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The Canterbury Tales: The Knight's Tale

The Canterbury Tales: The Knight's Tale


by Geoffrey Chaucer

The Canterbury Tales: The Knight's Tale Theme of Death

In "The Knight's Tale," death is closely connected to love on multiple levels. Like love, says Theseus, death is the great equalizer. It's an experience that every human – whether rich or poor, fat or thin, smart or silly – will someday endure. Like love, death makes the characters feel powerless over their fates. Like other stories that fall into the genre of courtly love, "The Knight's Tale" is in the habit of talking about love in terms of death.  Yes, Palamon and Arcite seem like drama queens when they complain that their love of Emily "slays" them, that they will "die" if separated from her.  But the placement of this metaphor next to very literal (and sometimes gory) deaths brings out the similarities between these two kinds of death in an original way.

Questions About Death

  1. How do Palamon and Arcite connect their love for Emily to death and dying?
  2. In what ways does "The Knight's Tale" portray love and death as similar? Look particularly at Theseus's speeches.
  3. What does Egeus, Theseus's father, have to say about death?
  4. What does Theseus say is the proper response to death? Why? Do you agree with him?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

"The Knight's Tale" portrays love and death as similar in the way in which they happen to everyone, and in which we have no control over when and where they strike us.

Theseus's speech about the proper response to death reveals a worldview that values reputation and honor over life itself.

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