The Knight's Tale  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

"The Knight's Tale" is the first tale from Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales. The story introduces many typical aspects of knighthood such as courtly love and ethical dilemmas. The story is in iambic pentameter using 10 syllables for every line.

Arcite and Palamon, who are nephews of King Creon of Thebes, have a close brotherly bond. But they are captured and imprisoned by Theseus, duke of Athens following his intervention against Creon. Their cell is in the tower of Theseus's castle which overlooks his palace garden. In prison Palamon wakes early one morning in May, to see Emily (Emeley) in the courtyard; his moan is heard by Arcite, who then too wakes to see Emily, and falls in love with her as well.

The sense of competition brought about by this love causes them to hate each other. Arcite is released from prison through the good offices of Theseus's friend Pirithoos, and then returns to Athens in disguise and enters service in Emily's household. Palamon eventually escapes by drugging the gaoler and then encounters Arcite while on the run.

They attempt to fight a duel but are thwarted by the arrival of Theseus, who sentences them to enrol their friends and fight a mass judicial tournament, the winner of which is to marry Emily. The forces assemble; Palamon prays to make Emily his wife; Emily prays to stay unmarried and that if that should prove impossible that she marry the one who really loves her; and Arcite prays for victory. Arcite wins the battle, but is killed by his horse falling on him before he can claim Emily as his prize, and so Palamon marries her.


Teseida delle nozze di Emilia by Giovanni Boccaccio is the source of the tale. "The Knight's Tale", though, is a very loose translation, shortening Boccaccio's 9000 line epic to a little over 2000 lines and changing the genre to romance. Although some of the plot is lost, an undercurrent of philosophy is added by Chaucer, mainly inspired by the Consolation of Philosophy of Boethius which Chaucer had also translated.

John Dryden translated this story to a more modern language in the style of his time. Dryden's book is entitled Palamon and Arcite and is longer than the original text due to Dryden's own poetic touches.

Literary value

The Knight and his tale supposedly embody the ideas of chivalry, but Chaucer's Knight, a book by Terry Jones, portrays the knight as a mercenary and far from a gallant, ethical, gentle character (though this theory has been widely disputed by the academic community).

The following tale, by the Miller, is a direct antithesis to the Knight's with none of the nobility or heritage of classical mythology, but is instead rollicking, bawdy, comedic and designed to annoy the Knight.

The Two Noble Kinsmen, a play co-written by William Shakespeare and John Fletcher, is based on the tale.

Popular culture

The 2001 movie A Knight's Tale, starring Heath Ledger, takes its name from this story, and a fictionalized version of Chaucer Paul Bettany appears as a character. At the end of the film, a small joke is made about this poem wherein the fictionalized Chaucer claims that he will put this particular tale into writing, referencing "The Knight's Tale" written by the real Chaucer.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "The Knight's Tale" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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