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Chaucer's Knight: Portrait of a Medieval Mercenary [Paperback]

Terry Jones
3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Chaucer's Knight: The Portrait of a Medieval Mercenary Chaucer's Knight: The Portrait of a Medieval Mercenary 4.5 out of 5 stars (2)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Methuen Publishing Ltd; 2nd Revised edition edition (31 Oct 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0413691403
  • ISBN-13: 978-0413691408
  • Product Dimensions: 21 x 13.6 x 3.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 713,787 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


This study by former "Monty Python" member Terry Jones, now reissued with a new foreword, questions the accepted view of Chaucer's knight as a conventional and virtuous pillar of the establishment, and concentrates on the historical reality of the mercenary knight common on the battlefields of Chaucer's day, a perspective which calls for a reassessment of "The Knight's Tale"'s usual interpretation as courtly romance.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
'The Knight's Tale', of course, tells us very little about Chaucer's Knight. We learn far, far more from the General Prologue. The traditional view is that the Knight is, alone among all the pilgrims, held up as a genuinely noble, perfect example of his profession. However, most readers have at times felt that this interpretation does not quite satisfy.
Even the most genial of the other portraits have a trace of irony. The Prioresse (spoke French 'after the Scole of Stratford-atte-Bowe/for the Frenssh of parys was to hire unknowe) is loveable but laughable, the Clerk (as leene was his hors as is a rake) is virtuous but unattractive. Even the Parson of the Town, who is held up as a perfect model of a preacher in the prologue, is ridiculed in his tale: Chaucer makes it so long, boring and rambling that it is now in most editions printed as prose. For the other pilgrims, Chaucer's wit is more vituperative. The physician - 'for gold in phisik is a cordial, therefore he lovede gold in special', the man of law - 'he semed bisier than he was' and the self-important merchant - 'But, sooth to seyn, I noot how men hym calle.' are soft enough, but the Sumoner and the Pardoner are absolutely vicious.
Why, then, does the Knight escape censure?
Terry Jones's thesis is that we misunderstand Chaucer because we lack the appropriate cultural context. Far from an example of knightly virtue, to Jones the Knight is a stinging indictment of all the worst of medieval mercenary excess.
To prove this point, he examines in detail all the battles which Chaucer lists for the Knight, and makes the claim that they were the bloodiest and most unChristian battles that the Knight could possibly have attended.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
In this study Terry Jones sets out to argue that, far from being the paragon of traditional criticism, Chaucer's Knight is intended to be understood as a typical CXIV mercenary. Relying chiefly on the evidence of the General Prologue, Mr.Jones argues that the Knight's status can be inferred from the nature of the territories in which he is said to have campaigned; from the type, quality and condition of his dress and equipment; and from the things that Chaucer does not say about the Knight which we might otherwise have expected him to say. Turning to the Knight's Tale, Mr.Jones asserts that the manner in which it is told demonstrates that the Knight is to be seen as a crude vulgarian aping his betters, but doing so in such a way as to reveal his lack of taste, education and gentility. The Knight's recounting of a tale derived from Boccacio's 'Teseida' is, says Mr.Jones, to be studied alongside the original, and significant departures in tone and thought show that the Knight not only misunderstood his source, but turned it into what Mr.Jones calls a 'hymn to tyranny.'

This is exciting, controversial stuff, delivered with all the energy, passion and disrespect for scholarship that one might expect of the co-director of 'Monty Python and the Holy Grail'. The problem is that while drawing speculative inferences from what Chaucer chooses to tell us - and equally, from what he does not, Jones fails to deal with the fact that the poet never actually voices anything at all in the way of open criticism. In fact, it's the reverse: the Knight is introduced in lines that describe him as a 'worthy man', a 'lover of chivalry, truth, honour, freedom and courtesy' throughout his long career, and a worthy performer in 'his Lord's war.
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3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An (Ig)Noble Knight 27 Nov 2003
Terry Jones re-examines the episodes from Chauser's Canterbury Tales relating to the Knight.
Instead of a noble warrior he is seen as a parody of a ruthless killer, sparing none, cheating his masters, changing sides, and boasting of his wonderful achievements. It brings The Canterbury Tales into a fresh light.
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