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The Knight's Tale

by William J. Long

The Knight's Tale. As a story, "Palamon and Arcite" is, in many respects, the best of the Canterbury Tales, reflecting as it does the ideals of the time in regard to romantic love and knightly duty. Though its dialogues and descriptions are somewhat too long and interrupt the story, yet it shows Geoffrey Chaucer at his best in his dramatic power, his exquisite appreciation of nature, and his tender yet profound philosophy of living, which could overlook much of human frailty in the thought that

Infinite been the sorwes and the teres
Of oldë folk, and folk of tendre yeres.

The idea of the story was borrowed from Boccaccio; but parts of the original tale were much older and belonged to the common literary stock of the Middle Ages. Like Shakespeare, Chaucer took the material for his poems wherever he found it, and his originality consists in giving to an old story some present human interest, making it express the life and ideals of his own age. In this respect the "Knight's Tale" is remarkable. Its names are those of an ancient civilization, but its characters are men and women of the English nobility as Chaucer knew them. In consequence the story has many anachronisms, such as the mediæval tournament before the temple of Mars; but the reader scarcely notices these things, being absorbed in the dramatic interest of the narrative.

Briefly, the "Knight's Tale" is the story of two young men, fast friends, who are found wounded on the battlefield and taken prisoners to Athens. There from their dungeon window they behold the fair maid Emily; both fall desperately in love with her, and their friendship turns to strenuous rivalry. One is pardoned; the other escapes; and then knights, empires, nature,--the whole universe follows their desperate efforts to win one small maiden, who prays meanwhile to be delivered from both her bothersome suitors. As the best of the Canterbury Tales are now easily accessible, we omit here all quotations. The story must be read entire, with the Prioress' tale of Hugh of Lincoln, the Clerk's tale of Patient Griselda, and the Nun's Priest's merry tale of Chanticleer and the Fox, if the reader would appreciate the variety and charm of our first modern poet and story-teller.