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451 Study Questions for Chaucer's "Knight's Tale"

Vocabulary: anachronism, Boethian, brothers in arms, chivalry, cosmic irony, courtly love, ecphrasis, feudalism,, lists,prologue, trial by combat


Lecture or Handouts:

How did Duke Theseus come to marry Hippolyta?
What would the story of a tempest intercepting the wedding company ring a discordant note for Chaucer's audience? What historical events might it connect to?
What classical Latin work first described the symptoms of love-sickness that became popular in the Middle Ages and was the source of Andreas Capellanus' Art of Courtly Love?

What are some indications of how popular Boethius's Consolatio Philosophiae was in the medieval period? What are some signs of its influence on Chaucer?
What is the longest sentence in all of Chaucer (i.e., what does this sentence deal with and in what work does it appear?)

Identify the following characters:

Palamon (or Palamoun), Arcite (Arcita), Emily (Emilye), Duke Theseus, Hippolyta, Saturnus (Saturn), Venus, Mars, Dyane (Diana), Pluto, Creon, Duke Perotheus, King Lycurgus (Lycurge), King Emetreus, King Egeus (part 4)

Reading Questions:

  • Prima Pars (Part 1)
  • Of what Greek city is Duke Theseus the "lord and governour"?
  • What is Theseus's wife's name? What has Theseus just finished doing to her homeland of Scithia, where the Amazons lived?
  • Who is Emelye related to?
  • What sight interrupts Theseus' victory march?
  • When Theseus is particularly angry at this sight, what motivation does he suggest the women have for making such a ruckus?
  • When the eldest women speaks, to whom does she attribute Theseus's victory over the Amazons? (Hint: it's not God or fate.)
  • Where have the women been waiting for the last two weeks? Why is that an appropriate place for them to wait while planning to ask Theseus's mercy?
  • The eldest woman speaking in the company of mourners is the widow of what ruler? Who is now ruling her husband's old country?
  • What has Creone ordered concerning the bodies of his defeated enemies?
  • How does Theseus react to the women emotionally after hearing of their plight?
  • What emblems does Theseus carry on his banner and coat-of-arms? Why is this image appropriate or inappropriate?
  • When Theseus orders his forces to loot and strip the bodies of the deceased who fought against him, what do his men discover among the bodies?
  • How are Palamoun and Arcite related to each other?
  • What does Theseus order be done with Palamon and Arcite? What is unusual about this?
  • When Emilye arises to enact Mayday honors for Spring, what type of flowers does she gather (i.e., what colors are they?)
  • Which imprisoned knight spots Emilye first? How does he react?
  • What is Arcite worried about Palamoun after Palamoun falls in love? What reason does Arcite give for the pair's unhappy imprisonment?
  • What does Palamoun assume mistakenly about Emily's identity?
  • To what deity does Palamoun pray after he is uncertain about Emily's identity?
  • What happens to Arcite when he looks out the window to see what has so impassioned Palamon?
  • When Palamon realizes Arcite is gawking at Emilye and hears his protestations of love, what does Palamon ask Arcite?
  • When Palamon reiterates that he saw Emilye first, what does he conclude about which knight should "have" this maiden?
  • How does Arcite respond to Palamon's argument about "I saw her first"? Why does he think Palamon's point about seeing her first doesn't count? (I.e., what did Palamon mistakenly think as he viewed Emilye, according to Arcite?)
  • What does Arcite argue in response to Palamon's claim that Arcite is bound by oath to help Palamon achieve his desires?
  • What favor does the visiting Duke Pirotheus ask of Duke Theseus when he is visiting?
  • What limitation does Duke Theseus put on Arcite's freedom? What is the punishment if Arcite violates this condition?
  • Why does Arcite envy Palamon even though Palamon is still in prison?
  • When Arcite bemoans his fate, he notes that "we [humanity] seken faste after felicitee" [I (A) 1266]. What prevents humanity from finding this felicity, according to his earlier discussion?
  • Why does Palamon envy Arcite even though Arcite is banished from Athens and stuck in Thebes?
  • Given Middle English spelling conventions, in line 1304, when Palamon makes an apostrophe to "O crueel goddes that governe / This world," what are two ways of interpreting the word "goddes"? If we interpret this word as singular, what deity do you suppose Palamon is cursing?
  • What problem does Palamon leave to "dyvynys" (diviners or theologians)?
  • In lines 1346, to whom is the Knight apparently addressing in his discussion?
