More than Friendly Rivalry in the story “The Knight’s Tale”


Have you ever had friendly competition that transformed into a serious problem? Well in Chaucer’s short story “The Knight’s Tale”, this situation is presented in its most dramatic state. Serious competition between good friends leads to a dried out friendship, and even, in this drastic case, death. This is revealed through Chaucer’s personification of death, who takes Arcite’s life due to this corrupt competition between two brother-in-arms.

Significant competition allows death, in his personified form, to be revealed to the reader as somewhat of a side character, who punishes Arcite and Palamon, and this personification of death is consistent and relevant all throughout "The Knight's Tale". A great example of this is on line 1220, where Chaucer writes "He feels the death smite through his heart;". Death appears more significant to the reader due to the powerful choice of words, and shows just how brutal death can be. Here, Arcite weeps about how miserable he is in prison, and uses death to describe this aching pain due to not being able to be with Emelye. Another good example is seen on line 1739 when Chaucer writes "Therefore I ask death and my judicial sentence;". Death holds an even more powerful appearance than last time, and overall a more judicial presence, as if he judges his victims. Palamon says this after describing how he would die on the spot if he saw Emelye. This may seem ingenuine, but this holds a lot of power, considering the entire story is about the extreme depths Palamon goes through to be with Emelye. Overall, death plays a large role in "The Knight's Tale" and this is mainly due to Chaucer's inept ability to empower death with the use of personification. 

In more realistic cases, serious competition does not cause death very often at all, but simply just decreases the overall values of friendships. As said by Chaucer on lines 1651 and 1652, “Each one of them helped to arm the other; As friendly as if he were his own brother”. This quote was taken from when Arcite and Palamon were defending against the wild boars in the forest, fighting together for their lives. The word choice presented by Chaucer really engraves into the reader’s mind that Arcite and Palamon care for each other, but as seen later on in the story, they clearly lost this bond, considering Arcite passed away due to their reckless actions. Another example of ruined friendship is seen on lines 3047-3052, where Chaucer states,

“And certainly a man has most honor; To die in his (time of) excellence and flower,; When he is sure of his good name; Then he has not done his friend, nor himself, any shame.; And his friend ought to be more pleased with his death,; When his breath is yielded up with honor,”

In this quote, Chaucer tries to explain that Palamon should not be upset that his friend died with an honorable name, as he won the battle for Emelye, and died “in his (time of) excellence”. However, as it should be for any friendship, death is never the outcome you want for your brotherlike friend. Their once unbreakable bond was replaced with a beneficial death, or at least that is how Chaucer describes it to the reader. The rivalry between Arcite and Palamon transformed a perfect pair of friends into genuine enemies, further solidifying that competition leads to faulty friendships.

As you can see, when friendly rivalry is taken too far, consequences are bound to happen. In the real world, friendships will most likely just end with emotional distraught, but in this story, death is the overall consequence. This adds a more serious note to the tale, and shows the reader that serious opposition between long-time friends can lead to a severed friendship, and maybe even death.



 

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