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Free Study Guide-The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer-Free BookNotes
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THE TALES: SUMMARIES AND NOTES

The Knight’s Tale

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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