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Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales: Exploring Injustice in the Knight's Tale Essay

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In "The Ending of 'Troilus,'" E. Talbot Donaldson writes in response to the conclusion of the "Knight’s Tale," one of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, "What it does suggest…is that Providence is not working justly." Though Donaldson correctly points out the fact that the "Knight’s Tale" ends in injustice, he confuses the role of sin in the injustice with the role of God. He asserts that God is to blame for the injustice in the "Knight's Tale" rather than exploring the role of human sinfulness.

The Knight, an honorable, generous, courteous, and noble member of a party of twenty-nine people on a pilgrimage to the English town of Canterbury during the Middle Ages, tells his tale as part of a storytelling contest the pilgrims’ host holds. The "Knight’s Tale" takes place in Ancient Greece and relates the story of Arcite and Palamon, two cousins who risk their lives to win the love of Emily, Duke Theseus' beautiful sister-in-law. Originally, Arcite and Palamon come from Thebes, a rival of Athens, but Theseus captures and imprisons them during a war. During their incarceration, the cousins notice Emily. Her beauty causes pain in their hearts, as their detention prevents them from roaming about and getting to know fair Emily. Arcite explains, "The freshness of her beauty strikes me dead" (Coghill 49). The cousins’ obsession with Emily’s beauty, which they incorrectly describe as love, leads the two to go to battle against one another to determine which of them will gain the privilege of marrying this woman who "fairer was of mien/Than is the lily on its stalk of green" (Coghill 47). Though Arcite wins the battle, his horse gets spooked and he falls off and dies, thus transferring the right to marry Emily to Palamon, who lives happily ever...


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...y situation that will ever occur. Humans cannot know God’s reasons for the way things turn out. People must trust Him to do what’s right. Donaldson’s entire argument revolves around the false expectation that, since God loves the world, nothing bad should happen and He should always deal out justice. Though Donaldson correctly realizes that prayers are not always answered and justice is not always carried forth, he blames the conclusion on God, rather than where it is actually due – on sin in the world.

Works Cited

Bible (King James Version). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B Eerdman's Publishing Co., 2003.

Coghill, Nevill. Introduction. The Canterbury Tales. By Geoffrey Chaucer. Trans. Coghill. London: Penguin, 2000.

Donaldson, E. Talbot, “The Ending of ‘Troilus’,” Chaucer’s Troilus: Essays in Criticism
ed. Stephen A. Barney Hamden, CT: Archon Books, 1980


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