The Canterbury Tales: The Knight's Tale
by Geoffrey Chaucer
The Canterbury Tales: The Knight's Tale Rules and Order Quotes
How we cite our quotes: (Line)
[He] swoor his ooth, as he was 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.
Theseus demonstrates his respect for the proper order of things by promising to kill Creon, who refuses to allow the wives of men he's defeated to bury their husbands' bodies. Theseus can't let Creon's savagery stand unpunished. He must balance the books by killing Creon. Notice how it's important to Theseus that everybody know what happens to Creon, "that all the peple of Grece sholde speke / How Creon was of Theseus yserved." It's not just that Theseus wants to take vengeance; he also wants to show the world that wrongs won't go unpunished – not while he's around.
'It nere,' quod he, 'to thee no greet honour
For to be fals, ne for to be traitour
To me, that arn thy cosyn and thy brother,
Ysworn ful depe, and ech of us til oother,
That nevere for to dyen in the peyne,
Til that the deeth departe shal us tweyne,
Neither of us in love to hyndre other,
Ne in noon oother cas, my leeve brother,
But that thou sholdest trewely forthren me
In every cas, as I shal forthren thee,--
This was thyn ooth, and myn also certeyn,
I woot right wel thou darst it nat withseyn.'
Palamon takes a long time to make a short point: that Arcite and he have sworn an oath to further one another's interests in everything. As knights, it would be breaking the rules of chivalry for them to break that oath. Palamon craftily tries to win Arcite to his point of view with flattery, sort of, "I know you would never break a sworn oath, Arcite." But he also presents his argument in strong language, implying that Palamon will be a traitor and dishonorable if he breaks his promise.
'Wostow nat wel the olde clerkes sawe
That "who shal yeve a lovere any lawe?"
Love is a gretter lawe, by my pan,
Than may be yeve of any erthely man.
And therefore positif lawe and swich decree
Is broken al day for love in ech degree.' (305-310)
Palamon claims that Arcite will be breaking their oath of sworn brotherhood if he continues to love Emily. However, Arcite says that love is a "gretter," or higher, law than any earthly one. So love supersedes all other commitments. Although it's presented here in a world of ancient Greek paganism, this idea would ring true for medieval Christians as well. They would have remembered Christ's claim that he brought a new law of love, one that won out over the commandments-based law of the Old Testament. This passage also pits the rules of chivalry, represented by Arcite and Palamon's oath of brotherhood, against the rules of courtly love, which demand a lover's loyalty to his lady above all else.