So the Canterbury Tales were not what I thought. I had been under the impression that I had read the whole work. I didn’t. Our school edited the racier tales out of our literature. The work is largely bawdy which is why it has been rated Q- for not quite what I expected. Since there is no over arching theme, I had decided to analyze each story separately.
This story begins with a group of 20 going to Canterbury to visit the shrine to Sir Thomas Becket who was the martyred archbishop of Canterbury. In order to pass the time, each of the party was to tell two tales- one on the way and the other on the return.
The Knight’s Tale
A duke of Athens named Theseus went out and conquered the world so to speak. He had a wife named Hyppolyta and a sister-in-law named Emily. In one of his conquests, he takes as prisoners of war, Palamon and Arcita, princes of Thebes. Both men were held without ransom in a tower. During their imprisonment, both men saw the fair Emily, and were painfully smitten with love- Palaman first then Arcita. An argument ensued between the two as to who loved Emily first. The strife between the two lasted for some time. Meanwhile, Arcita was set free by Theseus. Theseus had a friend named Duke Perotheus who had known Arcita for many years and pled his case. Arcita was exiled from Theseus’ country never to see fair Emily again.
Arcita made it back to Thebes, but was so lovesick that he altered his appearance to the point that he was unrecognizable. One night he had a dream in which Mercury visited him and told him to return to Athens. As he was unrecognizable, he returned to Athens and took a job as the chamberlain to Emily under the name Philostrate. Through hard work, he was brought to the attention of Theseus who made him a Squire. During this time Palamon, with the help of a friend, escaped from prison. The two men eventually met in the woods in Athens during the May “rites.” The old argument as to who loved Emily ensued once more. They decided to try the matter by mortal combat the next morning. Of course, Theseus, Hyppolyta and Emily would ride upon both men as they were fighting.
Palamon revealed to Theseus who they both were and why they fought. Theseus decided that both must die. However, he changed his mind once the ladies of the court began to cry at the injustice of punishing the men who fought for love. Theseus decided to make both princes swear never to make war on Athens and let them go free. In order to decide who would get Emily, both men were to come back in fifty weeks with a hundred knights a piece and participate in a tournament. The best man would win Emily.
The day of the tournament arrived. Palamon prayed to Venus. Emily prayed to Diana to give peace to both men that way she could remain unmarried. However, Diana appeared to her and told her that she would have to marry one of the men. Arcita meanwhile prayed for Mars for victory. Arcita was victorious. As he rode forward to claim his prize, Pluto spooked the horse which pitched Arcita onto his head. No medicine could cure Arcita from his hurt. Sensing death, Arcita urged Emily to consider Palamon if she were ever to wed. Then he died. Both Emily and Palamon were inconsolable. Theseus buried Arcita with pomp and splendor.
Years went by but still Palamon and Emily mourned. The Athenians met in counsels to determine how to keep the Thebans from warring against Athens. So Theseus called for Palamon and Emily. Theseus gave a long discourse at the end of which Palamon and Emily married and lived happily ever after.
This particular tale is rated
The story was all right. This tale is typical of knightly entertainment. This story is a perfect example of courtly love. There is the pure virgin Emily. Then there is the whole battle between the men and the expenditure of valor to determine the best man. This story is definitely one of the more tame stories in the book. The next tale- The Miller’s Tale- starts a downward trend. Though I will admit the stories become a little more entertaining.
One criticism. Why on earth were Palamon and Arcita praying to Grecian gods. Unless my grasp of geography is fading fast, I thought Thebes was a city in Egypt. (Please correct me if I’m wrong). Shouldn’t they have been praying to Ra, Anubis, or the like? My respect for Chaucer went down a notch.