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single poem, The Knight's Tale. Here, because he is the disciple of Boccaccio in an attempt to follow the epic tradition, and because this poem illustrates perhaps better than any other in English the peculiarities of the mediæval treatment of an antique heroic subject, he may be permitted to fall within our range.

Boccaccio, like Chaucer, viewed the chivalric romance with amused disdain, and turned, when he proposed to himself an epic, to classic models. With these he was familiar, for he had made Latin versions of both the Iliad and the Odyssey, and in his Teseide, the first epic in a modern language—a conscious imitation the most painstaking-omitted none of the traditional requirements such as Swift in the eighteenth century sarcastically enumerated in his Recipe to Make an Epic Poem. Deities, battles, episodes, similes—all the ingredients are there and duly mixed in their proper proportions. But the Teseide is a tale of love rather than war, for Boccaccio, like Virgil, was not at his best in war, to which “the hero tears himself away from king's daughters at the call of country.” His poem fixed for his more successful followers, Pulci, Boiardo, and Tasso, the metre —ottava rima—suited to their purposes and gave to Chaucer the suggestion for The Knight's Tale ; for the rest it hardly rose to distinction. Chaucer's poem, a more skilful narrative, reduces to less than three thousand the ten thousand lines of Boccaccio's epic, excels it in art and interest, but illustrates in the same vivid fashion the odd transformation of the classical into the mediæval, the cross lights of the feudal and chivalric conceptions playing across the life of the antique world.

Nothing can well be stranger to a reader fresh from the Iliad than the easy familiarity and gaiety of tone, as of one telling a story to children, with which Chaucer begins his narrative

“ Whylom, as olde stories tellen us,
Ther was a duk that highte Theseus

This duk, of whom I make mencioun or the lightness of touch with which he passes over preliminary details

I have, God woot, a large feeld to ere
The remenant of the tale is long y-nough.”

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With what an unsophisticated air he takes his readers into his confidence, and puts to them the question

“ Yow loveres axe I now this questioun,

Who hath the worse, Arcite or Palamoun?" or inquires blandly, with humorous self-depreciation

Who coude ryme in English proprely

His martirdom? for soothe, it am nát I.” How novel too the heroic type now presented to us. The duke is “a trewe knight," " gentil," " of herte piteous," a philosopher

who ponders on the flux of human things

Considereth eek, how that the harde stone

Under our feet, on which we trede and goon,
Yit wasteth it, as it lyth by the weye.
The brode river somtyme waxeth dreye.
The grete tounes see we wane and wende.

Than may ye see that al this thing hath ende.”
A moral philosopher is he likewise-

“ Thanne is it wisdom, as it thinketh me,

To maken vertu of necessitee." Note too the feudal and heraldic accessories. The duke displays his banner, and by it is borne his pennon

“ Of gold ful riche, in which ther was y-bete

The Minotaur, which that he slough in Crete." With what pleasure Chaucer dwells upon "the riche array of Theseus paleys,” where haukes sitten on the perche above and "houndes liggen on the floor adoun," the marble gates of the tourney ground, the oratories, the ways crowded with spectators, greedy of wonder and eagerly gossiping on the sights and probable issue of the contest in the lists—

Heer three, ther ten, holding bir question.” How he lingers over his description of the bustle and colour, the pageantry so loved by the Middle Age

“ And on the morwe, whan that day gan springe,

Of hors and harneys, noise and clateringe
Ther was in hostelryes al aboute;
And to the paleys rood ther many a route
Of lordes up-on 'stedes and palfreys.
Ther maistow seen devysing of herneys
So uncouth and so riche, and wroght so weel
Of goldsmithrie, of browding and of steel;


The sheeldes brighte, testeres and trappures;
Gold-hewen helmes, hauberks, cote-armures;
Lordes in paraments on hir courseres,
Knightes of retenue, and eek squyeres
Nailing the speres, and helmes hokelinge,
Gigginge of sheeldes, with layneres lacinge;
Ther as need is, they weren no-thing ydel;
The fomy steedes on the golden brydel
Gnawinge, and faste the armurers also
With fyle and hammer prikinge to and fro;
Yemen on fote, and communes many oon
With shorte staves, thikke as they may goon;
Pypes, trompes, nakers, clariounes,

That in the bataille blowen bloody sounes.” How remote from the classical spirit and manner are the tapestried picturesqueness, the personified abstractions, the symbolism of the chapels of Venus, of Mars, and of Diana, as of oratories in a Gothic minster.

