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The Knight's Tale

The Knight’s Tale is a “chivalric romance adapted from Boccaccio’s Teseida” (Murphy 563). The story revolves around two Theban cousins, Palamon and Arcite who both fall in love with the sight of Emily while imprisoned. They both plot to win her hand, Palamon by escaping from prison and Arcite by disguising himself as a servant. The cousins determine to fight with full knightly regalia to win the right to love Emily. It is at this point the gods intercede. Palamon prays to Venus to win his love while Arcite prays to Mars to win the battle the cousins have arranged to conduct. Meanwhile, Emily prays to Diana that both cousins forget her and their quarrel. The chivalric knights portrayed in the story are characteristic of medieval literature and the kinds of people with whom Chaucer was undoubtedly familiar “Chaucer did not need to make a pilgrimage himself in order to meet the types of people that his fictitious pilgrimage includes, for most of them had long inhabited literature as well as life: the ideal Knight, who had fought against the pagans in all the great battles of the last half-century” (Abrams 99).

It is Saturn who determines the outcome of the cousins’ fate. It is determined that Arcite will win the battle between the two but he will be fatally thrown from his horse on the way to greet Emily. Like the noble knight he is, as he is dying he gives Emily to Palamon. The relationship between the knights and Emily and the gods is no accident. Chaucer was trying to define the ways of man to god and to each other. The nobility of the knights is meant to symbolize the nobility of the gods “A pair of knights, equal in worthiness, vie for Emily, who will be forsaken by her goddess. All three are of noble birth, under the impartial rule of Theseus, the epitome of heavenly rulership. Mirroring the microcosm of man is the macrocosm of the gods” (Anfield 2).


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The Knight's Tale. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 19:39, August 12, 2020, from