The Knights TaleIntroductionThe Knights Tale, which mostly takes place in ancient Athens, is the conflicted love story of two royal Theban cousins who love the same woman Because The Knights Tale is by far the longest and most complex of the Canterbury Tales presented in this volume, a quick summary of the action of the four parts of the tale may help readers encountering it for the first time Part I On his way back to Athens with his bride, Hypolita, and his sister in law, Emily, Duke Theseus responds to the pleas of some grieving widows by defeating Creon, the tyrant of Thebes Among the bodies of the defeated army, he finds near death the royal cousins Palamon and Arcite Rather than kill them, Theseus takes them back to Athens and places them in prison From their barred prison window, the two young men see the lovely Emily and both fall in love with her Arcite after a time is released but banished from Athens on pain of death, while Palamon remains in prison The two are envious of each others condition Part II Arcite disguises himself as a common laborer and comes back to Athens, where he gets a job working in Emilys household Meanwhile, Palamon escapes from prison, and the rival cousins chance to meet in a grove near Athens While Palamon and Arcite are fighting a bloody duel, Theseus, Hypolita, and Emily, out hunting, by chance come upon them in a grove At first angry, Theseus soon relents, sets both of his enemies free, and invites them to return in a year, each with a hundred knights, to take part in a glorious tournament, with Emilys hand going to the winner Part III Theseus builds a splendid amphitheater in preparation for the tournament and places on its west, east, and north borders elaborately decorated temples to Mars, Venus, and Diana When the two troops of warriors come back for the tournament, the three principals each pray to one of the planetary deities Palamon prays to Venus, not for victory but for the hand of Emily Emily prays to Diana to be spared marriage to either Palamon or Arcite, praying instead to remain a maiden always Arcite prays to Mars for victory in the tournament Part IV Just before the tournament begins Theseus declares that he wants no lives to be lost and restricts the kinds of weapons that may be used He sets out the rules of the game, the primary one being that the winning side will be the one that takes the loser to a stake at the end of the field After vigorous fighting, Arcites men drag the wounded Palamon to the stake No sooner is Arcite declared the winner than Saturn commands Pluto, god of the underworld, to send a diabolical fury to frighten Arcites horse Arcite is thrown and crushed by his own saddle bow After an elaborate funeral and the passage of some years, Theseus tells Palamon and Emily to marry, and they happily do so Arching over the story of the warriors and lovers down on the earth below is a heavenly conflict among the gods or,precisely, among the planetary or astrological influences that were thought to control the affairs of men Indeed, a key feature of The Knights Tale is the prayers of the three principal characters to these influences Closely tied up with the question of whether Palamon or Arcite will get the young woman they both love is the question of how the powerful Saturn will settle the conflicting demands on him of Mars, Venus, and Diana Chaucers main source for The Knights Tale is Giovanni Boccaccios several hundred page long Teseida Readers who are upset at having to read Chaucers long and leisurely story of Palamon, Arcite, and Emily should thank Chaucer for streamlining a story that is less than a quarter the length of Boccaccios Italian story of Palemone, Arcita, and Emilia Chaucer reduced the story in lots of ways, particularly by staying focused on the love story He cut out, for example, Boccaccios long opening description of Theseuss journey to the land of the s, his defeat of them, and his acquiring as his bride the ian queen Hypolita But Chaucer didthan reduce the Teseida, which focuses on Arcite as the main character, who in Boccaccio is almost a tragic figure who makes the mistake of praying to the wrong deity For Chaucer, Palamon is raised to equal importance, if notimportance, than his rival And Chaucer transforms the vain and coquettish Emilia of his source into ainnocent object of the love of rival cousins One of Chaucers most important changes was to give the story a philosophical overlay by introducing into it the ideas of the ancient philosopher Boethius One of Boethiuss key ideas was that there is a great God who designs a far better plan for human beings than they could possibly design for themselves That design sometimes involves what looks like adversity, but the adversity is always for Boethius part of a design that leads to happiness We should then, according to Boethius, not resist or fight against the troubles that come our way, but cheerfully accept them, trusting that in the end things will work out for the best The ending of The Knights Tale, then, reflects this reassuring philosophy by showing that although the three principal characters all seem at first not to get what they want most, in the end all of them do get what they want, or perhaps something even better For this and the other tales in this volume, readers should reread the portrait of the teller given by Chaucer in the General Prologue The portrait of the Knight linesshows him to be the idealized Christian soldier who fought with valor and honor at most of the important late fourteenth century battles against heathens We know less of his marital than of his martial life, but he does have a son who is with him on this pilgrimage The Knight seems, all in all, an ideal teller for the long tale of war, romance, honor, and philosophy that Chaucer assigns to him Notes Part I Femenye lineA race of warlike women, led by Hypolita, who decided that they could live and protect themselves without the help of men They are sometimes called