Fate in The Canterbury Tales: A Contemporary Discussion

Essay by OuzziHigh School, 11th gradeA, May 2004

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Religion, a prominent topic in Renaissance literature, is debated satirically by the Knight, the Miller, and the Reeve in Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales. Not only do these characters vary in social status, but also in their beliefs of the underlying influence of God. Their first three tales extenuate one another through contradicting religious views. The Knight, the Miller, and the Reeve demonstrate the multiplicity of views regarding the role of destiny in life.

The Knight, the first of the group to share his tale, represents the most radical religious take on destiny. The host describes the character as having "truth, honour, generousness and courtesy," four heavily proclaimed Christian ideals. This "distinguished" Knight is also repeatedly referred to as a "Christian man," further affirming his religious fervor (4). The description is pertinent, as his beliefs regarding destiny are religiously driven. In his tale, Prince Palomon wins courtship to his coveted Emily, not because he rightfully earned it, but rather because the God's deliberately intervened.

Arcita was victorious in the war, yet the Gods had fated Palomon the victor before the battle even began. Saturn proclaims the destiny, "watch the game...by my head, it shall be your turn soon" (74). The Gods have their way, and Arcita is killed on his victory lap, thereby leaving Palomon with the prize. The sequence of events affirms that God's will overpowers reality and regardless of what decisions mortals think they make, the immortal forces have already predetermined the future.

On the other hand, the Miller, whose tale follows the Knight's, presents a contrary view on the role of destiny. His tale blatantly disregards and ridicules the Knights ideals, while providing an alternative message. In his story, two lovers defy those around them in order to be with one another. Their mutual emotions...