Free Study Guide for The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer|
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THE CANTERBURY TALES: FREE ONLINE BOOK SUMMARY / NOTES
After several years, one fresh May morning beautiful Emelye happened to wander about the garden gathering flowers to weave a garland. The garden was adjoining the great tower in which Arcite and Palamon were imprisoned. Palamon who was cursing his fate happened to see Emily through a window and gave a startled cry of anguish. The alarmed Arcite questions him about this behavior. Palamon replies that he had cried out in anguish because of the unearthly beauty of the lady wandering in the garden. Arcite’s curiosity was piqued and he too looked out of the window. Emily’s beauty struck him to the quick and he declared that he would die unless he saw her everyday. These words angered Palamon who accused Arcite of being a traitor to declare love for a lady whom he chose first. Arcite disdainfully replied that while Palamon’s love was nothing more than a religious feeling while his was real love, the love of a human being. Despite the fact that they are kin and sworn brothers they decide that everything is fair in love and war. They concur that each one shall fight for himself for love. Their friendship soon paled into a bitter and long strife.
It so happened that one day a duke named Perotheus, who was a friend of both Theseus and Arcite, arrived in Athens on a friendly visit. He requested Theseus to free Arcite on certain terms and conditions. It was decided that Arcite would be freed but he shall have to leave Athens forever. If he were ever found in Athens he would be beheaded.
Arcite is very sad at this turn of events and laments that it is his fate
to permanently dwell in hell. When he was imprisoned he could at least
catch a glimpse of his beloved Emily but now he is condemned never to
see her again. He thinks that Palamon is luckier since he is still imprisoned
and can enjoy Emily’s presence. In the meanwhile when Palamon realizes
that Arcite has been released, he goes wild with grief. He thinks that
Arcite can raise an army in Thebes and attack Athens and capture Emelye.
The Knight now pauses and asks the reader to make the impossible decision
about who is in a worse condition, Arcite or Palamon.
Arcite returned to Thebes and spent all his days lamenting his separation from Emelye. He didn’t eat, drink or sleep. Thus he grew as thin as a stick and his complexion became pale and sallow. This melancholic state of affairs continued for almost 2 years. One night while sleeping he saw the vision of Mercury which exhorted him to go to Athens. Arcite resolved to go back to Athens and to his fair Emily irrespective of the consequences. Upon looking into a mirror he realized that his appearance had undergone such a drastic change that he might remain unnoticed in Athens. He immediately disguised himself as a poor laborer and set off for Athens. Arriving at Athens he assumed the name of Philostrate and offered his services at the court and was assigned as a chamber page to Emily. As the years passed by he soon became popular in the whole court and rapidly rose in rank to become a chamber squire and a trusted confidante of Theseus. He spent nearly 3 years in this manner.
In the meanwhile worry and distress wore out Palamon who was still imprisoned
for seven years. One May night Palamon broke out of his prison with the
help of his friend who had drugged the jailer. Palamon fled from the city
and decided to hide in the woods by daylight and to return home to Thebes
by night, to raise an army and win Emelye as his bride. As luck would
have it Arcite who had become the chief squire happened to arrive in the
same woods where Palamon was taking refuge. Not knowing that Palamon was
hiding in a thicket nearby Arcite began to muse upon the sad events of
his life. Palamon, having heard Arcite’s tale, was filled with rage and
confronted him by calling him a foul traitor. Arcite then challenged Palamon
to a duel to decide who was to win Emelye. The next morning Arcite arrived
with food and armaments sufficient for both of them. The duel began and
they fought furiously against each other. It so happened that Theseus,
who loved to go on hunts, arrived along with Hippolyta and Emelye at the
very spot where Arcite and Palamon were fighting. Theseus ordered them
to stop fighting at once. When Palamon revealed their true identities
and the cause of the duel, Theseus condemned them to a death sentence.
However Queen Hippolyta and Emelye begged Theseus to have some mercy on
them. The tears of the women had the desired effect on Theseus who resolved
to free both Arcite and Palamon provided they swore never to harm Athens.
Theseus also proposed a scheme to solve the matter of love for Emily.
He said that Arcite and Palamon should return within a year with an army
of 100 knights each, to fight a joust for winning Emily. Palamon and Arcite
were overjoyed by Theseus’s generous gesture and returned to Thebes happily.
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