Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A Short Break

"Naught may the woful spirit in myn herte
Declare o point of alle my sorwes smerte
To yow, my lady, that I love moost,
But I biquethe the syrvyce of my goost
To yow aboven every creature
Syn that my lyf may no lenger dure.
Allas, the wo! Allas, the peynes strong,
That I for yow have suffred, and so longe!
Allas, the deeth! Allas, myn Emelye!
Allas, departynge of our compaignye!
Allas, myn hertes queene! Allas, my wyf,
Myn hertes lady, endere of my lyf!
What is this world? What asketh men to have?
Now with his love, now in his colde grave
Allone, withouten any compaignye.

(This is the first part of Arcite's death speech, from "The Knight's Tale" in Larry Benson's Riverside Chaucer, 3rd edn. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987.)

Allone, withouten any compaignye... what a devastating line.

Sometimes, different texts work better for me or not. This semester, I'm getting more out of teaching "The Knight's Tale" than I have previously. I think I'm getting the irony of despair in there, and thinking about how the Knight is leading off this pilgrimage with a story that's setting out god-figures that are anything but benevolent, and lives that are more full of violence than meaning, and Arcite's question remains despite Theseus's attempts to declare order and meaning. What does it mean to take a pilgrimage with this story?

One of the privileges of teaching lit is that I get to come back to literature in different ways and at different times, and often enough, I get more out of the work, depending what I'm bringing to it.

And now, back to my regularly scheduled prepping.


  1. Thank you for this. . . I haven't read the Canterbury Tales since college, and just reading this I realize how differently I'd take things now. You're right, it's devastating, but so real . . .

  2. Oh, I am SO glad that someone else reads the Knight's Tale the same way I do. (I had epic arguments about this with my Chaucer professor in grad school, who was pretty old school about such things.)

    The bit that always gets me is Saturn's "My cours, that hath so wyde for to turne" speech -- which makes it SO clear that he is NOT the sort of figure that any rational human being would want in charge of the universe.

    I always picture the Knight as a lot like the protagonist of The Seventh Seal -- a man who has seen too much and knows he's fighting a losing battle against death, but who steps up and fights anyway.