The Canterbury Tales: The Knight's Tale
Rules and Order Quotes
How we cite our quotes:
'Namoore, up peyne of lesynge of youre heed!
By myghty Mars, he shal anon be deed
That smyteth any strook, that I may seen.
But telleth me what myster men ye been,
That been so hardy for to fighten heere
Withouten juge or oother officere,
As it were in a lystes roially?'
Theseus objects to Palamon and Arcite's duel not because he objects to fighting generally, but because they're doing it unsupervised, there's no referee. Theseus's rules demand a "juge or oother officere" to preside over the duel so that it can be fairly adjudicated. This rule ensures that Theseus can keep order in his lands.
He hath considered shortly in a clause
The trespas of hem bothe, and eek the cause,
And although that his ire hir gilt accused,
Yet in his resoun he hem bothe excused
As thus: he thoghte wel that every man
Wol helpe hymself in love, if that he kan,
And eek delivere hym-self out of prisoun;
And eek his herte hadde compassioun
Of wommen, for they wepen ever in oon.
Here Theseus weighs the demands of justice and mercy, and comes down on the side of mercy. His reasoning is similar to Arcite's when he claims that love is a higher law than any other. It's obvious to Theseus that a man can't be expected to follow the normal rules when he's crazy with love. Also, Theseus takes pity on the women, who don't want to see these two knights executed.
And softe unto hymself he seyde, 'Fy
Upon a lord that wol have no mercy,
But been a leon, bothe in worde and dede,
To hem that been in repentaunce and drede,
As wel as to a proud despitous man,
that wol maynteyne that he first bigan
That lord hath litel of discrecioun
That in swich cas kan no divisioun,
But weyeth pride and humblesse after oon.'
Theseus believes that the attitude of a law-breaker – whether repentant or defiant – ought to determine the punisher's response to his crime. He says that a lord that fails to take this into account shows a lack of "discrecioun," or an ability to differentiate between things, by treating both kinds of rule-breakers as though they are the same. Theseus's thought process here shows his desire for balance, for everyone to get what they deserve.