s, their land Scithia Saturne, JunoTwo forces that Palamon blames for the setbacks that Thebes has suffered Saturn is the powerful planet Juno is the jealous wife of Jupiter, who had made love to two Theban women Part II HereosEros, a sickness associated with the intense emotion of falling in love manyeA kind of melancholy madness or mania brought on by the frustration of his love for an inaccessible woman ArgusIn classical mythology, the jealous Juno had set the hundred eyed Argus as guard to Io, who was a lover of her husband, Jupiter Argus was killed by Mercury see line, who first sang all of Arguss hundred eyes to sleep Cadme and AmphiounCadmus and Amphion are the legendary founders of the city of Thebes, home to Palamon and Arcite regne of TraceThe reference in this and the next lines is to the Thracian kingdom in which a hunter prepares himself at a mountain pass to meet a charging lion or bear Part III CitherounVenuss supposed mountainous island of Cytherea, though Chaucer may have confused the name with the name of a different location Ydelnesse, Salamon, Hercules, Medea, Circes, Turnus, CresusVarious literary, historical, and classical allusions, most of them demonstrating the follies and miseries associated with the snares of love qualmProbably a reference to the pestilence or bubonic plague that killed millions in Europe during Chaucers lifetime See also linebelow, where Saturn claims to have the power to send the plague The reference to the bubonic plague here is anachronistic, since The Knights Tale is set in the classical pre Christian era Julius, Nero, AntoniusThree famous rulers slaughtered in time of warexemplary of the mayhem and death caused by mighty Mars The last is Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Caracalla, a Roman emperor murdered in ADPuella, RubeusTwo astrological references to Mars as cast by a complicated process called geomancy, a pseudoscience involving dots and lines Calistopee, Dane, Attheon, Atthalante, Meleagre Various classical and legendary allusions to hunters or the hunted whose unfortunate tales are depicted on the walls of the temple of Diana, goddess of the hunt griffonA griffin was in Greek mythology a fearsome beast with the head and wings of an eagle on the body of a lion in hir hourePalamon picks his hour of prayer carefully The various planets were supposed to have special powers on certain hours of the day, hours in which it was particularly propitious to make prayers for their astrological influence Venus would have had special strength on the twenty third hour of Sunday night see line, when it was not yet two hours before dawn on Monday morning linethe thridde houre inequalThe medieval astrological day was divided into twenty four inequal or planetary hours In this system the time between dawn and dusk was divided equally into twelve hours, the time between dusk and the following dawn into twelveExcept at the two equinoxes, when the daylight hours would have been exactly equal in length to the nighttime hours that is, sixty minutes , the daylight hours would have been longer or shorter than the hours of darkness, depending on the time of the yearthus the inequality Emily prays to Diana on the third inequal hour after Palamon prayed to Venus That would have been the first hour of Monday moon day , or the dawn hour, the hour at which Dianas power would have been the greatest Like Palamon, Emily picks her prayer time very carefully Stace of ThebesThe Thebaid of Statius, though Chaucersdirect source was actually Boccaccios Teseida, which he does not mention by name here or elsewhere Chaucer was often eager to claim an ancient source, not a contemporary one AttheonWhile hunting, Acteon accidentally saw Diana while she was bathing In her anger she changed him into a stag, which Acteons hunting dogs then killed, not realizing that they were killing their master See linesabove, where Acteons unhappy story is artistically summarized on the walls of Dianas temple thre formesAs suggested in linesabove, the goddess was imagined to have appeared in various forms The three referred to here are probably Luna, the moon in the heavens , the chaste Diana, the huntress on earth , and Proserpina, the reluctant wife of Pluto in the underworld the nexte houre of MarsMarss next hour, the hour that Arcite would have selected for his prayer to Mars, would have been the fourth hour of that Monday Part IV al that MondayMonday is given over to partying and celebrations so that the tournament itself takes place the next day, on a Tuesday, or Marss day Mardi in French Since Tuesday is the day when the influence of Mars is strongest, it would not have surprised a medieval audience that Arcite, who had prayed to Mars, wins the tournament GalgopheyeProbably a valley in another part of Greece, perhaps Gargaphia BelmaryeProbably Benmarin in Morocco but, like the previous name, perhaps just meant to be an exotic place where wild animals were rampant and dangerous furie infernalA fury was an avenging spirit usually confined to the underworld but released from time to time to influence the affairs of men, sometimes to see that justice was done vertu expulsifThis virtue involved the ability to expel certain harmful poisons from the body This complex account of the mechanics of Arcites dying, the technical details of which are not important here, shows Chaucers awareness of the medical terminology of his day Firste MoevereThis First Mover who creates the links in the great chain of love, though later in the passage identified as Jupiter, may perhaps be read as an anachronistic stand in for the Judeo Christian godhead, the all loving deity who stands above and beyond the planetary gods and goddesses that seem to control the fates of men This prime mover determines the number of years indi vidual men and women get to live on earth and arranges things better for them than they could arrange them for themselves


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