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Allusion in The Canterbury Tales

Allusion Examples in The Canterbury Tales:

The Knight’s Tale

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"virgin beauty slays me ..."   (The Knight’s Tale)

Here Arcita claims that the woman's beauty inflicts more pain on him than any physical wound he could endure. This is an allusion to the courtly love genera that was prevalent during the Middle Ages and the Early Modern period. The knights's ability to be emotionally wounded by a "virgin beauty" demonstrated their ability to be internally feeling while remaining stoic against physical pain. Chaucer could be seen as mocking courtly love tropes by the hyperbolic nature of this statement.

" “Philostrates” ..."   (The Knight’s Tale)

This is a play on the name Philostratus, a well-known Greek sophist in Rome around 200 AD. A sophist was a teacher that used philosophy and rhetoric to teach arete, or virtue. The name also alludes to Boccaccio's Il Filostrato, "the one vanquished by love." In choosing this name, Arcita recognizes both parts of himself, the virtuous chivalrous knight and the man brought to his knees by love for a woman.

"those dogs did..."   (The Knight’s Tale)

Although Chaucer's source for this fable is unknown, the story is similar to one of Aesop's fables, The Lion and the Bear. In Aesop's story, a Bear and a Lion fight over a goat. They wear each other out with their struggle against each other, and while they are resting a Fox steals their goat. The moral of the story is "Sometimes one man has all the toil, and another all the profit."

"ancient writer’s saw..."   (The Knight’s Tale)

Chaucer alludes to a comment made by Boethius in his Consolation of Philosophy, Book III.  Arcita's argument here can be summed up in the cliche, "All's fair in love and war."  In other words, matters of love cancel any prior obligations, including family and blood relationships.

"Herod..."   (The Miller’s Tale)

Herod the Great was a Roman statesman. He is known for leading massive building projects throughout Judea, including ports, temples, and fortresses. However, Herod is also known for the Massacre of the Innocents upon the birth of Jesus. The Miller's reference to this historical character suggests that he does not know the whole history that he alludes to and is simply trying to make references to make his story like the Knight's tale.

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