THE KNIGHT’S TALE
He is a famous ruler of Ancient Athens who performed many heroic feats, and was well regarded by those he ruled as being noble and just.
Originally she was the Queen of the powerful Amazons, a society dominated by women. Theseus conquered the Amazons and took Hippolyta as his Queen.
Theseus’ beautiful sister-in-law who is instrumental in driving the storyline of the Knight’s tale. Two Knights fall in love with her, which causes the break up of their friendship.
A Knight who is a member of Creon’s army, conquered by Duke Theseus. Palamon is wounded and taken prisoner and sentenced to life in bondage. He falls in love with the beautiful Emely.
A close friend to Palamon, and imprisoned likewise, he too falls in love with Emely.
A long time ago in Athens, Duke Theseus strove to expand his empire.
Among his victims was a tribe of Amazons who lived in Scythia.
When Theseus conquered the tribe, he took Queen Hippolyta and her sister, Emely, back to Athens. He made Hippolyta his wife.
On their travels back to Athens, they encountered a group of women weeping
They told how the cruel tyrant Creon had conquered their city, and that their husbands’ dead bodies lay unburied in dishonor. Sending his Queen and her sister home to Athens, the Duke broke off to march against this evil tyrant. King Creon was soon defeated and slain, and the Duke brought honor back to the city.
After the battle, two wounded Knights were brought before the Duke, Arcite
They were of similar appearance because they were sons of two sisters. The Duke spared their lives, but sentenced them to languish in his prison in Athens until their death. The two Knights suffered for several years in jail. One day, Palamon was looking out of his prison cell window and happened to see the beautiful Emely. He cried out in pain, and his friend, Arcite is concerned that some evil has befallen him. The second Knight is also curious and he peers out from the tower window, and he too is stricken with her beauty. The two argue, Palamon saying that he saw the lady first.
Duke Perotheus, a friend of both Duke Theseus and Arcite, visits Athens.
He pleads on Arcite’s behalf and Duke Theseus agrees to release him, but he will be banished from the Dukedom, and be beheaded if he returns. Arcite is depressed at this new turn of fate, for he will never be able to glimpse his beloved again, and envies Palamon that he at least will be able to see her from the tower window every day.
Arcite undergoes a great physical change due to his constant lamenting over
his love, Emely. He changes his name to Philostrate, and decides to return to Athens hoping that he will not be recognized.
In order to be close to Emely, he joins the Court of Theseus and over the
years becomes a trusted friend of the Duke.
Palamon still languishes in the prison tower, but one night he manages to
escape and hides in a nearby wooded area.
Arcite coincidentally is walking in the same area, and is thinking out loud.
He is feeling smug regarding his subterfuge, and recites his entire history aloud. When Palamon hears this confession, he comes out of hiding.
The two duel.
The Duke comes upon the scene and Palamon explains why they were
fighting. Theseus condemns the two Knights to death, but the ladies of the Court, including Emely, intercede on their behalf.
The wise Duke charges both the Knights to return to Athens in a year with
100 Knights each, and there will be a joust. The winner will receive Emely’s hand in marriage.
During the year, Theseus builds a magnificent stadium in which the jousting
will take place. He builds altars to the gods, Venus the goddess of love, Mars the god of war, and Diana the goddess of chastity.
The year passes, during which time the people have been looking forward to
this spectacle. Besides the jousts, there are numerous other entertainments with much feasting, singing and dancing.
On the eve of the battle, Palamon prays at the altar of Venus that he will
be united with the fair Emely.
Emely prays to Diana hoping that her chastity will be preserved, but if this
is not possible, that she will be married to the one who loves her most.
Arcite prays to Mars that he will be victorious in battle.
These prayers cause much confusion in heaven, until Saturn the god of
destiny promises that Palamon will win his love and Arcite would win the battle.
The two Knights face one another at the joust, but the Duke announces that
once a Knight is badly wounded, he will be removed from the field of battle.
Palamon is badly wounded in the joust and is taken from the field by the marshals. Arcite is triumphant in his victory and parades around the arena, but his horse is frightened and throws Arcite to the ground where he is badly hurt. Physicians are summoned to attend Arcite, but they are unable to aid him and he dies.
Palamon and Emely are married.
Arcite is cremated on a great funeral pyre.
The Duke is in favor of the marriage between Palamon and Emely because it
unites the two houses of Thebes and Athens. They live out a life of “love unbroken”.
We obtain a story from the Knight fitting for his station, full of chivalry,
battles, splendor and a happy ending where love prevails.
The story is at times longwinded, for the Knight goes to great lengths in
describing the preparations for the joust, but in Chaucer’s day the general reading public were intrigued with such matters, as it represented a world removed from their everyday lives.
Unlike tales that are to follow, there is no crudeness or vulgarity in this
story, and it concerns a pure love with no hint of lust anywhere.
The Knight takes pains to give us a clear characterization of Emely as the focal point of the two Knights’ love. She is a combination of beauty, chastity and servility - the perfect Medieval woman.
The Medieval reader would also be more at home with destiny than the modern
reader who perhaps finds it strange that there are so many elements of chance contained in the story e.g. the fact that Emely decides to walk beneath the prison, that a visiting Duke knows one of the imprisoned
Knights, that Arcite is able to return to Athens and receive employment in the Court, and that he comes in contact with Palamon and they duel, and so it goes on. However, the superstitious people of Chaucer’s
time felt that God controlled everybody’s lives for his own purposes, and there is a strange type of logic in accepting these coincidences.
The modern day reader realizes that jousting was not practiced in Ancient
Greece. Chaucer’s point is to amalgamate Athenian life and its clear nobility with that of chivalry and the Knights of Medieval England.
So, we have a direct link with the life of Knights in England and the heroes of Ancient Greece.
As part of Chaucer’s characterization of the Knight we see he is a modest
man, he does not tell a story concerning his own deeds and the velour he has shown in distant lands, but he provides an entertaining tale emphasizing the importance of honor and love.
The three main characters form a triangle of relationships. The
friendship of the two Knights turns into hatred when they both fall in love with the same girl. It is interesting that the prayers of all three are answered – Arcite wins the battle; Palamon wins his love; and
Emely marries the one who loves her most, which is all she could really hope for. Her initial request for her chastity to be preserved is not granted, and it is perhaps a comment regarding the position of
women in Medieval England.
We will touch on the elements of chastity and life-long virginity in the
Wife of Bath’s tale.
The independence of women in the Middle Ages was by and large non-existent,
and Chaucer introduces the idea of a society ruled by women in this story. This abomination cannot be tolerated, and the Duke conquers the society, and he takes the Queen for his wife. What Chaucer is
saying here is that women are expected to make themselves attractive to men and depend on them, whilst men are the dominant sex. They rule and maintain order.
When Arcite was freed, who do you consider was the most fortunate – Arcite
The Knight’s story is well received by all the Pilgrims.
The host then calls upon the Monk to tell his tale, but the drunken Miller
insists that it is his turn. The Miller tells the company that he has a vulgar tale concerning a Carpenter.
The Reeve object to this, he was once a Carpenter, but the Miller is
insistent. He says it is his duty to tell his story as there is a prize at stake.