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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 Fate and Free Will

All of the characters in "The Knight's Tale" believe that larger forces are at work behind everything that happens to them, deciding their destinies in love and life, and determining the time and circumstances of their deaths. Variously called "Fortune," "destynee," any one of the gods, or the "Firste Moevere," this mysterious force writes people's fates in the stars. As Theseus reminds everyone in his "First Moevere" speech, it is pointless to rage against fate. Still, he's confident that the First Mover has a plan, and that what may seem senseless is actually part of something larger than ourselves.

All this talk about destiny and fate raises the question of how much responsibility an individual has for the course of his life. But the thing is, "The Knight's Tale" isn't really concerned with that question. Instead, it points to the fruitlessness of trying to shape one's own destiny. The proper way to live your life is simply to accept your fate with patience and to try to make the best of it.

Questions About Fate and Free Will

  1. To what do characters in "The Knight's Tale" attribute the things that happen to them? How much control, if any, do characters have over their own lives?
  2. How does "The Knight's Tale" link love and fate?
  3. How does Theseus reconcile the seeming randomness of fate with his vision of an orderly universe?
  4. Why does Arcite say it's foolish to ask the gods for something you desire? How does this argument undermine his own actions?
  5. How does "The Knight's Tale" relate martial success to Fortune or Fate?

Chew on This

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

"The Knight's Tale" portrays the events in a character's life as a result of forces beyond his control.

"The Knight's Tale" suggests that the only control you have over your life is your attitude toward whatever fate throws your way.

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