The Canterbury Tales
A Character Sketch of Chaucer's Knight
Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, written in approximately
1385, is a collection of twenty-four stories ostensibly told by various
people who are going on a religious pilgrimage to Canterbury Cathedral from
London, England. Prior to the actual tales, however, Chaucer offers the
reader a glimpse of fourteenth century life by way of what he refers to as
a General Prologue. In this prologue, Chaucer introduces all of the
characters who are involved in this imaginary journey and who will tell the
tales. Among the characters included in this introductory section is a
knight. Chaucer initially refers to the knight as 'a most distinguished
man' (l. 43) and, indeed, his sketch of the knight is highly complimentary.
The knight, Chaucer tells us, 'possessed/Fine horses, but he
was not gaily dressed' (ll. 69-70). Indeed, the knight is dressed in a
common shirt which is stained 'where his armor had left mark' (l.
That is, the knight is 'just home from service' (l. 73) and is in such a
hurry to go on his pilgrimage that he has not even paused before beginning
it to change his clothes.
The knight has had a very busy life as his fighting career has
taken him to a great many places. He has seen military service in Egypt,
Lithuania, Prussia, Russia, Spain, North Africa, and Asia Minor where he
'was of [great] value in all eyes (l. 63). Even though he has had a very
successful and busy career, he is extremely humble: Chaucer maintains that
he is 'modest as a maid' (l. 65). Moreover, he has never said a rude thing
to anyone in his entire life (cf., ll. 66-7).
Clearly, the knight possesses an outstanding character.
Chaucer gives to the knight one of the...