Subject Fatalism in The Knight's Tale
Posted by Monica
Posted on Sun May 12 23:28:06 2002
From IP  

Traditionally we Chinese have a strong belief in fate or destiny. Oftentimes, we tend to attribute something beyond our control to God・s will. For example, we may say that someone is born to be rich or poor. Or we say something unfortunate is destined to happen. On the one hand, this kind of belief may somehow comfort us and make us feel better when everything seems to be against us. But on the other hand it may also result in a pessimistic attitude toward our life, because we suppose that no matter what we do, we are unable to fight against our fate. Interestingly I find this similar concept of fatalism in The Knight・s Tale.

In The Knight・s Tale, the idea that God (or Fortune) governs everything and the mortal cannot but take what has been assigned to them has been brought up again and again. In the prison, Arcita ascribes their miserable confinement to the affection of evil disposition of Saturn. He thinks that when they were born, the stars had already decided their fate. Even in modern time this concept are widely accepted. Many people believe the horoscopes have a lot to do with their life. Since Arcita and Palamon are condemned by Theseus to life imprisonment, they have no hope for their life and can do nothing to change it. Arcita seems to me to be more pessimistic. When he has strife with Palamon about who should love Emily, he finally draws to the conclusion that it is in vain to fight because they two are doomed to prison and neither of them can gain Emily・s love. :Here in this prison cell must we remain/ And each endure whatever fate ordain.; Then without having the chance to make his own choice, Arcita is released because of Pirithous. In other words, he is forced to leave and cannot see Emily anymore. Were there no epiphany of god Mercury who tells Arcita to go to Athens, he might indulge in the sorrow and lament for himself every day. However, Palamon seems to have much autonomy if it is correct to say that. He plans his escape in order to win Emily and makes his way. So he is more active than Arcita. He is not limited to his fate.

In my opinion Theseus in this story plays the role of God. The destiny of Arcita, Palamon and Emily are all determined by him. First, he decides to have a tournament and the winner can get Emily. :That each of you shall learn his destiny/ As it is cast; and hear, now, in what wise/ The word of fate shall speak through my device.; Theseus・ words are authoritative and on one will doubt it but obey it. Besides, he marries Emily to Palamon after the death of Arcita. Emily is the most passive character among them all. One of the major reasons is because she is a woman. She has no right to choose whom she loves and wants to marry. She is a trophy representing the man・s victory. We hardly know what Emily really feels because Theseus always speaks for her and makes decisions for her. Therefore, she silently accepts her fate. Though Theseus dominates everything and everyone, I am not saying he is a dictatorial tyrant. I just pity on Emily and those who cannot be the masters of their destiny.

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