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The Knight's Tale

Courtly love is a common theme in medieval literature and is certainly prolific throughout Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. The most obvious example of courtly love in Chaucer’s works rests within the Knights Tale.  According to Neville Coghill, the Knights Tale contains the elements of chivalry, romanticism and virginity, the sum total equaling courtly love. The Knight's TaleThus, within the scope of this examination of The Knight’s Tale, courtly love will be dissected for the elements of chivalry, romanticism and virginity, as witnessed in the characters of Palamon, Arcite and Emelye. Arcite’s actions are representative of chivalry; Palamon’s actions represent romanticism; and Emelye, as the object of Palamon’s and Arcite’s attraction, represents the common expectation for women prior to Chaucer’s time, virginity.

The first element of courtly love is chivalry. Within the Knights Tale, Arcite is representative of chivalry in the dynamic of courtly love. In the traditional sense, chivalry brings to mind knights in shining armor, damsels in distress, and fair play.  Arcite represents chivalry in his actions, such as prolonging the dual between Palamon and himself until he could bring armor for both knights. Chaucer sites fairness as an element of chivalry within The Knight’s Tale.

"And certeinly a man hath moost honour [3047]
To dyen in his excellence and flour,
When he is siker of his goode name;
Thanne hath he doon his freend, ne hym, no shame.
And gladder oghte his freend been of his deeth,
Whan with honour up yolden is his breeth,
Than whan his name appalled is for age,
For al forgeten is his vassellage.
Thanne is it best, as for a worthy fame,
To dyen whan that he is best of name."

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