The Knight’s Tale

The Knight’s Tale – Lyrics

Read Chaucer’s Knight’s Tale

Scene 1

As history teaches us, it happened to be

That Theseus, the governor of Athens in Greece,

Attacked and besieged, with wisdom and honour,

The land of the Amazon women and conquered,

And wedded their Queen Ypolita; along with her

Young sister Emilye, (his plundered possessions),

Theseus met them with a humble reception

And let them come back with him, under protection

From hundreds of weapons, to Athens and kept them.

Upon his return to Greece, Theseus learned of these

Awful and shameful dishonoured injustices

Brought to the name of the monarch entrusted with

Keeping the city of Thebes. In the dust with his

Power obsolete in a coward’s defeat,

He now was deceased and cast out in the streets,

Where the hounds with their teeth would devour his meat.

His widow, the queen, in her hour of need,

Showered pleas on Theseus from down on her knees.

So he proudly agreed to put the town under siege,

And surrounded Thebes with all his men,

And pounded the city’s walls and when

Those towers were down-fallen, then

His troops to dust demolished them.

When the brawl was ended he finally obtained

And returned to the Thebian Queen for her pains,

The rest of her husband’s majestic remains.

Deep in the wreckage the people were left with,

Two knights were detected, of high blood suspected,

Since birth from the first had their paths intersected,

Though now were dejected, and it was expected

They would be dead soon from the head-wounds inflicted.

But Theseus ordered that they be protected

And sent them to Athens where they could be hidden,

And by his decision, the two knights were given

A prison to live in, though they were forbidden

To step from within ’til their ghosts had up-risen.

The names of these knights, in plain language:

Arcite and Palamon. Utterly thankless

That they were not hanged with the rest of the vanquished,

They were caged in a tower for ages to languish

And waste away hours and days with their anguish.

Years pass, ’til at last on a bright May morning,

Emilye rose, as dawn was just forming,

To walk in the garden, with flowers adorning

Her head as a tribute to spring, and her singing,

As soft as an angel’s, rose up and just happened

To waft in a window and cause a distraction,

And that’s when the passionate noise then up-rose

To where Palamon paced, giving voice to his woes.

“Woe, woe, woe is m…(he sees her) Whoah!”

Palamon, struck to the quick by this vision,

In his heart knew his lust to conflict his religion.

She looked like a goddess, and perhaps we’ll forgive him

If he thought she was Venus, and asked for deliverance

And he felt an up-surging of happiness in him

As hope was emerging that perhaps she would give him

A premature evacuation from prison.

Meanwhile Arcite had noticed the cracks in

His brother’s demeanor and focus and asked him:

“Why are you looking so hopeless, what’s happened?

What have you seen to provoke this reaction?”

Palamon sighed, “I’m choked with such passion

For her that I see down below, yet I’m trapped in

This prison, my station the lowest in Athens,

Until I escape, I’ll have no satisfaction.”

Palamon had gazed and paid the price,

And Arcite now bravely laid his eyes

Amazed upon the maiden guise

Of Emilye, and to his great surprise

She made him sigh and feel as sore

Inside as Palamon, and more.

Arcite fell to the stone and swore:

“This fresh beauty and peerless grace

Has rescued me; it clears away

The sorrow of this dreary place

If only she’d appear each day

I’d cheerfully stay here just to see her face”

Palamon’s answer was close to delirious:

“Be clear with this, brother, are you joking or serious?”

Choking on tears, his emotions were furious.

Arcite just sneered at this “I would never say

Anything as heavy-weight as this merely in clever play.”

Palamon’s felt his pleasure fade:

“Then you have betrayed me and openly broken

Your oath to me, plainly by both of us spoken

So faithfully, traded to pose as a token

Of total devotion, we must put that above

Any quarrel we have over matters of love

All we have is our blood, and that is a trust

Rather tough to just patch up after it’s cut.”

Arcite laughed as if touched, with a covered smirk:

“In other words, since you loved her first,

I’m supposed to pretend that it doesn’t hurt,

And I’m not even allowed to covet her,

Though I’m the one who suffers worst,

Why must I thirst while my brother flirts?

It’s enough to reverse one’s trusted word.”

Their hate and need were great indeed,

And made them seethe impatiently,

But destiny soon gave them leave

Of one another’s company,

Which had become unsavoury,

And shortly it would come to be

That Arcite was ungratefully

Released, ’cause Theseus was under siege

From a friend of Arcite’s of some degree

Who had come to speak and give humble pleas

That Arcite, despite what he’d done, should be freed

Theseus agreed, but made one decree:

That once released from his country,

If Arcite came within a hundred feet

Of Athens he’d soon be underneath

The axe and be beheaded violently,

So he returned to abide in Thebes.

Now try and see the irony.

