The Canterbury Tales


The Knight's Tale

The Knight tells a story of courtly love. In it, Theseus, the duke of Athens, is approached by four grieving Theban women. Their husbands were killed in a siege of Thebes, but Creon, the lord of Thebes, refused to bury the men or cremate their bodies. This dishonorable behavior enrages Theseus, who then marches on and seizes Thebes. He returns the men’s bodies to their widows. In the process, Theseus comes across Palamon and Arcite, two injured Theban soldiers. He heals them and imprisons them in a tower in Athens. Palamon and Arcite are confined to their prison for several years. One morning, Palamon wakes up and sees Emelye outside making flower garlands. Emelye is a beautiful woman, and she happens to Theseus’s sisters-in-law. Palamon falls instantly in love with Emelye. He begins moaning that he is separated from his love. His cries awaken Arcite, who looks out the window and instantly falls in love with Emelye, as well. The two men begin to argue about her, but then realize that, as they are both condemned to prison for life, neither of them has a real opportunity to be with her.

Perotheus, a friend of Arcite who happens to be a duke, comes to Theseus and asks that he release Arcite. Theseus agrees to release Arcite, but a condition of his release is that Arcite be banished from Athens. Instead of being thankful for his freedom, Arcite is distraught because his release from prison means that he will never see Emelye again. Palamon is equally distraught; he believes that Arcite will attack Athens in order to gain access to Emelye. Arcite takes a different tactic instead. After being visited by Mercury, the messenger for the gods, Arcite decides to enter Athens in disguise. He begins working as a page in Emelye’s chamber, using the name Philostrate. This puts him in close contact with Emelye, but not in a position where he can actually woo her. Meanwhile, Palamon has also decided to take action to get himself closer to Emelye. Rather than waste away in prison, he has escaped. He happens upon Arcite one day when Arcite is in the woods, lamenting the fact...

Sign up to continue reading The Knight's Tale >

Essays About The Canterbury Tales