In what ways and to what extent is Chaucer's Knight's Tale appropriate to its teller, "a verray parfit, gentil knycht?Sophie KingChaucer's Knight's Tale is a story in which the courtly ideals of the chivalric knight are questioned. The narrator of the story, a knight himself, tells us about the noble Theseus and his rule over Athens. Theseus is appropriate to the description "a verray parfit gentil knycht" as much as the narrator himself but we come to question the perfection of both as the story progresses.
Although based on classical Greek mythology Chaucer writes in medieval terms. There is still great debate today about the values of the medieval knight that so often appears in Chaucer's work. Reading courtly poetry and stories of medieval romance might trick us into believing the nobility of knights but the reality would have been much less romantic in the cruel and turbulent times of the medieval world Chaucer writes about. The Knight's tale might be said to uphold the power of chivalry and express the nature of the noble life, but as the story unwinds it becomes easier to see the limitations and realities of chivalric power and raises profound questions on courtly love.
Winthrop Wetherbee suggests,The relationship of love and war is one sided: honouring his lady confirms the knight's courtesy but it is most of all an excuse for the self-centered enterprise of demonstrating prowess. In practise warfare remains the true test of chivalry and courtesy is largely the stuff of courtly poetryThus there is a clash of priorities and it appears impossible for the perfect knight to be loyal to his neighbour, to his lady, to God, to war and to everything else the code of chivalry entails. The nature of warfare in itself is a crime against courtesy. An example of this is within the fight between Arcite and Palamon in the forest. They courteously help each other to arm and then a fight to the death ensues. It raises the question whether it is even possible to be a perfect and noble knight when the two main aspects of the tale are love and war. Being a knight becomes a contradiction in itself.
Although Chaucer uses "a verray parfit gentil knycht" in the general prologue to describe the narrator, it seems to refer directly and undoubtedly to the character of Theseus too. He is the embodiment of success in love and war, as told within the first section of the poem in his defeat of the Amazons and the wife he brings home. Critics have said Theseus is the spokesman of mood and morals throughout the story. He is equal in nobility of character and depth of feeling. He embodies chivalric heroism in its highest form.
Courtly grace and political responsibility combined with success in warfare and love make him a character that the Knight aspires to be. He never doubts the values and decisions of Theseus making it easy as a reader to see the Duke as a "verray parfit gentil knycht. But we must of course always be cautious of the narrator. Theseus is symbolic of the ideal knight which is exactly what the teller intended him to be when telling the story within the Canterbury tales. I call him symbolic as we never really learn much of his personality. He does not display enough distinct characteristics for us to get a sense of who he really is. We only know of his courageousness and wisdom throughout. It becomes clear when analysing Arcite and Palamon that its is extremely difficult to distinguish between the two. Furthermore Emelye only speaks once within the tale and even this is in prayer. This suggests the meaning of the Knight's Tale is not displayed through characterization. A. C. Spearing says it is, "more like a perception of the nature of the human condition as a whole."Returning to Theseus, we witness his first example of gallantry behaviour. After winning at war he discovers the weeping widows and their husbands, "dead bodyes vileynye" since Creon refuses to allow proper burials. Since vileynye is the opposite of...
Bibliography: ishop, Ian. The narrative art of The Canterbury tales : a critical study of the major poems. London : Dent, 1988Spearing, A.C. The Knight 's Tale. London : Cambridge University Press, 1966.
Wetherbee, Winthrop. Geoffery Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales. Cambridge : Cambridge University Press, 1989.
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