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Securitas and Chaucer's Knight Kurt Olsson University ofIdaho Among the responses of �aurds pilgrim, to stories told by others in their company, perhaps none is more welcome to modern readers than the Knight's interruption of The Monks Tale. Arguing that "lite! hevynesse / Is right ynough to muche folk" (Mk-NPL 2269-70), 1 the Knight states his own strong preference for the contrary of Daun Piers's tragedies: of "swich thyng" as the person who "wexeth fortunat" it is "goodly for to telle" (line 2779). The Knight's speech, which effectively brings to an end a tedious series of poorly narrated tales, inspires gratitude, and yet, as spoken by a character so frequently described by critics as philosophical, it is problematic: it suggests in the Knight an outlook no more profound than that of Daun Piers himself. The latter pilgrim is a worldly, sensual man, and his tale reveals, as consistent with his weakness as a monk, a superficialunderstanding of Fortune, humankind, and tragedy. If, as many readers suppose, the Knight displays a surer grasp of Boethian ideas in his own narrative, his words to Daun Piers are troublesome: a preference for the "joye and greet solas" of good fortune hardly reveals philosophicalsensitivity, andhis speech, despite efforts tosalvage Boethian meanings from it,2 renders his philosophy suspect. The simplest recourse for the interpreter faced with this enigma is to question the dominance of Boethian thought in the Knight's own nar­ rative. The issue is how Chaucer there presents philosophical ideas. Whereas some readers insist that the tale builds through Theseus's closing speech to Boethian affirmation, others see the tale as unphilosophical, even going so far as to judge the thought of Theseus's speech "not as Boethian philosophy but as the long-winded, sententious waffie of a conceited 1 All quotations ofChaucer are from F N. Robinson, ed., The WorksofGeoffrey Chaucer, 2d ed. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1957). 2 See R. E. Kaske, "The Knight's Interruption ofthe Monk'sTale," ELH24 (1957):249-68. 123 STUDIES IN THE AGE OF CHAUCER autocrat."3 To be sure, the latter reading suits the charge that the Knight's words to Daun Piers contain dubious wisdom. Neither side in this contro­ versy, however, accounts for enough: the narrative contains ideas that are more than"sententious waffle," and it contains too many other elements to warrant the claim that it and the Knight's intention are principally Boethian or "philosophical." One major element that effectively qualifies the statement ofa philoso­ phy is Chaucer's assignment ofthis tale to a pilgrim with a distinctive and significant voice. This tellervalues doctrine even when it isdivorced from a philosophical context, and for this there is precedent in the knightly estate. In the Livre de chevalerie the French knight Geoffroi de Charny uses Boethian ideas about the goods ofFortune to identifythe virtues ofthe ban chevalier.4 He does not fully recast the argument of the Consolation but adapts Boethian testimony to another end- explaining the ideals ofchiv­ alry. Surely Geoffroi is not unique among medieval writers in using "sen­ tences" from the auctores for purposes other than those originally intended, and it is possible that Chaucer allows theKnighta like freedom. In this article I shall examine such uses ofdoctrine in the Knight's various speeches, but my largergoal is to determine whether those speeches hold to aunifyingpurpose which,more than a purported statement ofphilosophy, suits this character in his various roles as a knight, a crusader turned pilgrim, a teller, and a member ofa "compaignye." For some critics, raising the question of the Knight as teller is to add needless complexity to the interpretation. Theseus, an exemplar ofwisdom and virtue, carries the author's "philosophical" message, and it is sufficient to a reading ofthe tale to examine what D. W Robertson,Jr., describes as "symbolic actions which reinforce the traditional connotations ofhis char­ acter."5 Whatever the merits of this position, issues arising in Theseus's actions require close scrutiny ifwe are to see the role of"philosophy" in the telling. How then are wisdom and virtue figured in Theseus's actions? He displays the mercy idealized in the New Law, for example, when he...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1949-0755
Print ISSN
0190-2407
Pages
pp. 123-153
Launched on MUSE
2018-01-03
Open Access
No
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