Comment on Chaucer's portrayal of the military class in the Prologue to The Canterbury Tales.

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Susan Hurn | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Numerous characters among Chaucer's pilgrims represent the Church, but only two represent the military, the knight and his son, the young squire. Chaucer's knight is a man of courage, honor, and devotion, a soldier of the Crusades who has lived up to the ideals of chivalry:

There was a Knight, a most distinguished man,

Who from the day on which he first began

To ride abroad had followed chivalry,

Truth, honor, generousness and courtesy.

He had done nobly in his sovereign's war

And ridden into battle, no man more,

As well in Christian as heathen places,

And ever honored for his noble graces.

Although the knight by tradition is a member of the aristocracy, there is no vanity in him; he is wise and modest. He dresses not in rich attire, but wears instead his "fustian," a tunic made of coarse, common fabric. Having just returned from service, his tunic is "stained and dark with smudges" from his armor. Chaucer's knight is the epitome of one engaged in military service, "a true, a perfect gentle-knight."

The squire, about twenty years old, is developed in sharp contrast to his father. He is a well dressed, good-looking young man, "A lover and cadet, a lad of fire." Full of vigor, the squire's interests are those of youth:

He could make songs and poems and recite,

Knew how to joust and dance, to draw and write.

He loved so hotly that till dawn grew pale

He slept as little as a nightingale.

Despite his frivolous pursuits, the squire does seem to possess the potential for becoming a true, chivalrous knight. He is strong and agile, rides well, and had performed with courage when tested in battle, even though his experience had been brief:

He'd seen some service with the cavalry

In Flanders and Artois and Picardy

And had done valiantly in little space

Of time, in hope to win his lady's grace.

He lacks the experience and wisdom of age and service, but the young squire is not a bad young man:

Courteous he was, lowly and serviceable,

And carved to serve his father at the table.

Through the knight and the squire, Chaucer presents two views of the military class, the tried-and-true devoted soldier/knight and the youthful but promising next generation.

 

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