© 2016 Shmoop University, Inc. All rights reserved.
The Canterbury Tales: The Knight's Tale

The Canterbury Tales: The Knight's Tale


by Geoffrey Chaucer

The Canterbury Tales: The Knight's Tale Part 1, Lines 1-146 Summary

  • Meet Theseus. He's the Duke of Athens (in Greece) and is actually a very famous dude from Greek mythology.  
  • Theseus has conquered many rich countries, including the entire kingdom of Femininity, once known as Scythia. (Chaucer is talking about the land of the Amazons here, the mythological warrior women.)
  • When we meet Theseus, he's on the road home from Scythia with his army. He has married the queen of Scythia, Hippolyta, and is bringing his bride and her younger sister, Emily, back to Athens, Greece.
  • The Knight, our narrator, says that if it weren't too long a story, he'd tell us all about how Theseus (a.k.a. Mr. Chivalry – he acts like a model knight) and his Athenian warriors beat the Amazons in battle. He'd also tell us about their wedding feast and honeymoon, but frankly, he just doesn't have enough time.
  • So, back to the story. Theseus & Co. are on the road back to Athens and see a bunch of women crying. They're all dressed in black.
  • Theseus is all, "Why are you crying? Are you just jealous of my victories? Why are you dressed in black? Etc."
  • The women assure Theseus that they aren't jealous. Actually, they're practically falling all over him, hoping to get his help.  They've been waiting at the nearby Temple of Clemence for two weeks, in hopes of catching him on his way home. 
  • Here's the deal: King Creon of Thebes is a major tyrant.  He's laid siege to the women's the town and killed their husbands. To make it worse, instead of giving the dead men a proper burial, he's heaped their corpses into a pile and lets the dogs eat them. (Gross, unsanitary, mean..)
  • The women want Theseus's help, so that they can bury their husbands.
  • Theseus feels for the women and tries to comfort them.  And like a true chivalrous knight, he swears his oath that he'll do everything in his power to get revenge on Creon.
  • Without further ado, Theseus unfurls his banner (kind of like a flag with his coat of arms) and leads his army of chivalrous knights into Thebes.
  • In case you were wondering, Theseus's banner is white with a red image of Mars (the god of war, also known as Ares) on it.
  • They come to a field, and Theseus decides that this is where they'll fight. And, to make a long story short (since, you know, our narrator doesn't have a lot of time), Theseus fights with Creon and kills him in battle. The Theban army retreats, but Theseus wins the city in siege.  Actually, he pretty much flattens Thebes.
  • After the battle, Theseus gives the mourning women the bodies of their husbands, so they can be properly buried.

People who Shmooped this also Shmooped...