Essay Summary and Analysis of The Knight's Tale

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Summary and Analysis of The Knight's Tale

The Knight's Tale, Part I:

The Knight begins his tale with the story of a prince named Theseus who married Hippolyta, the queen of Scythia, and brought her and her sister, Emelye, back to Athens with him after conquering her kingdom of Amazons. When Theseus returned home victorious, he became aware that there was a company of women clad in black who knelt at the side of the highway, shrieking. The oldest of the women asked Theseus for pity. She told him that she was once the wife of King Cappaneus who was destroyed at Thebes, and that all of the other women with her lost their husbands. Creon, the lord of the town, simply tossed the dead bodies of the soldiers in a single pile and refused to
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The Knight poses this question: which has the worse case: Arcite, who has his freedom but not access to Emelye, or Palamon, who can see Emelye but remains a prisoner?

Analysis

The Knight tells a tale of courtship and chivalry, focused on the deeds of soldiers and princes, the social milieu in which the Knight travels. Even the structure of the tale obeys the structure and hierarchy within society. The Knight does not start with the main characters of the tale, Arcite and Palamon; instead, he begins at the apex of society, describing the exploits of Theseus of Athens, working downward until he reaches the less distinguished Theban soldiers.

The Knight's Tale adheres to traditional values of honor in which there are strict codes of behavior which one must follow. This code of chivalry is not necessarily polite and decent. In the morality of the tale, Theseus' sudden decision to ransack Thebes to right a wrong is perfectly acceptable as punishment for a transgression against the honor of the dead soldiers.

The dynamics of the Knight's tale are relatively simple. The tale is instructive, positing the question of which knight ­ Arcite or Palamon ­ has a superior situation. The situation and the moral questions that it poses thus become more important than the qualities of the individual characters. They exist to be moved by the events of the story: to be imprisoned and set free whenever the plot demands, or to fall in love at first sight when it is
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