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THE TALES: SUMMARIES AND NOTES
The Knight’s Tale
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.
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.
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.