Palamon remained in the tyrant’s keep

With shackled hands and ironed feet

And every day his eyes could peep

At Emilye, in all her vibrancy,

While Arcite was unconfined, yet he

Was not allowed inside the city

Of Athens, and if he tried to sneak

Or slyly creep by it’d be

Like a deadly game of hide and seek,

So Emilye was outside his reach,

But it’s up to you to decide which of these

Two knights’ bleak lives was the highest defeat.

Scene two

For two long years in the city of Thebes

Arcite remained weeping piteously,

Until he was finally ready to leave.

He looked in a mirror and in it he could see

That his face had been altered so hideously

From grief he looked sick with a deadly disease.

He was so different to see, he wasn’t turned away

When Arcite at last returned to stay

In Athens, and was fast to learn the ways

Of breaking his back for a servant’s wage

Making him act like an earnest page

And gradually he earn the praise

Of everyone concerned and made

Sure his plans were firmly laid,

For Emilye he yearned and prayed,

But never said a word, afraid.

Now, for seven long years, I aim to tell

How Palamon stayed chained in a cell;

This wretched prisoner remained to dwell

In darkness and felt the flames of hell,

Tortured and stretched, in pain, until

One fortunate night, he came to fill

His jailer’s drink up with strange little pills

So the guard became ill, (since the dope was made

From local opiates) and so he escaped.

He was sorely afraid, but slowly he made

His lonely way to a grove where he stayed

Unexposed in the shade and laid low for a day.

Arcite that morning made no delay,

And rode out from court so he could pay

Respects to the sport and frequent play

That people seek in May and came by chance

To aim his lance into those same high stands

Of trees, to complain on his hands and knees:

“I can’t believe I came from royalty,

And my family’s name will be destroyed in me!

Emilye’s to blame for spoiling me

And tempting me to shamefully toil and be

My enemy’s page and change my loyalty.”

Palamon’s blood nearly boiled as he

Crouched and listened joylessly

To this pointless speech. So annoyed was he

That he jumped up and uncoiled to speak:

“I hate to spoil the deceit you’ve created in court,

And interrupt the life you’ve betrayed me for,

But this is what I have been waiting for:

Waging war to decide who loves the lady more!”

Arcite bared the blade of his sword,

and gravely gave his brave retort:

“Has love so clouded your perception

That without any sort of weapon

You would dare come forth and step in

To this place to make war and threaten?”

But Arcite was bound by his high honour,

And valour abound, to provide armour

For his opponent, who chooses the best,

With clothes, and food at his request

And then rest for the night, as those were his dues

In the case of a feud and his right.

And Arcite well knew he could never refuse

On the truth of his oath as a knight.

Both awoke at first light, and the greetings refuted,

They helped one another to stand and get suited,

Like brothers and, swords distributed,

They fought ’til their guts were entangled

In knots, getting ruptured and mangled,

‘Til it got where they stood up to their ankles

In pools of their blood and they ought to’ve been thankful

That Theseus, hunting as he was accustomed,

Entered the grove and there came across them

With all of his women arranged in procession,

Ypolita and Emilye in his possession,

And seeing them, bravely he pulled out his weapon

And rode safely forth on his horse to arrest them:

“Throw down your swords, on pain of death

You both must now be slain unless

I find out who’s to blame for this mess

Now give me your names and confess!”

Palamon, with what remained of his breath

Did his best to be plain and explain his distress:

“I am Palamon, seeking your prison to flee.

And this is my brother and sworn enemy,

Arcite, concealing his identity.

Who swears he’s in love with the fair Emilye,

Who I love as well, so there’s no remedy,

As she tenderly watches your sword rending me;

Since we both deserve condemned to be,

Kill him first, and turn your sword then to me!”

With wisdom compassion and great sympathy

Theseus answered: “This makes sense to me.

And by your confession you must die instantly,”

But the women began to cry and weep.

As blood in front of their eyes did seep

From the brothers’ wounds both wide and deep,

They fell to pray beside his feet.

“Have Mercy, Lord, upon us all!”

The ladies whispered quietly.

And when he heard their pious pleas,

Theseus felt his pride appeased,

And forgave the knights their rivalry.

So wise was he that he thus decreed

They must be freed, which was agreed

By all to be a just deed.

Plus, the brothers’ lust to please,

Theseus generously accorded

That one of them would be awarded

Emilye, once they had sorted

Out the victor of this sordid

Conflict at the time afforded.

The duel was set for one year hence,

And each would bring for his defense

A hundred knights to guard against

His brother’s vengeance and dispense

With justice, then home they went,

And both, received with welcome, spent

The year in Thebes, though malcontent.

Scene 3

While the knights were gone away,

Theseus, to accommodate

Their combat, paid uncommon wages

To his most accomplished masons,

Who patiently went on to make

A theatre so strong and great,

With marble carvings on the gate,

That all who looked upon the place

Did so with an astonished face,

So much the structure shone with grace,

As did the Duke whose honoured state

Demanded that he dominate.

