Feb 6- Part 4 of The Knight’s Tale

Fortune has been a common theme so far in the Knight’s Tale and The Book of the Duchess. Look back at Theseus’s last speech which begins at Line 2987. How does Theseus’s speech relate back to Fortune, and how Fortune effects the individual? Does his speech reflect your idea of how Fortune functions in Chaucer’s works? If not, how does it challenge your idea of Fortune?

5 thoughts on “Feb 6- Part 4 of The Knight’s Tale

  1. Theseus promotes the natural order of the universe under one supreme “Maker” of the world they live in. He promotes a universal truth that “al this thyng moot deye” that calls the reader to think about the ‘circle of life’ where all life is born, matures and eventually dies (3034). He justifies the death of Arcite as the natural order of things, even though Saturn orchestrated the ‘accidental’ earth quake that killed him after his victory. The earthquake could have been seen by Theseus as a natural occurrence of the “First Mover” of the world that are normal and predestined. There is no mention here of fortune’s fickle and cruel ways that could have been blamed for Arcite’s death. Instead the certainty of his death is supposed to comfort his wife and cousin. The idea that nobody could of should want to alter his fate is part of his speech encouraging his greatest mourners to stop wallowing in pity and move on with their lives.

  2. Before Theseus’ speech, Arcite’s death seemed trivial and meaningless, spurring everyone, including Emily and Palamon, into mourning for years. Theseus’ speech is important because it again inserts him as the authority and order in the story, while also positioning him as a figure below the Gods who led Arcite to his death. In his speech, Theseus explains how Arcite’s death was predetermined, and that since everyone must die eventually, its important to get on with our lives while we still have them. This is important because it finally brings Palamon and Emily together in matrimony and also ends the feud. Because he restores meaning to order and fate, Theseus’ power remains embraced and respected by everyone, instead of being undermined because of the sheer randomness fate/fortune seemed to wield. While Theseus remains in a position of power, he still posits himself less than fortune.

  3. Theseus’ speech is essentially a pep talk on mortality. He states “may I seyn al this thyng moot deye” (3034) as an acknowledgement that all earthly things must eventually come to an end, though he seeds this bleak bit of life advice with ample helpings of spiritual affirmation, finding silver linings in the eternal nature of the “Firste Moevere”. Interestingly, Theseus references what seems like predetermination in his speech – “Certeyne dayes and duracioun / To al that is engendred in this place, / Over the which day they may nat pace” (2996-8) – which could be seen as a legitimization of a Fortune that is often depicted as cruelly detached. In this way, Fortune could be seen as a passive agent of God’s laid plans.

  4. Theseus’ speech doesn’t seem to deal with Fortune but instead with Fate. As in earlier texts we have seen Fortune as being fickle and easily changing ways whereas fate seems to be predestined. The idea of predestination fills Theseus’ speech as well as the idea of a god/God who is in charge of a person’s fate. The idea of a predetermined fate is supposed to bring comfort to the people and they are supposed to be jealous of Arcite according to Theseus. When referring to men he says “And nat eterne, withouten any lye./This maystow understonde and seen at eye” (ll. 3015-3016). He is saying men cannot and will not live forever and we all know this. He later goes on to accredit the will of Jupiter and that he decides when people die. It is part of a plan. It actually seems that in this speech Theseus is discrediting Fortune and therefore making the earlier claims against him false. He is saying that none of this happened due to Fortune but instead it was Fate. In a sense it takes away some of the responsibility of Arcite’s death as well as some of the sadness.

  5. Theseus provides a more logical explanation in his speech for the unexpected death of Arcite. The clarification that Theseus elaborates upon about the death of Arcite places the blame on predestination. Fate certainly seems to be a more settling concept than fortune because every living organism has to meet their fate a some point in time. Theseus explains that God is in control of the fate of all humans. When he as the ultimate divine ruler decides to call someone to their death, there is no greater existing force than God himself. An important feature of Theseus’s speech is that he is the king, the highest courtly figure who can explain to the people proper justification for someone’s death, as well as memorializing that individual in the highest manner possible.

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