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Free Study Guide for The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

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THE CANTERBURY TALES: FREE LITERATURE NOTES / CRITICISM

CHAPTER SUMMARY / ANALYSIS

The Knight’s Tale - Part 3

Summary

In the meanwhile Theseus spared no expense and built a magnificent amphitheater in which the proposed joust would take place. The Knight describes in great detail the magnificent carvings and figurines which adorned the amphitheater. Theseus built an altar for Venus - the goddess of love - at the eastern gate, another one for Mars - the god of war, and a rich offertory for Diana - the goddess of chastity. At the requisite time Arcite and Palamon arrived in Athens for the joust with their 100 knights in great majestic splendor. Theseus strove to ensure the utmost comfort of his guests and entertained them with banquets, feasts, music, wine, dancing, and singing. That Sunday night long before the approach of dawn Palamon prayed to Venus to grant him the sole possession of Emily. Although Mars is the god of war, Palamon does not care about winning the joust. He only wants to gain Emelye and if he fails to do so he would rather die by Arcite’s spear. At sunrise Emily went to Diana’s altar and prays that she might always remain a virgin and that Palamon and Arcite’s love is turned elsewhere. If this is not possible, she prays, that at least she should have the one who loves her the most. Diana appears before Emily and tells her that she shall marry one of these two men but she can’t reveal which one. An amazed Emelye resigns herself to Diana’s care and goes away. An hour later Arcite arrived to pray to Mars for victory in the joust. The carved image of Mars shook and softly murmured "victory!" to assure Arcite.

These conflicting prayers caused a furious row in heaven between Venus and Mars. Jupiter’s efforts to make peace were in vain. Old Saturn, the god of destiny, solved the problem by finding an answer that satisfied both Venus and Mars. assured that Palamon would win Emily and promised that Arcite would emerge victorious in the joust.


The Knight’s Tale - Part 4


Summary

At last the day for the fight arrived. The excited Athenians swarmed in huge numbers to the amphitheater. Theseus announced that there would be no mortal combat and that once a man fell down or was wounded he would be forcibly removed from the arena by the marshals. This would prevent mindless destruction of noble blood. Thereafter Theseus along with Arcite, Palamon and their knights rode elegantly into the amphitheater for the joust. The bloody fight began with the sounding of trumpets and eventually Arcite wounded Palamon and the latter was forcibly carried away from the field.

There rose a roar of approval for Arcite who had emerged victorious. Arcite took off his helmet and rode his horse around the amphitheater to acknowledge the crowd’s cheers and Emelye’s friendly overtures. But suddenly a fury sent by Plato at Saturn’s request erupted. This frightened Arcite’s horse and Arcite was thrown off his horse and was fatally injured. He was carried away to Theseus’ palace for recuperation.

Theseus also returned to his court. Despite the unfortunate mishap it was generally believed that Arcite would recover from his injuries. An atmosphere of happiness prevailed because of the fact that though both had been wounded nobody had been killed in the joust. Theseus celebrated the happy conclusion of the joust for 3 days and distributed gifts among everybody involved.

In the meanwhile Arcite’s condition worsened and Theseus’ physicians were unable to help him. It was evident that he would die. He sent for Emelye and after protesting his consuming love for her he asked her to marry Palamon since there wasn’t anyone as worthy as him. Arcite died in Emelye’s arms. Emelye was inconsolable with grief and nobody could comfort Theseus. Theseus chose the grove where Arcite and Palamon had first fought one another for performing Arcite’s funeral rites. In a grand ceremony, flames consumed Arcite’s body. After some years the period of mourning ended. Theseus sent for Palamon. In front of the whole court and Emily, Theseus said that Jupiter - the god of destiny - had decreed that Emily should marry Palamon. Through this marriage, Athens also secured the allegiance of Thebe. Emily and Palamon lived in blissful conjugal harmony.

Notes

The Knight’s Tale is a romance based on Boccaccio’s "Teseida". It deals with the theme of chivalry and is perfectly suited to the Knight’s character. It is a tale about noble life and consists of noble Knights and virtuous ladies. The tale primarily deals with the love of Arcite and Palamon for Emelye. This story is related with an amazing wealth of detailed descriptions and realism of expression. There is no coarseness or bawdiness in the story in keeping with the Knight’s character. The love of the two young men is noble and ideal. The young men share idealized love for the indifferent Emily. The only possible end of this love can be in marriage. There is no desire for an illicit relationship.

The Tale commends bravery in war, gallantry, courtesy, glory and honor. Arcite and Palamon are in love with the same lady. While Arcite is exiled, Palamon escapes from prison. They accidentally meet each other in a forest grove and boiling anger leads them to resolve the issue through a duel. However Arcite does not fight an unarmed Palamon. He brings him food and armor before the duel. This is in accordance with the chivalric code of conduct.

The tale reflects the Knight’s love of pageantry, pomp and splendor. The Knight describes at length the lavish arrangements made for the joust and the feasting that followed. The joust or tournament is the central episode of the tale and the deciding factor. The vision of a hundred Knights fighting on either side is a magnificent one. The joust is the climactic point of the story and reflects the Knight’s love of warfare and battle. The Knight belongs to the warrior class and war is the way of life for him. It is ironic however that warfare and aggression decide the fate of love.

Chance or fortune plays a great role in the plot of the Knight’s tale. The reader however does not mind this element of excessive coincidence and willingly accepts it as an integral part of a romance. Coincidences in fact propel the action. It is by chance that Palamon sees Emelye out of the prison window. The biggest coincidence is that both Arcite and Palamon fall in love with the same woman. It is again a coincidence that Duke Perotheus is a good friend of both Arcite and Duke Theseus and secures Arcite’s release from prison. Similarly when Palamon escapes from the prison tower he accidentally arrives at the same spot where Arcite is bemoaning his fate. Again Duke Theseus coincidentally arrives at the very same place where Arcite and Palamon are engaged in a bloody duel to determine who shall have Emelye. The Knight through this story is trying to imply that the lives of people are determined by Chance or coincidence. These however are ultimately controlled by the Gods as is seen in this story where Saturn, the god of destiny, ultimately decides the fate of the young lovers. Thus while Arcite wins the joust and in turn Emelyess, he falls from his horse and dies. It is Palamon who marries Emily since he was destined to do so.

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