The Knight's Tale, Part I:
The Knight begins his tale with the story of a prince named Theseus who married Hippolyta, the queen of Scythia, and brought her and her sister, Emelye, back to Athens with him after conquering her kingdom of Amazons. When Theseus returned home victorious, he became aware that there was a company of women clad in black who knelt at the side of the highway, shrieking. The oldest of the women asked Theseus for pity. She told him that she was once the wife of King Cappaneus who was destroyed at Thebes, and that all of the other women with her lost their husbands. Creon, the lord of the town, simply tossed the dead bodies of the soldiers in a single pile and refused to burn or bury them. Theseus swore vengeance upon Creon, and immediately ordered his armies toward Thebes. Theseus vanquished Creon, and when the soldiers were disposing of the bodies they found two young knights, Arcite and Palamon, two royal cousins, not quite dead. Theseus ordered that they be imprisoned in Athens for life. They passed their time imprisoned in a tower in Athens until they saw Emelye in a nearby garden. Both fall immediately in love with her. Palamon compares her to Venus, and he prays for escape from the prison, while Arcite claims that he would rather be dead than not have Emelye. The two bicker over her, each calling the other a traitor. This happened on a day in which Pirithous, a prince and childhood friend of Theseus, came to Athens. Pirithous had known Arcite at Thebes, and on his request Theseus set Arcite free on the promise that Arcite would never be found in Theseus' kingdom. He now had his freedom, but not the ability to pursue Emelye, and lamented the cruelty of fate...
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...ructure of the tale gives priority to certain values. Theseus, the arbiter in the conflict between Arcite and Palamon and thus the character in the tale who determines the moral significance of the characters' actions, places great emphasis on honorable codes of conduct; he sets specific rules for the battle meant to ensure justice, and even orders that no soldier shall die in the battle (which then descends from a contest among gladiators to a rough approximation of modern sports). Compounding these values is a tendency toward displays of wealth and power. Each of the final events in the story are punctuated by great pageantry. On the orders of Theseus, the simple duel between Arcite and Palamon transforms into a gala event requiring the construction of a massive coliseum for two armies to wage war on one another, even bringing in the kings of two foreign nations.
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