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First in the temple of Venus maystow see
Wroght on the wal, ful piteous to biholde,
The broken slepes, and the sykes colde;
The sacred teres, and the waymenting
The fyry strokes and the desiring,
That loves servaunts in this lyf enduren.
Nat was foryeten the porter Ydelnesse
And downward from an hille, under a bente,
Ther stood the temple of Mars armipotente,
Wroght al of burned steel
Ther saugh I first the derke imagining
Of felonye, and al the compassing
The smyler with the knyf under the cloke ...

woodnesse laughing in his rage,
Armed compleint, out-hees, and fiers outrage
And all above, depeynted in a tour

Saw I conquest sitting in greet honour.” 1 How remote too the amorous atmosphere of the tale, the references to May, to the lark, to the dolorous lover

“ Welcome be thou, faire freshe May—"
“ The bisy larke, messager of day
Salüeth in hir song the mory

His eyen holwe, and grisly to biholde;

His hewe falwe, and pale as asshen colde,
And solitarie he was, and ever allone,

And wailling al the night, making his mone.” 1 As Warton points out (History of English Poetry, vol. ii. p. 196) the groundwork of this description is taken from the Thebaid of Statius, a favourite author in the Middle Ages.

Love, the tyrant, is master of this tale, that Love which in the Argonautica refused sleep to Medea when she thought of Jason though it brought happy forgetfulness "to the mother of sons but lately dead "


"The God of love, A! benedicite,

How mighty and how great a lord is he!"

The lover's first sight of the lady is like a swift sword-thrust—

"He caste his eye upon Emelya,

And ther-with-al he bleynte, and cryde 'a!'
As though he stongen were unto the herte."

The lady herself is "fresher than the May," "fairer than the lilie upon his stalke grene." There is here matter for a Court of Love-whether the knight who first sees and loves the lady, but thinks her a goddess, or he who loves her second but knows her to be a human creature, is to be the fortunate lover? The delicacy of the final award is in the best manner of the subtle science; Chaucer with infinite art reverses Boccaccio's decision. In the Teseide Arcite first sees the lady, but his prize is not her hand-it is victory in the tourney and death. Chaucer gives the first sight of Emely to Palamon, and though to Arcite goes the triumph in the lists, it is by him who loved her first that the lady is finally won.

And behind Love, and behind the decorative classical deities, what dark power of Fate or Fortune in the stars presides over this tale told in Christian times?

"Sum wikke aspect or disposicioun

Of Saturne, by sum constellacioun,

Hath yeven us this, al-though we hadde it sworn;
So stood the heven whan that we were born."

What a self-concious touch is that in the description of Arcite's resolution

"And with that word he caughte a greet mirour
And saugh that chaunged was al his colour."

How refined are the chivalric manners when Arcite, about to fight to the death with his rival, offers to bring arms and armour for both


"And chees the beste, and leve the worste for me

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and when the two knights with all gentleness assist each other

to arm

"As freendly as he were his owne brother."

And to what height of courtesy does the mortally-wounded Arcite rise in his last words, as he resigns Emely to his more fortunate rival

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How the sentiment of pity dominates the tale, the badge of knighthood's flower

"For pitee renneth sone in gentil herte."


Exquisite the tale is, none more admirably wrought of pathos, of arms and amours," depicting a conflict between friendship and love, in which both are victorious, a tale delightful in its music to the ear, in its picturesqueness to the inner eye, in its delicacy of sentiment to the heart. It were hard to deny to it the title "heroic," though times and men and manners have all been transfigured. But behind it, as never in the older heroic poetry, there stands the author, gravely smiling at our pleasure, amused a little at his own success, and hinting now and again, with an engaging charm, at the humours of a piece not wholly serious.

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