In the literary classic, The Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer includes The Knight’s Tale to teach the lesson that breaking the basic societal codes of life leads to suffering and must end in justice. In The Knight’s Tale, two knights from Thebes, sworn to brotherhood, fall in love with the same woman, Emily. These two knights are bound by the code of chivalry to protect each other, but when the rules of love come into play, conflict ensues. To prove his argument, Chaucer shows the effects of breaking the rules on the characters, Palamon, Arcite, and Theseus.
Palamon is one of knights in the Knight’s Tale used to demonstrate that breaking moral codes lead to suffering and will always end in justice. Palamon’s character is used to show that if you abide by the rules, justice in the end will be restored. He is the perfect example of what a knight should be, chivalrous and law abiding. He is bound to Arcite through the code of chivalry as they both took an oath of brotherhood to protect each other, which in medieval times was never to be broken.
As soon as he catches his first glance of Emily, he falls madly in love with her.
Palamon sees Emily first and exclaims that he has “received just now a wound through my eye into my heart, one that will be my death” (lines 1099-1101). Immediately upon seeing the maiden, part of Palamon realizes that his love for her will be the cause of suffering if he cannot be with her.
Once Arcite, his brother through oath, declares that he too has a love for Emily, the process of this oath being broken begins. Palamon and Arcite declare they will fight for Emily’s hand in marriage.
Before the jousting duel, Palamon prays to Venus. Instead of praying for automatic victory, he reflects his character and prays to win Emily’s love. Unfortunately, Palamon loses the jousting competition and is injured and taken away. But, justice comes down with a swift hand as Arcite gets terribly injured by his horse, giving him a mortal wound. Palamon is summoned by Arcite and is given Emily’s hand in marriage, allowing for balance to be restored and for his prayer to be answered. The balance is restored as Palamon saw Emily first and and justice is served for breaking the codes of chivalry and love.
Arcite is the other knight used to demonstrate that breaking the codes of society leads to suffering and ends in justice, as he is the one who breaks the code and suffers the wrath of justice. After hearing Palamon’s exclamation of love for Emily, he looks out the window and sees her and too declares, “The fair beauty of her who roams in yonder spot suddenly slays me, and if I will not have her pity and her grace, at least to see her, I am dead” (lines 1129-1121). By declaring his love for Emily after Palamon, Arcite is the one who decides to break the oath of brotherhood. His reasoning for breaking the code of chivalry is, “By my skull, love is a greater law than can be given to any man on the earth” (lines 1169-1171). Here the codes of chivalry and love come into conflict, leading to absolute suffering on both sides.
Before the joust for Emily’s hand in marriage, Arcite goes to the temple of Mars, the god of War, and prays that he wins the battle by force. This reflects his character as he believes in the value his strength over the value of Emily’s true feelings. Once he wins the joust, Arcite is full of excitement towards winning Emily’s hand in marriage. However, Arcite must be penalized for breaking the oath of brotherhood and the god, Venus, reaches down and startles Arcite’s horse.
Arcite is gravely injured and on his deathbed he gives Palamon permission to marry Emily, Theseus is a vital character in this story as he is the voice of justice and calls for the joust in the situation of Arcite breaking the code of chivalry. Once Arcite and Palamon both have committed to their courting of Emily, they decide to have an informal fight in the forest to determine who wins her. Theseus overhears their fight and barges in to try his best to understand the commotion. As Theseus was a knight, this fighting between two who have take an oath of brotherhood stirs him as it is seen as an injustice.
However Theseus knows it is not in his hands to restore the balance so he proclaims, “Ah, the God of Love! God bless! How mighty and great a lord he is! Against his might no obstacles can help” (lines 1790-1792), meaning that no one can out run the call of love. Theseus, representing rule and order, decides to make Palamon and Arcite’s challenging of each other for Emily’s love official as he declares the necessity for a joust. Once the joust takes place, Theseus is the one who declares the winner to be Arcite as Palamon is taken away injured and unable to fight. After Arcite is mortally wounded, it is Theseus who restores justice and the balance between the codes of chivalry and love as he weds Palamon and Emily, as Palamon fell for Emily first.
In the Knight’s Tale, Chaucer teaches that breaking moral codes leads to suffering and will always end with justice restored. By using the characters Palamon, Arcite, and Theseus, Chaucer shows that in the end justice will always prevail.