The Knight in Shinning Armour in Chaucer’s The Canterbury TalesChaucer’s The Canterbury Tales offers the reader an insight into our past, providing vivid glimpses into the 14th century’s social structure, and into the personalities, lives, and ethics of twenty-eight members of that society drawn together to travel on a pilgrimage. The General Prologue to the Tales deals primarily with introducing these people to us, providing physical descriptions and character outlines of virtually each pilgrim; it is a tribute to Chaucer’s skill that his descriptions (as filtered through the neurotically happy narrator) succeeds in creating such lively characters out of what are, essential, two-dimensional stereotypes from his era.
Chaucer manages to create strong characters through multiple means, each pilgrim receiving special detail in various areas. Take, for instance, the first of the pilgrims: The Knight.
The knight has always been a romantic, heroic figure, and in this group of pilgrims, is the highest placed member on the social stepladder. Chaucer does the knight – and our preconceptions of him – justice, painting an image of a strong, valiant, and noble figure. Oddly enough (or perhaps, wisely), very little attention is given to his physical detail, concentrating more on the knight’s activities and demeanour.
In fact, the only lines that provide a direct physical description of the knight are:
But for tto tellen you of his array,
His hors were goode, but he was nat gay.
Of fustiaan he wered a gipoun,
Al bismottered with his haubergeoun, (73-76)
Therefore, we know he has a good horse (a sure sign of wealth), and that he avoids flashy, gaudy clothing (unlike his son the squ…
…ion of which has obviously caused the knight to go on a pilgrimage. Something is obviously bothering the knight, else he would not feel the need to atone for his actions. But these small flaws only make him that much more of a human figure, and can only serve to further draw the reader into the knight’s coming tale.
So, while the knight may be besmirched, and troubled, and no longer gleam, he still, in Chaucer’s, the narrator’s, and most reader’s view, remains the Knight in shinning armour.Works Consulted
Geoffrey Chaucer. Twayne’s English Authors Series, Ed. Sylvia Bowman, New York: Twayne Publishers, 1964.
Modern Critical Views: Geoffrey Chaucer, Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1985.
Pearsall, Derek. The Life of Geoffrey Chaucer. Blackwell Critical Biographies. Ed. Claude Rawson. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1992.