. Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony.
ARTHUR: Be quiet!
DENNIS: You can’t expect to wield supreme executive power just ’cause some watery tart threw a sword at you!
The dialogue continues on, with Dennis describing his cohort of filth-farmers as "an anarcho-syndicalist commune." It's both a pointed criticism of government and an explanation of popular sovereignty.
'Are You Suggesting Coconuts Migrate?'
As King Arthur and Patsy approach a mysterious castle, the guard (Palin) questions them about the coconuts they are carrying. King Arthur suggests that the coconuts migrated, initiating a conversation about coconuts and swallows.
GUARD: What, a swallow, carrying a coconut?
ARTHUR: It could grip it by the husk!
GUARD: It's not a question of where 'e grips it! It's a simple question of weight ratios! A five-ounce bird could *not* carry a one-pound coconut!
This leads to a discussion of types of swallows and air-speed velocity, of course. A second guard (John Cleese) shows up with the helpful idea that the coconut could have been carried by an African swallow -- which would be conceivable except that "African swallows are non-migratory."
Arthur and Patsy move on in a trick that we will see a few more times -- once a scene has reached its comedic crescendo, characters say something like "let's not go there" and we move on to the next scene.
'Bring Out Yer Dead'
Like any British historical epic, Holy Grail presents a nightmarish world where death is cheap and hygiene is unknown. So, of course, there's a plague on. We meet a dead collector (Idle) doing his appointed rounds collecting dead bodies, banging a bell and calling out “bring out yer dead.” A Large Man (Cleese) tries to add a body to the cart, leading to a discussion with the dead man, who claims he’s not dead:
LARGE MAN: Well, he will be soon, he's very ill.
DEAD BODY: I'm getting betta!
LARGE MAN: No you're not, you'll be stone dead in a moment.
DEAD COLLECTOR: I can't take 'im like that! It's against regulation!
DEAD BODY: I don't want to go on the cart!
LARGE MAN: Oh, don't be such a baby!
The scene concludes with the Large Man bribing the Dead Collector to finish the old guy off with a blow of his mallet.
'Just A Flesh Wound'
When King Arthur meets the Black Knight, a lonely warrior guarding a bridge in the forest, we get what's arguably the most-quoted line in the film. Arthur invites the Black Knight to join the Knights of the Round Table. The Black Knight remains silent until Arthur says “you make me sad.” As Arthur starts to leave, "riding" around the Black Knight to the bridge behind him, the Black Knight speaks his first words:
BLACK KNIGHT: None shall pass.
A violent battle ensues, and both men are clearly skilled combatants. Arthur chops off the Black Knight’s arm at the shoulder, and assumes that the fight is over. The Black Knight refuses to yield.
BLACK KNIGHT: 'Tis but a scratch.
They continue fighting, and Arthur chops off his other arm. His foe still refuses to concede.
BLACK KNIGHT: It’s just a flesh wound.
Arthur chops of both of the Black Knight's legs yet the limbless knight still does not admit defeat. Arthur declares it a "draw," and he and Patsy move on. The scene was inspired by a story Cleese heard in Elementary School about two Roman wrestlers; Cleese hated the moral of the story, and so he lampooned it in the scene.
'She Turned Me Into A Newt!'
King Arthur, still on the hunt for knights to join him, arrives at a town where Sir Bedevere (Terry Jones) is the local knight and expert on science. A group of peasants comes into the town square with a woman they claim to be a witch. They have dressed her as a witch and outfitted her with a point nose made from a carrot. When Bedevere asks what makes them think she is a witch, a peasant played by Cleese provides shoddy proof.
PEASANT: Well, she turned me into a newt!
SIR BEDEVERE: A newt?
PEASANT: I got better.
'We Eat Ham And Jam And Spam A Lot'
We know "Spamalot" today as the title of the Broadway musical based on the film, but in its original setting it was simply a the end of a line in a song that needed to rhyme with "Camelot." When King Arthur and his knights arrive, they're treated to a barbershop-quartet-style ditty with some very forced rhymes:
We're knights of the Round Table.
We dance whene'er we're able.
We do routines and chorus scenes
With footwork impeccable.
We dine well here in Camelot.
We eat ham and jam and Spam a lot.
We're knights of the Round Table.
Our shows are formidable,
But many times we're given rhymes
That are quite unsingable.
We're opera mad in Camelot.
We sing from the diaphragm a lot.
In war we're tough and able,
Between our quests we sequin vests and impersonate Clark Gable.
It's a busy life in Camelot.
I have to push the pram a lot.
King Arthur doesn't like the looks of Camelot and decides his band of Knights should move on. "On second thought, let's not go to Camelot," he tells them. "It is a silly place."
'You Don’t Frighten Us, English Pig Dogs!'
The knights arrive at a castle and ask to see the lord, but are insulted by a French knight (it is not explained why this castle is inhabited by French knights). His taunts are legendary, including:
FRENCH KNIGHT: You don’t frighten us, English pig dogs! Go and boil your bottoms, you sons of a silly person! I blow my nose at you, so-called “Arthur King,” you and all your silly English K-n-i-g-g-i-t-s. ... I don’t want to talk to you no more, you empty-headed animal-food-trough wiper. I fart in your general direction. Your mother was a hamster, and your father smelt of elderberries.
After they ask the French knight if there is someone else they can talk to, the French knight replies “No. Now go away or I shall taunt you a second time.”
'We’ll Kill Him First And Then Have Tea And Biscuits.'
As the knights of the Round Table split to search for the holy grail on their own, Sir Robin and his minstrels, who have been merrily singing on the way, encounter a knight with three heads. They bicker for a bit prior to making the decision to kill Sir Robin.
