The Knight's Tale

The Knight's Tale
The first page of Knight's Tale in the Ellesmere manuscript

"The Knight's Tale" (Middle English: The Knightes 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 written in iambic pentameter end-rhymed couplets.



Cousins Arcite and Palamon, who are nephews of King Creon of Thebes, have a close brotherly bond. 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 (Emelye) 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 competition brought about by this love causes them to hate each other. After some years, 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 while hiding in a grove overhears Arcite complaining about love and fortune.

They attempt to fight a duel but are thwarted by the arrival of Theseus, who sentences them to enroll their friends and fight a mass judicial tournament, the winner of which is to marry Emily. The forces assemble; Palamon prays to Venus to make Emily his wife; Emily prays to Diana to stay unmarried and that if that should prove impossible that she marry the one who really loves her; and Arcite prays to Mars for victory. Arcite wins the battle, but following an intervention by Saturn is wounded 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 free adaptation, shortening Boccaccio's 9000 line epic to a little over 3000 lines and changing the genre to romance. An undercurrent of philosophy is added by Chaucer, mainly inspired by the Consolation of Philosophy of Boethius which Chaucer had also translated.[1]

The following tale, by the Miller, also involves the conflict between two men over a woman. It 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 1613 play co-written by William Shakespeare and John Fletcher, is based on the tale.

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.

The story is one of the tales that inspired the movie A Knight's Tale.


See also

External links

Preceded by
General Prologue
The Canterbury Tales Succeeded by
The Miller's Prologue and Tale

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