Emily's Strength in Chaucer's The Knight's Tale
This passeth yeer by yeer and day by day,
Till it fill ones, in a morwe of May,
that Emelye, that fairer was to sene
Than is the lylie upon his stalke grene,
And fressher than the May with floures newe -
For with the rose colour stroof hire hewe,
I noot which was the fyner of hem two- (1033-1039)
Thus is Emily, the least often discussed of the four central characters in the Knight's Tale, described upon her first important entrance in the tale, when the knights initially view her in all of her loveliness. This description of Emily fits in with the common criticism that she is more a symbol of the beauty and goodness that chivalric nature desires than an actual character with thoughts, actions and emotions of her own (Donaldson 49). However, although Emily does lack an individual nature and depth of mind, she still has a certain power and dynamic nature about her that is unusual for a woman in the time period during which Chaucer wrote her story (Spearing 43).
Through her prayers to Diana asking to remain chaste, some may argue that Emily is, once again, merely reacting to an event, rather than having thoughts of her own (Donaldson 49). A stronger point, however, is made in regards to her heritage as an Amazon woman. Rather than remain in keeping with the popular sentiments of the day and be completely submissive to men, Emily is showing her inherited reluctance to become a subordinate creature (Spearing 43). She is thereby exhibiting a rare bit of strength and showing us that she has power in more ways than one.
Often, Emily is said to be a conventional heroine, especially after all of the liveliness and excitement of the portraits in the General Prologue. This convention, however, is not necessarily of a negative nature. All of the imagery and language that envelops Emily is completely unparalleled within any of the portraits in the Prologue (Cooper 110); and, though she is a thoroughly two-dimensional character, it is through this limited perspective that Chaucer has tried so hard to create (Donaldson 48) that we realize Emily's true purpose. This purpose is to serve as a rhetorical device to allow the reader to come to a full realization of the...