Canterbury Tales - The Knight


Canterbury Tales - The Knight



Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, written in approximately

1385, is a collection of twenty-four stories ostensibly told by

various people who are going on a religious pilgrimage to Canterbury

Cathedral from London, England. Prior to the actual tales, however,

Chaucer offers the reader a glimpse of fourteenth century life by way

of what he refers to as a General Prologue. In this prologue, Chaucer

introduces all of the characters who are involved in this imaginary

journey and who will tell the tales. Among the characters included in

this introductory section is a knight. Chaucer initially refers to the

knight as "a most distinguished man" (l. 43) and, indeed, his sketch

of the knight is highly complimentary.



The knight, Chaucer tells us, "possessed/Fine horses, but he was

not gaily dressed" (ll. 69-70). Indeed, the knight is dressed in

a common shirt which is stained "where his armor had left mark" (l.

72). That is, the knight is "just home from service" (l. 73) and is in

such a hurry to go on his pilgrimage that he has not even paused

before beginning it to change his clothes.



The knight has had a very busy life as his fighting career has

taken him to a great many places. He has seen military service in

Egypt, Lithuania, Prussia, Russia, Spain, North Africa, and Asia Minor

where he "was of [great] value in all eyes (l. 63). Even though he has

had a very successful and busy career, he is extremely humble: Chaucer

maintains that he is "modest as a maid" (l. 65). Moreover, he has

never said a rude thing to anyone in his entire life (cf., ll. 66-7).



Clearly, the knight possesses an outstanding character. Chaucer

gives to the knight one of the more flattering descriptions in the

General Prologue. The knight can do no wrong: he is an outstanding

warrior who has fought for the true faith--according to Chaucer--on

three continents. In the midst of all this contenton, however, the

knight remains modest and polite. The knight is the embodiment of the

chivalric code: he is devout and courteous off the battlefield and is

bold and fearless on it.



In twentieth century America, we would like to think that we have

many people in our society who are like Chaucer's knight. During this

nation's altercation with Iraq in 1991, the concept of the modest but

effective soldier captured the imagination of the country. Indeed, the

nation's journalists in many ways attempted to make General H. Norman

Schwarzkof a latter day knight. The general was made to appear as a

fearless leader who really was a regular guy under the uniform.



It would be nice to think that a person such as the knight could

exist in the twentieth century. The fact of the matter is that it is

unlikely that people such as the knight existed even in the fourteenth

century. As he does with all of his characters, Chaucer is producing a

stereotype in creating the knight. As noted above, Chaucer, in

describing the knight, is describing a chivalric ideal. The history of

the Middle Ages demonstrates that this ideal rarely was manifested in

actual conduct. Nevertheless, in his description of the knight,

Chaucer shows the reader the possibility of the chivalric way of life.