The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

The Knight's Tale Summary

The Knight’s Tale is the story of Palamon and Arcite. They are captured by Theseus, the king of Thebes, and imprisoned in a tower together. The tower has one window, which the knights spend their days looking out of.

One day, they see Emilye, the queen’s young sister, walking in her garden. Both Palamon and Arcite fall in love with her instantly; while they fight over her at first, they soon realize there is no point in fighting, since they’re both trapped in a tower and therefore equally unlikely ever to meet her, let alone marry her.

Several years later, however, Arcite managers to escape the tower with the help of a friend. He becomes a page in Emilye’s household, but does not confess his love to her. Meanwhile, Palamon spends several more years in prison before escaping.

The two knights meet and fight over Emilye, but the fight is broken up by Theseus, who insists that they hold a proper tournament. Palamon and Arcite are each given one year to build an army and return to Thebes. The tournament will be a fight to the death, and the winner of the tournament will receive Emilye’s hand in marriage.

The evening before the tournament, Palamon, Arcite, and Emilye each visit one of the three shrines built into the walls of the tournament arena. Arcite visits the shrine of the Roman god of war, Mars, where he prays to win the tournament. Palamon visits the shrine of the Roman goddess of love, Venus, where he prays to win Emilye’s hand. Emilye, meanwhile, visits the shrine of the Roman goddess of chastity, Diana. There, she prays that Diana will allow her to remain unmarried, but she states she is willing to accept whatever Diana’s will is for her.

The next day, the tournament begins. After much fighting, Arcite emerges as the winner of the tournament, but he is thrown from his horse and suffers a fatal injury. On his deathbed, he announces his wish for Palamon to marry Emilye.

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