Librarius Homepage
© Librarius
All rights reserved.

From The Canterbury Tales:
The Knight's Tale
Modern english adjacent to middle english

About The Canterbury Tales:
Geoffrey Chaucer wrote The Canterbury Tales, a collection of stories in a frame story, between 1387 and 1400. It is the story of a group of thirty people who travel as pilgrims to Canterbury (England). The pilgrims, who come from all layers of society, tell stories to each other to kill time while they travel to Canterbury. He never finished his enormous project and even the completed tales were not finally revised. Scholars are uncertain about the order of the tales. As the printing press had yet to be invented when Chaucer wrote his works, The Canterbury Tales has been passed down in several handwritten manuscripts.

About The Knight's Tale:
The Knight's Tale has no prologue. The story begins with a description of a duke or prince named Theseus who is the king of Athens. Theseus has conquered the kingdom of Amazons, also known as Scythia (lines 8-9), and married Hippolyta, the queen of the Amazons (line 10). Theseus takes Hippolyta and also Hippolyta's younger sister Emily to Athens (line 13). Did Hippolyta consent to being married to the destroyer of her kingdom? Obviously Hippolyta resisted to having her kingdom destroyed as there was a great battle between the Amazons and the Athens (line 21-22). The story does not tell anything about her consent, only that she has lost the battle. And what exactly is consent if someone says something like "marry me or I will chop your head off"? Well, lets skip these modern ponderations that disturb romantic chivalric stories. Lets assume that losing the battle means that you have to marry your conqueror, if you are a woman.

When almost home in Athens, Theseus notices a group of crying and lamenting women clothed in black. The oldest woman explains upon request of Theseus that she was the wife of King Cappaneus who died at Thebes (line 74-75) and all the other women have lost heir husbands. King Creon, lord of Thebes, had all the dead bodies piled up being food for dogs and vultures (lines 85-89). Theseus swore revenge (lines 101-103) and orders his army toward Thebes for a punitive expedition. After some glorious bloodshed in which Creon is killed, Theseus soldiers dispose the dead bodies and find two young knights, named Arcite (or Arcita) and Palamon, two royal cousins, who are not quite dead (lines 153-157). Theseus orders their imprisonment for life in Athens (line 165-166) and gets a laurer crown (line 169). Arcite and Palamon are locked up in a tower (line 172).

Some years of imprisonment pass until on a day beautiful Emily walks through the garden and is spotted by Palamon (line 219) who compares Emily with Venus (line 244). Arcite is also aroused by the appearance of Emily (line 254-256). Each of the prisoners claims Emily, each calls the other a traitor and they fight all day (line 320). Emily is unaware of the arousal of the imprisoned knights. The strife between the two goes on for some time (line 329), but the narrator does not provide details. One day a prince and childhood friend of Theseus, named Pirithous, comes to Athens. Pirithous knows Arcite from his time in Thebes (line 345) and pleads for his release. Theseus releases Arcite on condition that he will leave the kingdom of Athens forever. If he ever shows his face again, his head will be chopped off (line 357). So Arcite is free, but he is not able to look at Emily anymore. Palamon, still in prison, envies Arcite, because Arcite has the option to raise an army against Athens (lines 428-429) in order to get Emily (line 431). The narrating Knight ends the first part of his tale with the question which knight has it worse: imprisoned Palamon who can see Emily every day (lines 491-492) or free Arcite who has lost sight on Emily (lines 493-494)?

After two years have passed in which Arcite spends his time in Thebes, Arcite has a dream in which the Greec god Mercury tells him to go to Athens to end his sorrow (lines 533-534). Arcite disguises himself as a poor labourer. Despite the risk of losing his head, Arcite goes to Athens and finds employement at Theseus' court. Under the name Philostratus (line 570) Arcite becomes a page (servant) in the chamber of Emily. Arcite serves well and is promoted to the rank of squire (line 582). Meanwhile Palamon has spent seven years in prison, but with help of a friend mananges to escape from prison (line 610) after drugging the jailor (lines 612-614). After his escape, Arcite hides in a grove awaiting the night to go to Thebes (lines 623-625) where he intends to find friends that would help him to wage war on Theseus to get Emily (lines 625-629). While Palamon hides in the grove, Arcite rides on horseback through the landscape, stops, dismounts and starts talking aloud to himself lamenting his life without Emily. Palamon hears Arcite, enrages, springs out of the grove (line 721) and reveals himself to Arcite. Palamon who has escaped from prison does not carry a weapon (lines 733-734). Arcite offers to return the next day with sufficient arms for both of them, leaving the first choice to Palamon (lines 754-755). The winner will have Emily. Palamon agrees (line 762). Note that so far nobody has asked Emily for her opinion.

Next morning Arcite and Palamon meet for the fight and help each other to get dressed and armed properly (line 793-794). They start to fight. Meanwhile in the close vicinity Theseus goes hunting accompanied by Hippolyta and Emily (lines 826-829). Theseus notices the fighting knights and stops the fight (line 847). What is the stake of this fight (lines 852-855)? Palamon speaks and suggests that Theseus kills them both (lines 858-865 and lines 881-883) and reveals their indentity. He also reveals their love for Emily (line 878). Theseus orders their death (line 889) but the ladies, queen Hippolyta and her sister Emily, ask for mercy. Theseus grants mercy and asks both knights to swear that they will never wage war on him (lines 960-967). Theseus also stipulates that both knights will leave and return after fifty weeks (line 992) each accompanied by hundred knights (line 993) for a battle. The winner will have Emily (line 1002). Both knights kneel down and thank Theseus and ride off to Thebes to prepare. Nobody has asked Emily for her opinion.

