A Field Guide to Literary References in Monty Python's Flying Circus

Image credit: 

While it's better known for dead parrots and crossdressing lumberjacks, Monty Python has a surprisingly academic background. Five of the six members of the group (Graham Chapman, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, John Cleese, and Eric Idle) attended either Oxford or Cambridge. Cutting their teeth writing for other BBC series, the five eventually joined up, along with American Terry Gilliam, to create Monty Python's Flying Circus. While experimenting with the bounds of sketch comedy, the group also flexed their academic muscle throughout the course of the show, making reference to many works of classic literature in the process. Here's a compendium of many of these references, excluding the ones I couldn't find on YouTube.

The Semaphore Version of Wuthering Heights

What Episode: 15
Authors/Works Referenced: Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë & Julius Caesar, William Shakespeare
Don't Miss: The extent of the semaphore, from Catherine and Heathcliff to the baby, nurse, and old man.

Poet Inspection

Episode: 17
Authors/Works Referenced: "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud," William Wordsworth, "The Splendor Falls on Castle Walls," Alfred Lord Tennyson
Don't Miss: "There's Alfred Lord Tennyson in the Bathroom!"

A Tale of Two Cities for Parrots

Episode: 20
Authors/Works Referenced: A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
Don't Miss: The first line of the "special adaptation," which quickly informs how the rest will follow

Mrs. Premise and Mrs. Conclusion visit Jean-Paul Satre

Episode: 27
Authors/Works Referenced: The Roads to Freedom series, Jean-Paul Satre
Don't Miss: "Four hours to bury a cat?"

All-England Summarize Proust Competition

Episode: 31
Authors/Works Referenced: The epic 7-volume novel Rememberance of Things Past, Marcel Proust
Don't Miss: The choral adaptation

Ant Poetry Reading

Episode: 41
Authors/Works Referenced: Wordsworth's "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud," Shelley's "Ozymandias," Tennyson's "Charge of the Light Brigade"
Don't Miss: Graham Chapman's increasingly drunk hostess

Hamlet Psychoanalysis

Episode: 43
Authors/Works Referenced: Hamlet, William Shakespeare
Don't Miss: The use of computers in modern psychiatry

Little Red Riding Hood

Episode: German Episode 1 or Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl
Authors/Works Referenced: Little Red Riding Hood, The Brothers Grimm (amongst others)
Don't Miss: John Cleese in Bavarian Drag

More from mental_floss...

June 18, 2008 - 1:22pm
submit to reddit