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Chaucer's Canterbury Tales - Enslavement and Freedom in the Knight's Tale

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Enslavement and Freedom in the Knight's Tale   


    In the Knight's Tale, Palamon and Arcite's lives are filled with adversity and enslavement .  Not only do they live in  physical imprisonment, bound as prisoners of war in a tower, but they fall into Love's imprisonment, which leads them to suffer the decrees of cruel classical gods .  Cooper writes that there "can be no moral or metaphysical justice in the different fates that befall them; yet one dies wretchedly wounded, while the other lives out his life with Emily 'with alle blisse' " (76). One might compare their destinies with that of Jacob and Esau: one is blessed, and the other cursed in order that the providence of God might stand . This essay will argue (1) that even though Palamon and Arcite are enslaved as prisoners of war, prisoners of love, and prisoners of Saturn's decree, both knights are still responsible for their actions, and (2) that Arcite's death brings unity and restores order in Athens.

 

Palamon and Arcite are introduced into the tale as the only two surviving knights in Creon's army.  Once found by the scavengers, they are brought before Theseus and he sends them to "dwellen in prisoun/Perpetuelly" (1023-4). It is through their physical imprisonment in the "chembre an heigh" (1065) that leads them to 6xsee Emily and to fall into Love's imprisonment.  But Love's imprisonment works on Palamon and Arcite in different ways.  Arcite "falls in love with her irresistibly, by natural necessity  . . .  [whereas for Palamon, the] love of Emelye is a matter of choice rather than nature, as is shown by his repeated demand that Arcite simply stop loving her (1142-43, 1593-95, 1731)" (Roney 62).  But even though their view of love is different, they ar...


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Elbow, Peter. "How Chaucer Transcends Oppositions in the Knight's Tale." Chaucer Review. Vol. 7. No. 2. Ed. Robert Frank. Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State University, 1972.

 

Finalyson, John. "The Knight's Tale: The Dialogue Of Romance, Epic, And  Philosophy." Chaucer Review. Vol. 27. No. 2. Ed. Robert Frank. Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State University, 1992.

 

Frost, William. "An Interpretation of Chaucer's Knight's Tale." Chaucer Criticism. Vol. 1. Ed. Richard Schoeck. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1960.

 

Miller, Robert. Chaucer: Sources and Backgrounds. New York: Oxford University Press, 1977.

 

Roney, Lois. Chaucer's Knight's Tale and Theories of Scholastic Psychology.   Tampa: University of South Florida Press, 1990.

 

Spearing, A.C. The Knight's Tale. London: Cambridge University Press, 1966.

 


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