  • Secunda Pars (Part 2)
  • What happens to Arcite's appearance as the months go by? What bodily humor dominates his "celle fantastik" (the visual imagination organ of his brain)?
  • What deity comes to Arcite in a dream? What does this deity prophesy concerning Arcite's situation?
  • How does Arcite arrange to travel back to Athens without being arrested?
  • What sort of work does Arcite do for Emilye? Why is he particularly suited for such jobs? What nom de guerre does Arcite adapt instead of his own name? How long does he stay hidden in this role?
  • How many years does Palamon pine away in prison?
  • How does Palamon escape from prison?
  • Why does Palamon return to Thebes? What does he hope to accomplish?
  • How far out does Arcite ride on his trip to do May observances? Where does he ride out to? (i.e., what sort of terrain?) Who, by chance, is hidden in the brush nearby, eavesdropping?
  • What does Arcite do at the end of his lamentation? What does Palamon do after that?
  • Why do Arcite and Palamon postpone their fight until the next day? Why don't Arcite and Palamon immediately start fighting?
  • When the two cousins meet for their duel, how do they treat each other?
  • The two knights are compared to what two animals as they fight in 1656? To what animals are they compared in line 1699?
  • How high does the blood flow from the two knights' wounds as they engage in combat?
  • Our narrator (presumably the Knight), pauses the combat scene to talk about the "ministre general." Who or what is this "ministre general"?
  • What is Theseus doing that brings him out to the same area where Arcite and Palamon are fighting? How does this connect with the statement that he is "serving Diana" after previously "serving Mars"? What two women accompany Duke Theseus on this expedition? What color does Emelye wear? What do you suppose is the significance of this color?
  • How does Theseus break up the fight? By what god does he swear as he does this action? Is Theseus upset by the violence? Or is he upset by something missing from the violence? If it's the violence that makes him upset, why does it bother hiim so much? If he's angered by something missing, what is that missing element?
  • What does Palamon ask Theseus to do to both him and Arcite?
  • Around line 1745, what punishment does Theseus initially decree for them? Who or what talks him out of that initial verdict?
  • Why does Duke Theseus say the god of love is particularly powerful in his miracles?
  • When Duke Theseus states, "For in my tyme a servant was I oon" (1814), what is he admitting about himself? Hint: Look online or in a dictionary of mythology for the following women: Perigenia, Ariadne, and Antiopa. Who were these people and how were they connected to Theseus? When Theseus states he was a servant of love, "ful yore agon" and uses the past tense to talk about his time as love's servant, what does that suggest about his current marriage? How do you suppose Hippolyta must be reacting to all this?
  • What solution does Theseus offer since Emilye cannot marry both of them?
  • How many knights should each suitor bring with him? How long do they have to prepare for the tournament?
  • Where does Theseus build the tournament lists for the contest?
  • Pars Tercia (Part 3):
  • How big is the tournament arena Theseus makes? What shape is it? Why are the stadium's seats set at 60 degrees? How many gates does the arena have? To which deity is each gate dedicated?
  • Each marble gate contains an oratory in an attached architectural turret. The questions below deal with the decorations for each oratory.
    • Venus's Temple:
    • What torments are depicted on the wall of Venus's temple? List two or three. What personified beings stand beside these torments? List two or three of them.
    • Why does the mountain of Cytherea appear on the wall? (Hint: check out a dictionary of mythology or look online for a discussion of Venus's birth).
    • In the painted garden, what personified being is the "porter" who lets lovers into the Garden of Love?
    • What does the statue of Venus look like?
    • What physical handicap does Cupid (Cupido) suffer from? Why is that appropriate or inappropriate?
    • Mar's Temple:
    • What cold, rocky region is depicted as the setting for Mar's Temple in the wall paintings? Why is this region historically appropriate or inappropriate?
    • When the narrator describes Mars as being "armypotente," what word in Christian theology is he punning upon?
    • What is the temple of Mars made out of? What is the door to the temple made of?
    • What are some of Mars' personified companions in the temple paintings? List two or three of them.
