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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 Part 1, Lines 147-328 Summary

  • After the battle, Theseus's army loots the city of Thebes. While they're at it, they come across two wounded knights. One is named Arcite, the other, Palamon. They're both decked out in fancy armor, so Theseus knows they must be wealthy noblemen of Thebes.
  • Theseus decides to take Arcite and Palamon prisoner, and sends them to Athens. He'll dump them in prison, and won't even think of ransoming them. Basically, he wants these two Theban knights to rot in jail.
  • Theseus and his army pack up camp and head home to Athens as conquering heroes.
  • Palamon and Arcite are locked up in a tower. Years pass.
  • One morning in May, Emily (Hippolyta's sister, Theseus's sister-in-law) is walking in the garden. She's apparently blonde and beautiful, lovelier than the month of May itself. Basically, she's sounds like the kind of girl knights in shining armor and old Disney movies go crazy for.
  • Emily, doing her Disney-movie-princess act, is gathering flowers and singing as sweetly as an angel.
  • From the barred window of his jail cell up in the tower, Palamon can see Emily. He immediate falls for her. So hard, in fact, that he cries out in pain. (Melodramatic, much?)
  • Arcite hears Palamon, who happens to be his cousin and brother knight, call out. He rushes to Palamon and finds him all pale and sickly. He assumes Palamon is just upset about their bad luck, and starts ranting about Fate and Fortune.
  • But Palamon tells his cousin that it isn't his fate that's bothering him – it's that he's fallen in love at first sight. He's sure the girl must be Venus (a.k.a. Aphrodite), the goddess of love herself.
  • Now a total mess, Palamon starts praying to Venus to get him out of prison.
  • Arcite looks out the window and sees Emily too. He falls for the girl at least as hard as Palamon has. Uh-oh.
  • Arcite declares that if he doesn't get to see Emily every day, he'll die.
  • The boys immediately start bickering. It goes something like this:
  • Palamon: You're joking. You can't be in love with her.
  • Arcite: No way. I'm too in love to joke. I swear.
  • Palamon: Traitor. You're not allowed to get in the way of my love life. You've sworn an oath to support me in everything I do. Don't pretend you haven't. Now you're trying to steal my girl. I loved her first, so I get dibs. And as my brother knight, you're supposed to help me get her.
  • Arcite: No you're the traitor. I loved her first. When you said you loved her, you thought she was a goddess, so it doesn't count. I loved her as a woman, instead of worshiping her as a goddess. So there. Plus, love doesn't follow any rules. My oath to you as a brother knight was an earthly law, and love is way above that. Anyway, it doesn't matter because we're both going to be stuck in jail for the rest of our lives.
  • Right. Good point.

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