The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer is considered as one of the most significant literary works of the Middle Ages. The book structure allows readers to get to know the main characters of the tales through the eyes of the narrator. The story begins with a detailed description of the Knight. The analysis of the image created in The Canterbury Tales suggests that this character is presented as a dignified, courteous, and fearless man who symbolizes all the best that is in chivalry.
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The image of the Knight turned out to be so inviting, because it collected a number of positive character traits. English was not very much in demand at the time of the creation of The Canterbury Tales. However, largely due to the talent of Geoffrey Chaucer, the potential of the English language as a poetic tool was discovered (Wallace). This discovery then provided the opportunity to create such vivid characters as the Knight. The narrator, who can be considered the spokesman for Geoffrey Chaucer’s ideas, treats the Knight with respect, which the reader can sense practically from the very first lines of the prologue. The Knight is hardy; he is described as a man of truth and as a man who has compassion for the weak and vulnerable (Chaucer). The Knight’s figure is constructed in such a way as to create a character who would have a set of all the qualities that are required of a perfect knight.
The character of the Knight is typical for his era, although it has some differences. According to O’Connell, perceptions of The Canterbury Tales can vary greatly, depending on the order in which the chapters are arranged in the book (428). This is quite understandable, as well as the fact that the perception of the knight by the medieval reader and the readers of the twenty-first century is also different. For modern people, for example, the brave and fair hero of the book is a typical knight, as all knights were in the Middle Ages. However, medieval people knew knights might sometimes be arrogant and cruel robbers. This circumstance again suggests that the Chaucer’s Knight is still an idealized image, although it contains some of the characteristics of medieval knights that existed in real life.
For Chaucer, the efficient participation of knights in military battles is one of their most important characteristics. The Knight of The Canterbury Tales gained victory in a huge number of military battles, which makes him a great warrior who “won widespread fame” (Chaucer). However, he remains sensitive to the hardships of his fellow citizens; he has little interest in carnal desires and needs. This is what sets him apart from the characters in The Merchant’s Tale, Chaucer’s earlier book. Even the narrator of the book himself is forced to apologize constantly for telling vulgar stories (Pugh 473). However, it is difficult to imagine that such a narrator would tell the reader about the Knight in The Canterbury Tales. Since Chaucer’s opinion in The Tales can be considered to be much the same as that of the narrator’s, one can speak of an attempt to create a new image of a “truly perfect, noble knight” (Chaucer). At the same time, it is considered that the protagonist has those personal characteristics that the author values the most, which is true in the context of the analyzed book.
Thus, in The Canterbury Tales, the author was able to express his ideas about what a true representative of chivalry should be. Despite the many virtues of the Knight, his image remains ambiguous for modern readers. The hero has such traits as honesty, courage, mercy are brought together. This character can therefore be described as a more advanced version of the representative of the knights of his era.
Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Canterbury Tales: Seventeen Tales and the General Prologue. Edited by V. A. Kolve and Glending Olson. 3th ed., W. W. Norton & Company, 2018.
O’Connell, Brendan. “Putting the Plowman in His Place: Order and Genre in the Early Modern Canterbury Tales.” The Chaucer Review, vol. 53, no. 4, 2018, pp. 428–448.
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Pugh, Tison. “Gender, Vulgarity, and the Phantom Debates of Chaucer’s Merchant’s Tale.” Studies in Philology, vol. 114, no. 3, 2017, pp. 473-496.
Wallace, David. Geoffrey Chaucer: A New Introduction. 1st ed., Oxford UP, 2017.