8

Early on in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, we see an executioner in town tying a coconut to a bird before it flies off.

Why did the executioner tie a coconut to a bird's leg? Is there a joke here I'm missing?

  • 8
    it explains where they found the coconuts. "GUARD #1: Where'd you get the coconut? ARTHUR: We found them. GUARD #1: Found them? In Mercea? The coconut's tropical! ARTHUR: What do you mean? GUARD #1: Well, this is a temperate zone." Sir Bedevere is attempting to determine the airspeed velocity of swallows – NKCampbell Jul 22 '17 at 3:05
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    ...and leaves coconuts all over England – NKCampbell Jul 22 '17 at 3:11
17

Sir Bedevere's defining characteristic is that he's a man of scientific inquiry. The fact that our first view of him is conducting an experiment (albeit a nonsensical one) is a way of introducing this concept to the audience.

Now, obviously his experiment is a reference to the scene a few moment before (in which the guard asserts that a bird couldn't carry a coconut) but there's no direct in-universe connection between the two events.

GUARD #1: It's not a question of where he grips it! It's a simple question of weight ratios! A five ounce bird could not carry a 1 pound coconut.

He's not trying to prove what the guard was saying, he's independently conducting an experiment that merely happens to relate to what the Guard was saying earlier.


Per Darl Larsen's excellent A Book about the Film Monty Python and the Holy Grail: All the References;

BEDEVERE releases a bird tied to a coconut— This is not part of the printed final script, appearing in the filmed version only. This "strange-looking knight" is releasing a bird attached to a coconut. It's a funny sight gag that connects back to the Europcan-swallow- cannot-carry-a-one-pound-coconut argument minutes earlier, a setup that will ultimately pay off for Arthur and Bedevere at the Bridge of Death; but it's more than that. Bedevere is performing an experiment representing the return of at least the scientific method to Britain, which can start with the smallest but most necessary effort, according to Kantor: "First and foremost is the fact that scientific work consists of the activities of persons who are motivated to satisfy themselves about the nature of things. Accordingly, scientific work begins when per¬mitted or demanded by the life conditions of such persons" Bedevere is clearly motivated to satisfy himself in regard to birds and their coconut-carrying abilities, so he experiments.

  • "Sir Bedevere's defining characteristic is that he's a man of scientific inquiry." Is that the same Sir Bedevere who can explain how we know the world to be banana shaped? (And where'd he get the banana? are you suggesting bananas migrate??) – James K Jul 22 '17 at 20:12
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    @JamesK - Bananas were known about in Europe from about 100A.D. onwards, some 500 years before the reign of King Arthur. A well read man like Bedevere would be aware of their existence and may (if he was rich enough) have even tasted one. – Valorum Jul 22 '17 at 20:16
19

Sir Bedevere is determining the truth of the assertions made by the guards (independently or not).

Or simply the reason Arthur was able to find a coconut to use as a horse in the first place.

But like this whole movie, it is focused more on being funny than making sense. So in short, it's a reference to the first scene of the movie.

GUARD #1: Halt! Who goes there?
ARTHUR: It is I, Arthur, son of Uther Pendragon, from the castle of Camelot. King of the Britons, defeator of the Saxons, sovereign of all England!
GUARD #1: Pull the other one!
ARTHUR: I am. And this my trusty servant Patsy. We have ridden the length and breadth of the land in search of knights who will join me in my court of Camelot. I must speak with your lord and master.
GUARD #1: What, ridden on a horse?
ARTHUR: Yes!
GUARD #1: You're using coconuts!
ARTHUR: What?
GUARD #1: You've got two empty halves of coconut and you're bangin' 'em together.
ARTHUR: So? We have ridden since the snows of winter covered this land, through the kingdom of Mercea, through--
GUARD #1: Where'd you get the coconut?
ARTHUR: We found them.
GUARD #1: Found them? In Mercea? The coconut's tropical!
ARTHUR: What do you mean?
GUARD #1: Well, this is a temperate zone.
ARTHUR: The swallow may fly south with the sun or the house martin or the plumber may seek warmer climes in winter yet these are not strangers to our land.
GUARD #1: Are you suggesting coconuts migrate?
ARTHUR: Not at all, they could be carried.
GUARD #1: What -- a swallow carrying a coconut?
ARTHUR: It could grip it by the husk!
GUARD #1: It's not a question of where he grips it! It's a simple question of weight ratios! A five ounce bird could not carry a 1 pound coconut.
ARTHUR: Well, it doesn't matter. Will you go and tell your master that Arthur from the Court of Camelot is here.
GUARD #1: Listen, in order to maintain air-speed velocity, a swallow needs to beat its wings 43 times every second, right?
ARTHUR: Please!
GUARD #1: Am I right?
ARTHUR: I'm not interested!
GUARD #2: It could be carried by an African swallow!
GUARD #1: Oh, yeah, an African swallow maybe, but not a European swallow, that's my point.
GUARD #2: Oh, yeah, I agree with that...
ARTHUR: Will you ask your master if he wants to join my court at Camelot?!
GUARD #1: But then of course African swallows are not migratory.
GUARD #2: Oh, yeah...
GUARD #1: So they couldn't bring a coconut back anyway...

AUTHER and PATSY leave.

GUARD #2: Wait a minute -- supposing two swallows carried it together?
GUARD #1: No, they'd have to have it on a line.
GUARD #2: Well, simple! They'd just use a standard creeper!
GUARD #1: What, held under the dorsal guiding feathers?
GUARD #2: Well, why not?

  • I've downvoted. Bedevere's not trying to prove what the guards said. He's not even in the same town as them – Valorum Jul 22 '17 at 13:55
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    "But like this whole movie, it is focused more on being funny than making sense." That's kind of Monty Python's thing. Pretty much all of their works work like that. – Mast Jul 22 '17 at 18:02

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