English, Department of


Date of this Version



OLSON, PAUL A. "Chaucer's Epic Statement and the Political Milieu of the Late Fourteenth Century." Mediaevalia 5 (1979):61-87


Copyright @ 1980 Center for Medieval and Early Renaissance Studies State University of New York at Binghamton


Sets Knight's Tale in the tradition of political verse, and argues that the tale encourages peace in the domestic and foreign affairs of Chaucer's England. The hortatory, heroic style of the tale presents Theseus as a peace-making ideal, pertinent to the French wars of the time. The juxtaposition of the Miller's Tale with the Knight's Tale encourages placid relations with the peasant class.

Several critics, both neoclassic and modern, have observed that) as to kind, the Knight's Tale is an epic fiction. Characteristically, the poems we call medieval epics are what Ezra Pound also says an epic must be in modern times: "a long poem about history." Though the term epic was used little in medieval times, a carmen heroicum or work in the mode of the Aeneid was recognized by a style: a use of heroic meters or their vernacular equivalent; certain sorts of figurative language and diction; and, most of all, a peculiar kind of fiction. Mode or kind was, in medieval literature (as in the literature of England generally up through the eighteenth century), a means of signalling rhetorical intention. In the case of the Knight's Tale, kind taken together with the context of the tale in the Canterbury Tales, and in history, tells us what the story means. I wish first to look at that mode and at what it says about the tale's meaning taken by itself and then at what it says in relation to the fictional history which constitutes its context within the Tales and the real history which constituted its context outside.