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Barron's Booknotes-The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer-Free Book Notes
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THE KNIGHT'S TALE

PLOT

Duke Theseus of Athens wins the country of the Amazons and marries Queen Hippolyta, taking her and her beautiful sister Emelye back to Athens. To his amazement, he sees women wailing, but not because of his return. These women have lost their husbands during the siege of Thebes, and Thebes' cruel tyrant Creon refuses to bury the bodies. Theseus immediately vows revenge and rides to Thebes, where he vanquishes Creon and returns their husbands' bones to the women.

In a pile of bodies, pillagers find the young royal Theban knights Palamon and Arcite, who are cousins. They are still alive. Theseus sends them to Athens to be imprisoned for life, and returns home.

Locked in a tower, Palamon one May morning sees Emelye walking in the garden, and falls instantly and madly in love with her. As he explains his love to Arcite, his cousin also spies Emelye and he too is captured by her beauty. immediately the cousins, who have been as close as brothers since birth, become sworn enemies over the love of Emelye.

Another duke, Perotheus, arrives in Athens to visit Duke Theseus. Perotheus also knows Arcite well, and when he hears the knight is Theseus' prisoner, he begs for Arcite's release. Theseus agrees on condition that Arcite never be seen in any of Theseus' lands, on pain of death. So Arcite returns to Thebes, heartbroken that he can never again see Emelye. At least Palamon, locked in the tower, can look at her, he moans. Meanwhile Palamon sighs that he is wretched, but lucky Arcite can gather an army in Thebes and return to conquer Athens to win the lady.

Finally Arcite can't stand it anymore and risks returning to Athens to see Emelye. He is so pale and thin from lovesickness that he's unrecognizable, so he is able to become a page at Theseus' court, still worshipping Emelye from afar.


One morning Arcite is walking in a grove, exclaiming how unfair it is that he can't even disclose his identity. What he doesn't know is that Palamon has escaped from prison and is overhearing every word from behind a bush. He leaps out and vows to kill Arcite for loving Emelye.

The two agree to meet the next day and fight to the death, but when they do, Theseus, Queen Hippolyta, and Emelye happen along and see the battle. Palamon tells Theseus the whole story, declares his and Arcite's love for Emelye, and admits they both should die for disobeying him. Theseus has pity and declares a tournament joust instead. Each knight may enlist one hundred other knights and whoever wins the battle shall have Emelye.

Palamon prays to Venus, goddess and planet of love. Arcite prays to Mars, god of war. In the heavens, Saturn promises Venus that her favorite, Palamon, shall win. Palamon is captured in the tournament, and Arcite wins. But as Arcite comes forward to accept Emelye, Saturn shakes the ground so that Arcite's horse falls and kills him. As he dies, Arcite asks Emelye to have pity on Palamon if she ever marries.

Years pass, and when mourning for Arcite is over, Theseus declares that the world must go on. He orders Emelye and Palamon to be married, since Palamon has suffered so long for her love. With this happy event, the tale ends.

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