the portrait of the knight in The General Prologue and comment
upon how it illustrates Chaucer's approach in introducing us
to other character. In your answer you should consider the following
- the physical and moral impression of the
- ways in which that impression is shaped
- use of historical and social background
Chaucer - both poet and pilgrim- introduce us to the knight
1st for the sake of hierarchy; with C.the pilgrim it is because
of social and cultural proprieties, with C the poet it is to
provide the reader with a yardstick by which to measure the
worth - or even worthiness(!) of the other characters.
The knight is introduced as "worthy".
This is the 1st usage of "worthy" within TGP, &
at this point it is totally without irony; the knight really
is all that he is made out to be. He is, in fact, an idealised
figure; no real knight could have fought at all the actual battles
listed in his CV. We are meant to see him as a model of what
a knight should be - the gold standard of knighthood. Later
in TGP the word "worthy" will be undermined and devalued
until it cannot be read without an awareness of ironic potential,
but not yet. Furthermore the word, or derivatives of it, appears
no fewer than 5 times in the 75 lines dedicated to the knight.
This repetition is intended to have a cumulative effect, convincing
us of the truth of the judgement.
The vocabulary which surrounds the knight is all heavily loaded
with moral worth; we read that he
Trouthe and honour, fredom and curteisie",
that he was "ever honoured
for his worthiness", that he was respected everywhere,
even "in hethenesse";
we are told that "everemoore
he hadde a sovereyne prys", and that he was wise
and modest -
"of his porte as meeke as is a maide".
The quadruple negative used to tell us that
"He nevere yet no villeynie ne saide
In al his lif unto no manner wight"
serves to reinforce his virtue; this technique of cumulative
repetition is not uncommon in TGP.
He has achieved both internal worth and external approbation.
He has, in fact, got it all:
"He was a verray parfit, gentil knight."
The knight's behaviour further proves him to be a mediaeval,
knightly super hero; apart from fighting "in his lordes
werre" an inconceivable number of times, he has proven
his right standing with God by being victorious against Moslem
enemies three times in single combat. The belief at that time
was that God fought on the side of the right, and so victory
in single combat was a sure sign of God's favour.
The physical details given of the knight are few - 4 lines
out of his total 75 - and this fits with Chaucer's technique;
we usually find in TGP that the amount of attention paid to
a character's dress and appearance is in inverse proportion
to his or her moral worth. Thus by saying little about the knight's
appearance, Chaucer tells us not only what these few details
reveal but also that there are more important things about this
man to focus on than what he looks like and what he wears.
What the details given themselves tell us is that the knight
is not a vain man, or indee at all concerned with his appearance;
his clothes are serviceable "but he was nat gay".
His tunic is dirty -
"Al bismotered with his habergeon"
because he has come straight from landing at port to go on
pilgrimage, without going home to change. This indicates either
a tremendous level of devotion and spirituality or, perhaps,
a massive level of guilt for deeds done whilst on crusade. I
suspect the former, since Chaucer has been at such pains to
paint the knight as a paragon of all the virtues.
The knight pays more attention to the quality of his horse
than to his clothes, and this is appropriate in a professional
man; a knight's horse was a weapon in itself, one of the chief
tools of his trade. A well trained destrier , or war horse,
was immensely valuable both financially and in terms of its
owner's safety and success on the field of battle. As well as
admiring the knight because he IS a knight
- remember that Chaucer the pilgrim was a sucker for status
- Chaucer the pilgrim also admires his professional expertise,
another C. the pilgrim trait.
The portrait of the knight is not only revelatory of the knight
himself but also of Chaucer the poet's methods and techniques
and of some of the historical context of the writing.