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Canterbury Tales: The Knight Essay

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Canterbury Tales: The KnightIn his prologue, Geoffrey Chaucer introduces all of the characters who areinvolved in this fictional journey and who will tell the tales.

One of the moreinteresting of the characters included in this introductory section is theKnight. Chaucer initially refers to the Knight as “a most distinguished man”and, indeed, his sketch of the Knight is highly complimentary. In this essay, Iwill contrast Chaucer’s ideal Knight with its modern equivalent. The Knight,Chaucer tells us, possessed good horses, “but he was not gaily dressed”. Indeed,the Knight is dressed in a common shirt “much stained” by where his armor hadleft its mark.

In other words, Chaucer is telling us that the Knight has justarrived home from service and is in such a hurry to go on his pilgrimage that hehas not even paused before embarking on it to change his clothes. Additionally, the Knight has led a very busy life as his fighting careerhas 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 always”won the highest honor”. Amazingly, even though he has had a very successfuland busy career, he remains an extremely humble man: indeed, Chaucer maintainsthat he is meek “as a maiden”. Moreover, Chaucer claims the Knight has neversaid a rude remark to anyone in his entire life. Clearly, the Knight possessesan outstanding character, and Chaucer gives to the Knight perhaps one of themost flattering descriptions in the General Prologue than any other character.

His 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 allthis, however, Chaucer’s Knight remains modest and polite. Thus we see him asthe embodiment of the traditional chivalric code: bold and fearless on thebattlefield, devout and courteous off it. Apart from the moral message containedin the story, perhaps this tale of Chaucer’s is of even further interest tomodern-day readers. In our twentieth-century America, we would like to thinkthat we simply don’t have enough people in our society who we can liken toChaucer’s Knight. Perhaps we are under the impression that our modern societydoes not breed such virtuous people as existed in Chaucer’s time.

We remember that Chaucer’s work represented one of the few sources ofliterature available to the people of England in the latter half of thefourteenth century; The Canturbury Tales was indeed a precursory form of massmedia during its time. I pose that the essence of Chaucer’s Knight was no morereal in his day than it is today, and he was simply giving the people an idealcharacter to admire. He never intended his fictional star to be interpreted asa reality, and he was only giving his readers what they wanted. Today, our massmedia delivers the same package and on a grander and even more fictional scalethan ever before. Through television, movies, and books, we are constantlyexposed to fabricated personas of what we should be, and how we should act.

As afurther example, during America’s altercation with Iraq in 1991, the concept ofthe modest but effective soldier captured the imagination of the country. Indeed, this nation’s journalists in many ways attempted to make General H. Norman Schwarzkopf a sort of latter-day Knight. He was made to appear as afearless leader who really was just a regular guy under the uniform.

It would bepleasant to think that a person with the traits of Chaucer’s Knight could reallyexist in the twentieth-century. However, I argue that it is unlikely thatpeople such as Chacucer’s Knight lived and breathed even during Chaucer’s time. As he does with all of his characters, Chaucer is producing a stereotype increating the persona of such an ideal man. Chaucer, in describing the Knight,is depicting a chivalric ideal when, in fact, the history books that speak ofthe Middle Ages demonstrate that this model was rarely ever manifested in actualconduct.English

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