Jan 30: The Knight’s Tale Parts 1 & 2

For every good scene in the tale’s first two parts, it seems that a bad one quickly follows i. It opens with Theseus’ victorious march home, but then shows the grieving widow’s troubles, which leads to the return of their husbands’ bodies, but also to Palamon and Arcite’s imprisonment, and so on. What other instances are there of Fortune behaving in a manner similar to this? What do the characters, specifically Palamon and Arcite, have to say about Fortune in regards to their own lives? Is the tale trying to say something here about the relationship between Fortune and free will?

5 thoughts on “Jan 30: The Knight’s Tale Parts 1 & 2

  1. In Part one, the first mention of Fortune is when Arcite says to his cousin in jail, “Fortune hath yeven us this adversitee”. Arcite and Palamon are talking about how they can never be free from their imprisonment because of the course that Fortune has plotted for their lives. Arcite shows his belief that Fortune gives some people good lots and others bad lots; therefore, it doesn’t matter who they are. He also says that they should endure their misfortunes in the best way possible because that’s just the way that Fortune decided she would make it. In part two, the narrator seems to hold a similar viewpoint about the ways of Fortune when he says, “Til that Fortune had broght him in the snare” about the impending misfortunes of the disguised and lovesick Arcite. There is in implication in that section by the narrator that Arcite had no control over what was about to happen to him. It was entirely Fortune’s fault that he ran into complications. There is an overarching thread throughout the story that Fortune and other gods have control over these character’s lives. It is purely by “chance” (aka the goddess Fortune) that any of them succeed or fail.

  2. I think that there is an interesting relationship between Fortune and the other gods. Palamon and Arcite also curse Mars and Juno as being part of the reason for their bad luck. It seems that the majority of the bad things in the story happen to Palamon and Arcite. We see Palamon escape imprisonment only to come across Arcite in the grove. They challenge each other to a duel for Emelye. The story seem to value Fortune over free will. Arcite does not seem to have full control over himself and it is through Fortune or fate that he finds himself out of prison and disguised in Athens. Both Palamon and Arcite believe in destiny. They state this before their duel. In their opinion, whichever survived the duel would be the one fated to be with Emelye. The tale seems to be based solely on Fortune and fate with very little consideration to free will.

  3. In the last few passages of Part 1 of the Knight’s Tale, Palamon complains to the goddess Fortune who rules the world ‘with byndyng of youre word eterne'(1304). He calls her cruel, and treats beasts better then people because beast can ‘fulfille’ his lust (1318). What is interesting is that Palamon takes Fortune to be such as important part of his life, so that he doesn’t seem to have any free will over it. In this passage, he says straight out that her word is eternal, her word is a bind. Whatever she says, it will be done, and he can’t do a thing about it.
    So this part of the tale points to the fact that you cannot change Fortune, it will happen and then there is nothing you can do about it. Sometimes, good stuff happens, sometimes bad stuff happens, and that is how Fortune rolls. Therefore, there is no solution for what the characters can do about Fortune and all they can do is complain.

  4. One thing that struck me as interesting is this apparent effect of human perception on the workings of fortune. After Arcite is freed from prison, he laments his banishment and expresses a degree of envy for Palamon’s position, saying “Wel hath Fortune yturned thee the dys” (1128). However, in prison, Palamon expresses envy for Arcite’s freedom with the line “Of al oure strif, God woot, the fruyt is thyn” (1282). While fortune has been conceptualized as a pseudo-goddess that is cruelly aloof to the suffering of mortals, this seems to place fortune in the eye of the beholder. In actuality, we can say as the reader that both men have been put in less than ideal circumstances, but according to each of their perceptions of the other, the other has received a vastly superior fortune to their own. This seems to place a transactional element on fortune in the men’s eyes, they see their own misfortune weighted against the apparent good fortune of the other. While the reality is different, the effect of perception is notable in that it seems to suggest that mortals retain some degree of agency on fortune’s wheel, at least in their capacity to rationalize an event as either good or bad fortune.

  5. Palamon and Arcite certainly endure the majority of the suffering in the first two parts of the Knights tale. Beginning with their imprisonment, these two characters suffer from their loss of freedom that they blame on fortune. Not only does Palamon and Arcite have to be imprisoned in the castle, but both are kept from being able to love the beautiful Emelye. The love that they each have for Emelye seems to be the only act of free will in the situation that each of them are in. Fortune seems to have and overwhelming role in each of their lives that continues to draw them closer and closer to their fight in the grove. Fortune leads them to them to compete for the love of the innocent girl who appears to have little knowledge of the controversy between Palamon and Arcite. Certainly the final components of this story will continue to rely on what fortune has in store for the outcome of the two love crazy fools.

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