RIGHT HEAD: Oh, stop bitching and let's go have tea.
LEFT HEAD: Oh, all right. All right. All right. We'll kill him first and then have tea and biscuits.
MIDDLE HEAD: Yes.
RIGHT HEAD: Oh, not biscuits.
LEFT HEAD: All right. All right, not biscuits, but let's kill him anyway.
ALL HEADS: Right!
MIDDLE HEAD [noticing Robin and his men have disappeared]: He buggered off.
King Arthur proceeds through an ominous forest, where he encounters the knights who say ni. When he asks them to identify themselves, they do and go on to explain what their purpose is.
KNIGHT OF NI: We are the keepers of the sacred words: Ni, Ping, and Nee-womm!
OTHER KNIGHT OF NI: Nee-womm!
ARTHUR (to Bedevere): Those who hear them seldom live to tell the tale!
KNIGHT OF NI: The knights who say "Ni" demand..... a sacrifice!
ARTHUR: Knights of Ni, we are but simple travelers who seek the enchanter who lives beyond these woods.
KNIGHTS OF NI: Ni! Ni! Ni! Ni! Ni! Ni! Ni! Ni! Ni!
BEDEVERE: No! Noooo! Aaaugh! No!
KNIGHT OF NI: We shall say "Ni" again to you... if you do not appease us.
ARTHUR: Well what is it you want?
KNIGHT OF NI: We want..... A SHRUBBERY!!!!
The Knights of Ni are not happy, however, even though their demands are met. So they make a further demand:
KNIGHT OF NI: Then, when you have found the shrubbery, you must cut down the mightiest tree in the forest... Wiiiiiithh.... A HERRING!
Arthur and Bedevere have had enough, and refuse to cut down a tree with a herring. They manage to escape by using the one word that the Knights of Ni cannot abide: "it."
'What’s He Do? Nibble Your Bum?'
As King Arthur and his knights enter the last stages of their quest, they approach a cave strewn with human skeletons and loose bones. It is the lair of the killer rabbit of Caerbannog. They expected something more dangerous than a rabbit. Tim the Enchanter (Cleese) tries to warn them that there is more danger than meets the eye.
ROBIN: What's he do, nibble your bum?
TIM: He's got huge, sharp-- eh-- he can leap about-- look at the bones!
ARTHUR: Go on, Bors. Chop his head off!
BORS: Right! Silly little bleeder. One rabbit stew comin' right up!
The rabbit savagely kills Bors, and Tim doesn't spare the I-told-you-sos:
TIM: I warned you, but did you listen to me? Oh, no, you knew it all, didn't you? Oh, it's just a harmless little bunny, isn't it? Well, it's always the same. I always tell them--
What Is The Air Speed Velocity Of An Unladen Swallow?
In a scene that harkens back to the beginning of the film, King Arthur and the knights reach the Bridge of Death, the bridgekeeper asks three questions before they can pass. These questions range between easy and absurd.
He asks the first knight his name, his quest, and his favorite color. Easy enough! But when it's Arthur's turn, the bridgekeeper asks a different third question:
BRIDGEKEEPER: What… is the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow?
ARTHUR: What do you mean, an African or European swallow?
BRIDGEKEEPER: Huh? I– I don’t know that. Auuuuuuuugh!
(The bridgekeeper is launched to his death in the Gorge of Eternal Peril)
BEDEVERE: How do know so much about swallows?
ARTHUR: Well, you have to know these things when you’re a king, you know.
'I Wave My private Parts At Your Aunties'
Finally, Arthur and his knights arrive at the Castle Aggh, and are disheartened to find the same obnoxious French knight hurling insults from the parapet.
Both of the scenes with the French taunters were inspired by something that Cleese had read about medieval soldiers whose only purpose was to taunt the enemies before battle. Cleese combined that with a Roman practice: catapulting dead animals into castles and dropping feces on enemies as they attempted to storm a castle.
FRENCH GUARD: Allo, dappy English k-niggets and Monsieur Arthur King, who has the brain of a duck, you know. So, we French fellows outwit you a second time!
ARTHUR: How dare you profane this place with your presence! I command you, in the name of the Knights of Camelot, to open the doors of this sacred castle, to which God Himself has guided us!
FRENCH GUARD: How you English say, 'I one more time, mac, unclog my nose in your direction', sons of a window-dresser! So, you think you could out-clever us French folk with your silly knees-bent running about advancing behavior?! I wave my private parts at your aunties, you cheesy lot of second hand electric donkey-bottom biters.
ARTHUR: In the name of the Lord, we demand entrance to this sacred castle!
FRENCH GUARD: No chance, English bed-wetting types. I burst my pimples at you and call your door-opening request a silly thing, you tiny-brained wipers of other people's bottoms!
ARTHUR: If you do not open this door, we shall take this castle by force!
(The guards begin dumping waste on King Arthur, a la the ancient Romans.)
FRENCH GUARD: Yes, depart a lot at this time and cut the approaching any more, or we fire arrows at the tops of your heads and make castanets out of your testicles already! Ha ha haaa ha!
ARTHUR: Walk away. Just ignore them.
FRENCH GUARD: And now, remain gone, illegitimate-faced bugger-folk! And, if you think you got a nasty taunting this time, you ain't heard nothing yet, dappy English k-nnniggets! Thpppt!
Another of the most-repeated lines is the simple war cry "Run away!" King Arthur and the Knights shout this countless times throughout the movie -- they go into battle shouting "Charge!," see that they are facing disaster, and flee shouting "Run away!"