The General Prologue - The Knight

A knight there was, and he a worthy man,
Who, from the moment that he first began
To ride about the world, loved chivalry,
Truth, honour, freedom and all courtesy.
At Alexandria, he, when it was won;(5)
Of mortal battles he had fought fifteen,
And he’d fought for our faith at Tramissene
And always won he sovereign fame for prize.
Though so illustrious, he was very wise
And bore himself as meekly as a maid.(10)
He never yet had any vileness said,
In all his life, to whatsoever wight.
He was a truly perfect, gentle knight.
But now, to tell you all of his array,
His steeds were good, but yet he was not gay.(15)
Of simple fustian wore he a jupon
Sadly discoloured by his habergeon;
For he had lately come from his voyage
And now was going on this pilgrimage.

Footnotes

  1. Chaucer uses this term to mean showy. Here again, he juxtaposes the good quality of what the knight possesses and the modesty with which he handles what he possesses. Note that in this repetition and hyperbolic description of the Knight’s greatness there is a hint of irony that suggests Chaucer may be poking fun at the idea of this perfect Knight.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  2. “Array” here refers to the arrangement of military items in a neat and orderly line. He follows this with a catalogue of his military gear, such as the tunic he wears, his horses, and his chainmail.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  3. Here, maid means both young woman and also a young man with the composure to remain chaste. Chaucer uses this simile to show both the Knight’s character and continue to demonstrate his adherence to his chivalric vows. In using this simile to compare the Knight to a chaste man he becomes as meek, or gentle and courteous, as the chaste man, both qualities that are important to the chivalric code.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  4. Tramissene, or Tlemcen, is the site of Christian crusades in Algeria. The Crusades were a series of periodic military campaigns into the Holy Land sanctioned by the Pope undertaken by Catholic monarchs and their subjects from 1096 to 1487. The goal of these campaigns was to reclaim the Holy Land from Muslim control and unite the eastern and western branches of Christendom. This is another example of the Knight’s ability to fight for the crown and promote Christianity abroad.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  5. Mortal in this context means deadly, seeking to bring about the destruction of an enemy. Here Chaucer describes of a fierce knight destroying his enemy in fifteen battles. However, by phasing this as “fighting mortal battles,” Chaucer sidesteps the image of a brutal knight slaughtering his enemies. This image keeps with the chivalric depiction of the Knight.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  6. Chivalry, truth, honor, freedom, and courtesy are the five courtly ideals that a knight should have. Chivalry was an honor code that dictated Knightly behavior, especially in terms of the respect that they were meant to show towards women. This idea of the ideal knight and the importance of chivalry becomes the later subject of the Knight’s tale.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  7. The Alexandrian Crusade, also known as the sacking of Alexandria, took place in October 1365, approximately twenty years before Chaucer began writing The Canterbury Tales. This Crusade was led by Peter I of Cyprus and resulted in the destruction of many mosques and temples. The Knight's presence at the sacking is meant to represent his holiness as a good Christian.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor