The Canterbury Tales: The Knight's Tale
How we cite our quotes:
I wrecche, which that wepe and waille thus,
Was whilom wyf to kyng Cappaneus,
That starf at Thebes – cursed be that day! –
And alle we that been in this array
And maken al this lamentacioun,
We losten alle oure housbondes at that toun,
Whil that the seege theraboute lay.
The figure of the lamenting woman is a familiar one from both classical and medieval epic literature. Her role in the story is to remind the men of the consequences of their war-mongering. The widows in "The Knight's Tale" are a little different, though, because they actually encourage Theseus to go to war to avenge the desecration of their husbands' bodies.
[He] swoor his ooth, as he was a trewe knyght,
He wolde doon so ferforthly his myght
Upon the tiraunt Creon hem to wreke,
That all the peple of Grece sholde speke
How Creon was of Theseus yserved,
As he that hadde his deeth ful wel deserved.
Creon's death is necessary to make the public understand that his failure to perform the rituals of burial is unacceptable. The irony here is that by desecrating the dead, Creon becomes one of them himself.
To ransake in the taas of bodyes dede,
Hem for to strepe of harneys and of wede,
The pilours diden bisynesse and cure,
After the bataille and disconfiture.
The image of pillagers sifting through a pile of dead bodies is a gruesome one, which, like the figures of the lamenting women, reminds us of the horrors of warfare.