Idealism in the Knight's Tale
Despite its glorified accounts of the chivalrous lives of gentlemen, the Knight¹s Tale proves to be more than a tragically romantic saga with a happy ending. For beneath this guise lies an exploration into the trifling world of the day¹s aristocratic class. Here, where physical substance is superseded by appearance, reality gives way to disillusioned canon and emotion is sacrificed for honor. Naïve idealism emerges as the dominant characteristic of the seemingly flawless knight and we, as the reader, are asked to discern the effect of this fanciful quality on the story as a whole.
To further investigate this argument one basic premise must be established as the groundwork: Theseus is the character with whom the knight most closely associates himself. Upholding "trouthe and honour" in their conquests of battle and noble rule, both epitomize the sacred rite of "chivalrie". In the Knight¹s Tale, nearly all the attributes with which he is praised in the Prologue are directly used in correlation with the duke. Thus, the language and actions of Theseus throughout the story can be superimposed onto the knight. These connections, along with the selective narration of the knight, allow the reader to observe the essence of their gallantry and the disparities that exist in this lifestyle. Undoubtedly Chaucer intended this to be a biting attack on the aristocracy, which to so many seemed impeccable.
Generalized and idyllic, the voice of the narrator offers the first clue into the puzzle of the knight. With well-chosen words, he tiptoes through the plot, careful never to pass any judgement on the characters and their actions. His high language all but excludes physical description, relying on the casting of people into types (i.e. the fair maiden, the young princes, the worthy duke). In perhaps the most stunning lack of significant detail, his blazon on Emily recounts only the color and length of her hair and uses cliches to portray her:
That Emelye, that fairer was to sene Than is the lylie upon his stalke grene, And fresher than the May with floures newe‹ For with the rose colour stroof hire hewe, I noot which was the fyner of the two‹(ll 1035-1039)
And the vacancy of any real emotion (save that of love and grief, which are here more action than feeling) lends an air of superficiality to the story. For even Emily and Palamon, in the resolving conclusion, are reactionless, serving as mere instruments for the advancement of the plot. The only passionate portraits depicted are those of the theater/arena and the funeral pyre‹inanimate objects whose symbolic importance seemingly takes precedence over the players involved. All these qualities united together paint the picture of a man out of touch with reality, direly in need of truth.
This noble style remains far from eminent at times and gives another important insight into his...