Chaucer claims to place the Knight’s Tale just after the General Prologue by chance, the drawing of lots. The Knight draws the short straw, and all are glad for it. The appropriateness of his lengthy tale to follow is clear on some levels, and barely perceptible on others. I intend to launch my investigation of the Knight’s Tale with a scrutiny of these three statements, and perhaps we shall find an interesting conclusion in this, albeit a disputable one.
The honorable Host, Harry Bailey, begins this famous day of pilgrimage by calling everyone together to draw lots, “He which that hath the shorteste shal beginne.” (838) He calls the Knight to draw first, presumably as a gesture of respect, as he refers to the Knight as master and lord. Harry continues to speak for a short moment, as we have the visual image of the Knight stepping up to claim his straw. The host continues to call up two more pilgrims, but quickly decides that everyone might as well draw in a free-for-all. And surprise! The Knight finds himself holding the short cut. Is it possible that Harry managed to give the Knight the short straw intentionally? “Now draweth cut,” says he, “for that is myn accord” (840). A close eye may suggest some punning going on in that line: Now draw the cut (short) straw, for it is my wish. The words “cord” and “accord” were both used in Middle English, so we may be able to find some double meaning there as well. If indeed Harry wishes to give the Knight the “cord,” there are several interesting cases to think on: a) the cord is simply the short straw, b) the cord is the hangman’s rope, or c) the cord is a unit of wood cut for fuel. The hangman’s rope would make for subtle sarcasm, but…
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… immediate effects on the Miller, who cares not a bit for courtesy or order but only reckless lust. Hence, the Miller follows with a tale that Palamon could have appreciated, had he not known the ways of chivalry, but only those of lechery.
Works Cited and Consulted
Benson, Larry D., ed. The Riverside Chaucer. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987.
Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Canterbury Tales. The Norton Anthologyof English Literature. Seventh Edition. Two Volumes. Ed. M. H. Abrams. NewYork: Norton, 2000.
Cooper, Helen. The Structure of The Canterbury Tales. Athens: U of Georgia P, 1983.
Modern Critical Views: Geoffrey Chaucer, Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1985.
Spearing, A.C. Chaucer: The Knight’s Tale. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1995.
Williams, David. The Canterbury Tales, A Literary Pilgrimage. Boston:
Twayne Publishers, 1987.
Dante’s Divine Comedy – Eighth Circle of Hell in Canto XXVIII
Eighth Circle of Hell in Canto XXVIII
Who, even with untrammeled words and many attempts at telling, ever could recount in full the blood and wounds that I now saw? Dante begins the opening of Canto XXVIII with a rhetorical question. Virgil and he have just arrived in the Ninth Abyss of the Eighth Circle of hell. In this pouch the Sowers of Discord and Schism are continually wounded by a demon with a sword. Dante poses a question to the reader: Who, even with untrammeled words and many attempts at telling, ever could recount in full the blood and wounds that I now saw? (Lines 1-3) The rhetorical question draws the reader into the passage because we know by this point in the Divine Comedy that Dante is a great poet. What is it that Dante sees before him on the brink of the Ninth Abyss that is so ineffable that he, as a poet, feels he cannot handle? In the following lines Dante expands on this rhetorical position. He elaborates on why it is important for any man to offer a good description of what he sees. No poet can achieve this description: “Each tongue that tried would certainly fall short…” (L. 4) It is not just poetic talent that is at stake; poets do not have the background to give them the poetic power for such description. His reasoning is “the shallowness of both our speech and intellect cannot contain so much.” (Lines 5-6) Once again the reader is intrigued; how could a man of Dante’s stature criticize language which is the very tool he uses to create the epic work of La Commedia ? If we cannot take Dante seriously with these opening statements, we must pose the question of what Dante is trying to do by teasing us with this artificial beginning to Canto XVIII? Dante will now contradict himself and try to describe what he says is impossible. But, if he were to go right into a description of the Ninth Abyss, it would deflate his rhetorical position. Instead, Dante first sets up a quite lengthy comparison of the sights he has just witnessed with examples of bloodshed throughout human history. Were you to reassemble all the men who once, within Apulia1’s fateful land, had mourned their blood, shed at the Trojans’ hands, as well as those who fell