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THE TALES: SUMMARIES AND NOTES
The Squire’s Tale: Prologue
The Host requests the Squire to tell them a tale of love but the Squire refuses to do so. But not wishing to rebel against the Host’s wish he says that he will tell a tale about something else and begs to be excused if he narrates it badly.
The Squire’s Tale
There once lived a king named Cambuskan at Tzarev, in Tartary. He was continually engaged in expeditions against Russia and was known far and wide for his excellent qualities. He was brave, rich, wise, lenient, just, gentle, honorable, young, strong, lively, handsome and strong of character. This great king had two sons named Algarsyff and Cambalo through his wife Elpheta. He also had an incredibly beautiful daughter named Canace who was the youngest of his children.
When king Cambuskan completed 20 years of his rule, he held a lavish feast in celebration. The king was seated at the head of the banquet table listening to melodious music when suddenly a strange Knight burst in upon the scene. He was seated upon a horse of bronze and carried a huge mirror in one hand. He wore a golden ring on his thumb and carried a naked sword at his side. He introduced himself as Gawain and revealed that he had come bearing gifts sent by the king of Araby and India in honor of the king’s feast.
One of the gifts was a magic bronze horse that had the power to carry a man anywhere he wished to go, at an incredible speed, merely by twisting a pin. Another gift was a magic mirror that could reveal future misfortunes and the treacherous deeds committed by trusted ones. A magic ring was the third gift and it imparted to its wearer the power to understand the speech of birds. The Knight says that the mirror and the ring were presents for the king’s lovely daughter. Finally the fourth gift the magic sword was capable of cutting through the thickest armors and could heal the most fatal wounds.
The Knight then dismounted and was asked to join the feast. The magic ring was gifted to Canace with due ceremony. The Squire then relates in some detail the excitement generated in the Court by the gifts. The Knight showed the king how to operate the magic horse. The feasting continued in a grand manner almost till dawn.
The next morning Canace awoke early and wearing the magic ring went for a walk in the park. It was a beautiful morning and she could understand the meaning of the birds’ songs. However she soon came upon a withered tree and saw a falcon that was crying miserably and inflicting wounds on itself. It was a terrible sight and moved Canace extremely. Since she was wearing the ring she could understand everything the falcon said. She climbed up the tree and asked the falcon the reason for her misery. The falcon then told Canace that her fickle and dissimulating lover, the hawk, had betrayed her for a vulgar kite. The falcon then fainted in Canace’s lap after relating this tale of misfortune. Canace took the falcon to Court and nursed its wounds.
The Squire says that he will now describe the battles fought by Cambuscan, how Algarsyff overcame many hazards with the help of the magic horse, and how Cambalo won the joust with the magic sword. At this point the tale breaks off. The Franklin commends the Squire for having told a marvelous tale. The Host asks the Franklin to get on with his tale without wasting any time.
The Squire’s Tale is an aristocratic verse romance of an unknown source and deals with the theme of love. The romance is perfectly suited to the Squire’s character. It is puzzling as to why the Squire does not finish his tale. It is enticing to assume that the Franklin affably stops the Squire in the midst of his tale by pretending that it is over and praising the Squire for his eloquent story. But the reader cannot be certain that Chaucer meant this. Even though The Squire’s Tale is a fragment yet it stands on its own and indeed does not need to be completed.
The Squire’s Tale is replete with details of romantic chivalry and the pomp and splendor of court festivals. It contains a mysterious Knight and magical gifts. It is in the high style. There is mock - heroic treatment and the birds are gifted with the power of speech. The falcon finds herself in a situation atypical of courtly romance. She is the deserted lady who is pining for her fickle lover.
The Squire’s Tale is unique and introduces a new element of Oriental travel in The Canterbury Tales.
The Squire is a lovable character and tells the only kind of story that was currently fashionable in his day. But at the same time there is an implicit comment that such tales are superficial and vapid.