Enslavement and Freedom in the Knight's Tale
In the Knight's Tale, Palamon and Arcite's lives are filled with adversity and enslavement . Not only do they live in physical imprisonment, bound as prisoners of war in a tower, but they fall into Love's imprisonment, which leads them to suffer the decrees of cruel classical gods . Cooper writes that there "can be no moral or metaphysical justice in the different fates that befall them; yet one dies wretchedly wounded, while the other lives out his life with Emily 'with alle blisse' " (76). One might compare their destinies with that of Jacob and Esau: one is blessed, and the other cursed in order that the providence of God might stand . This essay will argue (1) that even though Palamon and Arcite are enslaved as prisoners of war, prisoners of love, and prisoners of Saturn's decree, both knights are still responsible for their actions, and (2) that Arcite's death brings unity and restores order in Athens.
Palamon and Arcite are introduced into the tale as the only two surviving knights in Creon's army. Once found by the scavengers, they are brought before Theseus and he sends them to "dwellen in prisoun/Perpetuelly" (1023-4). It is through their physical imprisonment in the "chembre an heigh" (1065) that leads them to 6xsee Emily and to fall into Love's imprisonment. But Love's imprisonment works on Palamon and Arcite in different ways. Arcite "falls in love with her irresistibly, by natural necessity . . . [whereas for Palamon, the] love of Emelye is a matter of choice rather than nature, as is shown by his repeated demand that Arcite simply stop loving her (1142-43, 1593-95, 1731)" (Roney 62). But even though their view of love is different, they are nevertheless, enslaved by Love's stinging bite (1564). Capellanus writes about Love's enslaving nature: Love gets its name (amor) from the word for hook (amus), which means 'to capture' or 'to be capture,' for he who is in love is captured in the chains of desire and wishes to capture someone else with his hook. (295)
When Palamon first "cast his eye upon Emelya,/And therwithal he bleynte and cride, 'A!'/ As though he stongen were unto the herte" (1077-80). He is left bewildered, and unsure whether the fair image in the garden is a "womman or goddesse" (1101). This bewilderment is not only one of the first steps of love sickness, but a sign that his life is now given over to her. In this elevated view of courtly love, Gower writes that when "a man sees her womanly beautyso sweet, elegant and fine, but more like an angel'she thinks her a goddess, and puts his fate of life and death in her hands" (Gower 97). When Arcite first sees her, "hir beautee hurte hym so" (1114) and he later complains of Love's "crueel torment and this peyne and wo" (1382). Though these forms of love enslavement could be blamed on Love's "firy dart" (1564), Chaucer is pointing out that this imprisonment is brought upon by...