Knight's Tale - Chaucer - Canterbury Tales
Welcome to Study Guides!

The Knight's Tale

Medieval knights in the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Chaucer set his Knight's Tale in ancient Greece, and it's about Theseus, the king of Athens in Greek mythology. (So we can see that these medieval people knew all about Greek mythology!). In the story, Theseus is just coming back to Athens after a war with the Amazons, where he ended up marrying the Amazon queen. He's bringing the queen, Hippolyta, back to Athens, along with the queen's little sister Emelye (modern Emily).

As soon as Theseus gets to Athens, a group of crying women, dressed in black, beg Theseus to help them. A tyrant, Creon, has captured their city, Thebes, and killed their husbands, and Creon won't even let them bury their husbands.

Theseus immediately goes to Thebes, kills Creon, and captures the city. He has the ladies' husbands properly buried. But two princes from Creon's army, who are cousins, are only wounded. Theseus takes the princes back with him to Athens, to be his prisoners forever.

Several years later, the beautiful Emelye is walking in the garden below the tower where the princes are in prison. She sings and picks flowers, and one of the princes, Palamoun, falls in love with her. He prays to Venus that Emelye will help him and his cousin get out of prison.

Then the other prince, Arcite, also looks out the window, and he falls in love with Emelye too! The two princes fight over her.

After some months have gone by, Venus answers Palmoun's prayer - partly. One of Arcite's friends comes by and convinces Theseus to let Arcite go - but Palamoun has to stay in prison. The princes are both upset. Arcite is sad because he has to go and won't be able to look at Emelye out the window anymore, and Palamoun is sad because he has to stay in prison.

Then Palamoun also escapes from prison. He meets his brother, and they start fighting with swords over who is to marry Emelye. Theseus finds them fighting, and they confess the whole story. He is sympathetic to their love, and tells them that they will have to fight each other for Emelye's hand in a big tournament.

Before the tournament, Palamoun prays to Venus that he should get to marry Emelye. Arcite prays to Mars that he should win the tournament, and Emelye prays to Diana that she shouldn't have to marry either of these crazy strangers. Venus answers that Palamoun will get his wish, Mars answers that Arcite will get his wish, but Diana tells Emelye that she should marry one of these men.

And sure enough, Arcite wins the tournament but dies of his wounds, so that in the end Palamoun gets to marry Emelye, and they live happily ever after.

Learn by doing: holding a tournament

Bibliography and further reading about Geoffrey Chaucer:

chaucer chaucer

Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, rewritten by Marcia Williams (2007). For kids, nine of Chaucer's tales retold, including some of the funny ones. Edited to be appropriate for kids, with funny pictures.

The Canterbury Tales: In Modern English , by Geoffrey Chaucer, translated by Neville Coghill (2000). The complete text, translated into modern English. Some stories may not be appropriate for kids.

More medieval European literature
Medieval Islamic literature home

LIMITED TIME OFFER FOR TEACHERS: Using this article with your class? Show us your class page where you're using this article, and we'll send you a free subscription so all your students can use Study Guides with no distractions! (Not a teacher? Paid subscriptions are also available for just $16/year!)
Please help other teachers and students find us: link to this page from your class page.
Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
Cite this page
  • Author: K.E. Carr
  • Title:
  • Site Name: Study Guides
  • Publisher:
  • Date Published:
Did you find what you needed? Ask your teacher to link to this page so other people can use it too! Send it in and win a "Great Page!" award!
Sign up for more free articles and special offers in' weekly newsletter:
We will never share your e-mail address unless you allow us to do so. View our privacy policy. Easy unsubscribe links are provided in every email.
Comment on This Article

Does your class page honor diversity, celebrate feminism, and support people of color, LBGTQ people, and people with disabilities? Let us know, and we'll send you a Diversity Banner you can proudly display!
Looking for more? is loading comments...
(Comments will appear after moderation, if they are kind and helpful. Feel free to ask questions, and we'll try to answer them.)
Cite this page
  • Carr, K.E. . Study Guides, . Web. 27 April, 2017