Now on the long awaited day

That they’d agreed upon in May,

Arcite and Palamon did make

Their somber way there to exonerate

Their honour, and confront their fate.

Early Palamon did wake that day,

And went to pray and pay respects at

The statue of Venus they’d erected,

Standing in a temple decked with

Likenesses of all the reckless

Souls whom love had misdirected.

Palamon’s prayer to Venus:

“Venus, I’ve come to ask if we

Might declare war on chastity.

My love is near capacity,

And Emilye just laughs at me.

Let me posses her passively,

Or let me die, disastrously.”

After these fervent words was he

Assured that she had heard his plea,

For currently he was unnerved to see

The statue of her stir to re-

Assure him he deserved to be

Unburdened, free of urgency,

And as her faithful servant he

Inferred from these occurrences he

Was meant to be the first to see

His Emilye no virgin be.

Palamon returned with glee,

So sure was he that worthy Venus

Had averted the emergency.

Emilye then went to see

Diane and prayed, and gave some words to

Try and save her maiden virtue.

Emilye’s prayer to Diana:

“Diane, you know that I am wild,

Nor do I wish to be defiled

By hand of man, nor got with child,

Therefore, I pray, be mild,

Don’t let my honour be beguiled.”

The altar fires burning, in plain English,

At her pious yearning were extinguished.

Emilye, unsinged, just stared with dread

As Diane reached out her hand and there she bled

Upon her servant’s weary head

The blood of virgins, cherry-red.

“Let it now be clearly said

You will soon see your marriage bed.”

In response to this rejection

Emilye asked a simple question:

“Then what’s the use of your protection,

If I fall prey to some erection?”

This was indeed a harsh defeat

For Emilye, both stark and bleak,

But rather let me start to speak

Of the brave-hearted Arcite,

Who laid himself so artfully

To pray for help at Mars’ feet.

Arcite’s prayer to Mars:

“Strong God, in this degree,

I know you know the mysteries

Of love and my sad history.

And now, for all my misery,

My love no pity gives to me,

Therefore if I am fit to be

Thy knight, grant me this victory.”

At this the statue ripped free

From its foundation viciously

And said: “Since you give to me

Such devotion, it’s agreed,

Soon I shall grant this to thee.”

Now the Gods, who must be honest,

Had, in their wisdom, justly promised

Arcite, (here perhaps the strongest)

Triumph in the fight, along with

Palamon (no doubt the fondest)

True love, as we see in sonnets.

I now shall tell you straight how on this

Day in May it was accomplished.

Theseus, who was provider

Of the venue, and presider

Over it, was seated higher,

Where his Queen by all was seen

With Emilye beside her.

Arcite, a worthy fighter,

Attacked his brother like a tiger,

And Palamon, alike a lion,

With equal fierceness did defy him.

The first, though not for lack of tryin’,

Could no fatal blow get by him.

But then, to Palamon’s poor luck,

Arcite’s knight behind him snuck,

And stuck a spear into his gut.

Though far from mortal was the cut,

It was enough, Arcite struck,

And Palamon, too hurt to duck,

Was knocked down, and dropped

In shock onto the rocky ground.

Not a sound, nor any talk,

Was found among the crowd,

‘Til Theseus declared aloud:

“Arcite is the victor proud,

And Emilye, as I avowed,

To thee shall now be well endowed.”

Arcite’s happiness exploded

In him, and he rose and showed it,

As above his foe he gloated,

Crowed and boasted and show-boated,

‘Til the Gods were overloaded

With his pride and so they smote it.

Arcite, with a blow demoted,

Fell onto his dome and broke it.

His sorrow overflowed there; dying,

He pronounced his woes where crying

Showed he’d go with no denying

That his soul was slowly rising.

And he left, while still professing

Love, with Palamon his blessing;

Requesting Emilye to be accepting

(Since he would in death be resting)

Of the next best thing.

Then back his broken head he laid

And gave his final spoken praise:

“Mercy, Emilye!”

The gentle maid then, in the ways

Of Athens, set the corpse ablaze,

And scorched away the source that makes

A mortal shape, and prayed his soul

It’s course through heaven’s portal take.

Hoping to at least dispel

The sorrow that in Greece did swell

The moment that Arcite fell,

Theseus released his will:

“Why should his wife and cousin grieve?

Arcite is gone, yet doesn’t he

Deserve to see his love in thee,

Alive, from up above in peace?

Thus Palamon and Emilye

Shall wed, if they my judgement heed.”

Since his wishes carried weight,

The two, with kisses, married straight,

And Palamon, though very late,

Did wear his bliss with a merry face,

‘Cause he could barely wait

To take away her cherry state.

And Emilye took care she made

A loving wife, and rarely gave

Advice and, looking fair, obeyed,

And nothing more is there to say

About this strange affair, good day.

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