Chaucer's Canterbury Tales - Knight's Tale

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The Knight's Tale

As the Knight begins his tale, which he embarks upon without preamble, we are instantly reminded of the stateliness of the Knight, his overwhelming human dignity and moral world view, which Chaucer described in the general prologue. The Knight is the epitome of a man of the first estate - noble and humble, courageous and gentle, a warrior and a saint. As befits his elevated class, he speaks with elegance and seriousness about the important attitudes and values that any human - and a privileged human in particular - should cherish.

While as the beginning tale-teller by virtue of his rank he is committed to follow Harry Bailey's order to entertain and inform with "sentence and moost solas," like all his other activities in life he approaches his story with a sense of purpose: to teach his fellow pilgrims of the vital importance of embracing a worthy philosophy. Deeply embedded in his tale of Arcite and Palamon is a critique of courtly love and of a right-ordered world, which happens to correspond to the writings of Boethius, a work that, not incidentally, was translated into English by Chaucer.

The Knight's tale - a tragic historic romance - is about a world he knows well. The father figure in the story - a man not unlike the Knight himself - is Theseus, who has married Ypolita, the Amazon queen whose people he has conquered. Two of the defeated warriors from Thebes, Arcite and Palamon are taken captive to Athens and imprisoned. From their cell in a tower they see, and fall in love with, Ypolita's beautiful sister Emylye. The path of this true, and courtly, love does not run smoothly. For in addition to the love object being completely out of reach, the tw...

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...wever, in spite of her brazen stance, one senses Alison's dissatisfaction with her life - she is a victim of her own chaotic behavior - and one senses her longing for her youth and sexual vitality.

The tale she tells of the ugly old hag and the rapist knight is a mirror of her own inner life and longing. She tells her tale, a fairy tale, in fact, of what she wishes her life could be. One wonders about the veracity of her mastery of her husbands as a consequence of her tale. Is she in fact the old woman who is restored to beauty and youth by the love of a young man?

In this tale, Chaucer shows us that the concept one spouse's mastery over another is a losing proposition. Happiness and peace come from living together in harmony, one out of concern for the other - sharing respect and courtesy.

The Knight would agree.
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