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Anti-War Protest in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales

Anti-War Protest in ChaucerÆs Canterbury Tales

According to Murphy (p. 563), ChaucerÆs The KnightÆs Tale is a ôchivalric romance adapted from BoccaccioÆs Teseida.ö In this tale of two Theban cousins, Palamon and Arcite, who fall in love with the same woman, Emily, we see that ChaucerÆs tale provides us with not only a chivalric romance but an anti-war protest.

The KnightÆs Tale is first after the general prologue. When drawing straws to go fist, to the delight of all involved the knight draws the shortest straw. However, the author does not seem to enjoy the war-like atmosphere of TheseusÆ Thebes. In one passage we see ChaucerÆs criticism of war, which appears to be the piling up of dead bodies for personal glory, ôAnd dide with al the contree as hym lest. / To ransake in the taas of bodyes dede, / Hem for to strepe of harneys and of wede, / The pilours diden bisynesse and cure / After the bataille and discomfitureö (Chaucer, 1004-1008).

We see in this tale that war is something that not only interferes with the happiness of mankind but also the happiness of the gods. As Anfield (p. 2) notes, ôA pair of knights, equal in worthiness, view for Emily, who will be forsaken by her goddess. All three are of noble birth...Mirroring the microcosm of man is the macrocosm of the gods.ö

In the beginning of The KnightÆs Tale, we see that Theseus is presented as a great conqueror and governor of Athens. However, by the end of the tale these sentiments are in stark contrast to those of Arcite, when he contemplates the afterlife: ôWhat is this world? what asketh men to have? / Now with his love, now in his colde grave,ö (Chaucer, 2777-2778). As such, we see that in reality The KnightÆs Tale is a protest against the futility of war.

Anfield, K. ôChaucerÆs KnightÆs Tale.ö Viewed on Jan 11, 2005:, pp. 1-4.


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