    • What animal stands before the feet of the statue of Mars?
    • Diana's Temple:
    • What sort of paintings appear in Diana's temple? Describe one or two of them.
    • What animals is Diana riding upon "ful hye" in the paintings? What animals run about her feet? What does Diana have beneath her feet?
    • The statue of Diana wears what color of cloth?
    • What does Diana carry in her hand?
    • Tournament (Continued)
    • For which knight (Palamoun or Arcite) does Lycurgus fight? What country does Lycurgus rule? What is the unusual color(s) of Lycurgus's eyes?
    • Emetreus is king of what country? Does he fight for Palamoun or Arcite in the tournament?
    • For a king of such a country, Emetreus has some unusual hair coloration. What color is his hair? (Hint: it is not iron-gray--the word "yronne" in line 2165 is a past-participle meaning "fashioned").
    • When Palamon wakes up on Sunday night before dawn, he takes a pilgrimage. To what location does he go? To what deity does he pray? What does he ask for from this deity?
    • What omen or divine sign appears as Palamon kneels in front of the statue?
    • When dawn comes, and Emilye awakens, where does she go to make sacrifice? How does she ritually clean herself, and what is the narrator's attitude to this activity?
    • To what deity does Emilye pray? She asks for one of two wishes to come true. What is the first wish she requests? If that wish won't come true, what does she ask as an alternative?
    • What pyromantic evidence suggests the deity hears her prayer? What noise follows this omen? What leaks out from the torches after this?
    • Why do you suppose Chaucer chooses to place Emilye's prayer between Palamon's prayer and Arcite's prayer? How is that effect different than if the two knights had prayed first and Emilye prays last?
    • An hour after Emilye's prayer, Arcite gets up to pray. To what god does he address his prayers? What sacrifice does he make to Mars?
    • What signs indicate that the god Mars has heard Arcite's plea favorably?
    • At the end of these three prayers, what causes strife in heaven/Olympus? Which god alone has the power to resolve the conflicting promises? Why is this god particularly appropriate or inappropriate as one to have the final word
    • Pars Quarta (Part 4):
    • How do Duke Theseus's men quiet the noisy crowd as they await the joust?
    • When the herald addresses the crowd, what change to the rules does he announce? How do the people react to this change in the rules?
    • When the contestants enter the arena, which gate does each one pass through?
    • What color is Palamoun's banner? What color is Arcite's banner?
    • While Arcite and Palamon fight, who sneaks up behind Palamon and stabs him? What happens to this sneaky combatant after he stabs Palamon?
    • Who does Duke Theseus declare the winner?
    • What does Venus do when she hears who is declared the winner? What does Saturn do when he sees Venus's reaction?
    • When Arcite pulls off his helmet and looks up toward Emilye, what is Emilye's emotional reaction?
    • What causes Arcite's horse to panic (i.e., what god is responsible)? What happens to Arcite as a result?
    • Why do you suppose Chaucer has Arcite's breastbone crushed? Why not his neck or skull or some other injury?
    • When Arcite is dying, what are some of the "pet-names" he gives to Emelye? What command does he give to his "wife" concerning Palamon?
    • What are Arcite's last words?
    • When the entire town breaks into mourning, who is the one person who can console Duke Theseus? What does this character know or understand in particular?
    • Where does Theseus decide to build the tomb for Arcite? What happens to all the trees of the area? How is the mythological ecology disturbed by this?
    • According to Theseus's final speech, what being/force from philosophy is responsible for determining the length and duration of pain in the "wrecched world"? What examples does Theseus provide to illustrate the impermanence of the world?
    • If Theseus is correct in his assessment of the physical world, what is the only wisdom that matters?
    • Why does Theseus argue people should be more glad for a friend who dies honorably?
    • When Theseus says he will make one perfect joy out of "sorwes two," what is he talking about?
    • When Theseus says he will begin "wher moost sorwe is herinne," which person is he talking about?
    • In line 3097, we hear that all is "blisse melodye" after Theseus orders Emilye to marry Palamon. Does this seem realistic to you? Why or why not? What does this reveal about the Knight as a narrator or what does it reveal about the Knight's worldview?


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