The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

The Knight's Tale Analysis

In the General Prologue, the Knight is described as the very flower of chivalry, and his Tale espouses many of the ideals of chivalry and courtly love. Both Arcite and Palamon are knights who place their love for their “lady,” Emilye, over all other concerns, including their own deaths. They lose sleep and utter eloquent, long-winded poetic complaints detailing their all-consuming love for their idealized lady; in the courtly love tradition, lovers were expected to behave in precisely this manner.

Meanwhile, the ending of the tale is foreshadowed in the visits to the various shrines. Arcite seeks the help of the god of war and manages to win the tournament, but lose his life and Emilye. Palamon seeks the help of the goddess of love and, while he loses the tournament, he wins Emilye’s hand in marriage. Only Emilye, who prays to remain single, does not get her wish; however, if she is troubled by this result, the Tale doesn’t tell us. The tale’s main theme is that life itself is unstable: joy and sorrow are never far apart, and fortune can change at a moment’s notice.

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