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The Canterbury Tales

Though written in the medieval period, ChaucerÆs Canterbury Tales demonstrate that medieval society was populated by individuals who often relied on classical tradition, including paganism, despite the dominantly Christian tone and tenor of the times.

The ôKnightÆs Taleö consists of a chivalric romance in which two Theban cousins, Palamon and Arcite both fall in love with the imprisoned Emily. A mixture of the Christian chivalric code of honor embodied in the Arthurian ideal, the two knights determine to battle for her hand. However, the tale continually employs pagan features despite its knightly, i.e. Christian, elements. Palamon seeks the help of Venus to win, while Arcite prays to Mars for victory. At the same time, Emily prays to Diana that both cousins will forget her and resolve their quarrel. Yet Arcite wonders about the methods of God and the ignorance of human free will. Palamon curses the earthly realm in which he is trapped, ôO crueel goddess that governe/This world with bynding of youre word eterne,à/What is mankynde moore unto you holde/Than is the sheep that rouketh in the folde?ö (Chaucer 2004). In contrast, Arcite contemplates the afterlife, ôWhat is this world? what asketh men to have?ö (Chaucer 2004).

The ôMillerÆs Taleö once more demonstrates the mixture of Christian and Pagan elements in Medieval society. The tale revolves around ôadultery,ö the breaking of a Christian commandment. It also uses the Christian myth of NoahÆs flood as a device to fool the Miller. Alison cheats on her older, carpenter husband with a young student who boards with them. Lack of being faithful pertains to Christianity, but we also see the use of pagan and classical references. While we are told ôJhesusö is the ôhevene kyngö, we also see an indictment of paganism when we are told, ôMen sholde nat knowe of Goddes pryveteeö (Chaucer 2004).

The ôWife of BathÆs Taleö encompasses a pagan


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The Canterbury Tales. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 21:01, August 06, 2020, from