At the beginning of the third part of The Knight's Tale, Theseus commissions to build an amphiptheatre for the battle (line 1027). The amphitheatre is opulently decorated with carvings and portraits (line 1058) and even features temples in honour of Venus, Mars and Diana. The narrator extensively describes the forms and shapes of Venus, Mars and Diana. The day of the battle comes nearby and Arcite and Palamon come to Athens with their company. Palamon is accompanied by Lycurgus, king of Trace (line 1271) and Arcite takes Emetreus, king of India, to the battle (line 1298). The narrator describes the appearance and clothing and gear of the foreigns kings and all the other knights that have come to the battle.

At night Palamon goes to the temple of Venus to pray (lines 1360-1361) and asks to provide that Arcite will kill him if Arcite wins Emily (lines 1397-1400). The statue of Venus shakes (line 1407) which is a sign that Venus listens. Meanwhile Emily visits the statue of Diana, goddess of chastity. She prays and reveals that she would like to remain a virgin (line 1447) and not to be a man's wife or become pregnant (line 1452-1453). She also asks for peace and friendship between Arcite and Palamon (line 1459). But if marriage is inevitable, Emily asks for the one that wants her most (lines 1466-1467). The statue of Diana sheds tears of blood. Diana herself appears and tells Emily that she will marry one of the knights, not knowing which one (line 1493-1495). Arcite prays to Mars asking for victory (line 1562). The statue of Mars murmurs "Victory" (line 1575). Venus and Mars quarrel about the desired outcome of the battle. Saturn intervenes and rules that Palamon shall have Emily (lines 1613-1614) although Mars may help his man (line 1615).

The evening before the battle evenybody feasts at Theseus' palace, but goes to bed early to be fit for the battle next day. Next morning Theseus stipulated some rules to make the battle less bloody. The deadliest weapons are not allowed in the battle (lines 1686-1689). Besides, if an opponent is overcome, he ought to leave the battlefield (lines 1693-1694) without being killed. The people praise Theseus for his wisdom (lines 1705-1706) to avoid unnecessary bloodshed and everybody goes to the amphitheatre. When the royal family (Theseus, Hippolyta and Emily) and all the audience have taken their seats, the battle begins and two hunderd men start to fight. Palamon and Arcite fight fiercely. King Emetreus stabs Palamon with his sword (line 1782). King Lycurgus tries to rescue Palamon but is struck down (lines 1785-1786). Finally Theseus declares that Arcite has won the fight and subsequently shall have Emily (line 1800). Venus dislikes the result of the battle (lines 1805-1809). Arcite enjoys his victory, sits relaxed on his horse and looks at Emily (line 1821) who looks back friendly (line 1822), because women generally speaking do what Fortune brings them (lines 1823-1824).

Upon request of Saturn, Pluto makes the earth shake (lines 1826-1827) and Arcite's horse prances (lines 1828-1829) throwing off Arcite who lands very badly causing a head wound and chest wound. Medicine and nursing does not help. Before Arcite dies he tells Emily that Palamon would be the most worthy husband (lines 1935-1938). His last words are "Mercy Emily" (line 1950). Everbody mourns for the death of Arcite. "Death is the end of every wordly sore", Theseus says (line 1991). Arcite is honoured with a royal funeral ceremony. Theseus thinks about pleasing the kingdom of Thebe to avoid any future hostility (lines 2115-2116) and invites Palamon and Emily. Theseus gives a speech and at the end more or less orders that Emily and Palamon should marry. And so it happens. Palamon and Emily are married (lines 2236-2240) and they live happily after.

The plot of The Knight's Tale contains many aspects of knighthood, including discussions on love, courtly manners, brotherhood and loyalty. Several fights and battles are fought and even foreign kings are brought in to emphasize the epical meaning and shape of the last battle, which is an organised fighting contest. The story is somewhat bombastic (and bloody) which is perfectly normal for a romantic chivalric story. What is also perfectly normal in this genre is the submissiveness of women. Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons, has married the destroyer of her kingdom. She was the highest prize in the war. Or should we say war game? Hippolyta does not have a single line of speech or thought. She is almost invisible. Her sister Emily is more or less the first female character in The Canterbury Tales. Emily is a stereotype medieval princess who is nothing more than a prize for the man that wins the fighting contest, almost like her sister Hippolyta. She has no choice but to obey her fate, and the orders of the king, who is her sister's husband. At the end she gets the husband that she explicitly not desires. Her will and opinion are of no importance at all. She is the prize and an object to make peace between Athens and Thebe.

About viewing this part:
This part of Librarius provides middle english and modern english in two adjacent text columns and is best to be viewed full screen. The frame borders are drag-and-drop adjustable to fit the reader's personal convenience. Recommended screen resolution: 1280 x 1024 or preferably higher.