Summary and Analysis of The Knight's Tale
The Knight's Tale, Part I:
The Knight begins his tale with the story of a prince named Theseus who married Hippolyta, the queen of Scythia, and brought her and her sister, Emelye, back to Athens with him after conquering her kingdom of Amazons. When Theseus returned home victorious, he became aware that there was a company of women clad in black who knelt at the side of the highway, shrieking. The oldest of the women asked Theseus for pity. She told him that she was once the wife of King Cappaneus who was destroyed at Thebes, and that all of the other women with her lost their husbands. Creon, the lord of the town, simply tossed the dead bodies of the soldiers in a single pile and refused to burn or bury them. Theseus swore vengeance upon Creon, and immediately ordered his armies toward Thebes. Theseus vanquished Creon, and when the soldiers were disposing of the bodies they found two young knights, Arcite and Palamon, two royal cousins, not quite dead. Theseus ordered that they be imprisoned in Athens for life. They passed their time imprisoned in a tower in Athens until they saw Emelye in a nearby garden. Both fall immediately in love with her. Palamon compares her to Venus, and he prays for escape from the prison, while Arcite claims that he would rather be dead than not have Emelye. The two bicker over her, each calling the other a traitor. This happened on a day in which Pirithous, a prince and childhood friend of Theseus, came to Athens. Pirithous had known Arcite at Thebes, and on his request Theseus set Arcite free on the promise that Arcite would never be found in Theseus' kingdom. He now had his freedom, but not the ability to pursue Emelye, and lamented the cruelty of fate. Palamon, however, envied Arcite, since he could presumably raise an army against Theseus to conquer Athens. The Knight poses this question: which has the worse case: Arcite, who has his freedom but not access to Emelye, or Palamon, who can see Emelye but remains a prisoner?
The Knight tells a tale of courtship and chivalry, focused on the deeds of soldiers and princes, the social milieu in which the Knight travels. Even the structure of the tale obeys the structure and hierarchy within society. The Knight does not start with the main characters of the tale, Arcite and Palamon; instead, he begins at the apex of society, describing the exploits of Theseus of Athens, working downward until he reaches the less distinguished Theban soldiers.
The Knight's Tale adheres to traditional values of honor in which there are strict codes of behavior which one must follow. This code of chivalry is not necessarily polite and decent. In the morality of the tale, Theseus' sudden decision to ransack Thebes to right a wrong is perfectly acceptable as punishment for a transgression against the honor of the dead soldiers.
The dynamics of the Knight's tale are relatively simple. The tale is instructive, positing the...