Dryden translated only a few of the Canterbury Tales, and the one he liked best was the knight's tale of Palamon and Arcite. He published it in a book which he called Fables, and it is, I think, as a narrative or story-telling poet in these fables, and in his translations, that he keeps most interest for the young people of to-day.
You have by this time, I hope, read the story of Palamon and Arcite at least in Tales from Chaucer, and here I will give you a few lines first from Dryden and then from Chaucer, so that you can judge for yourselves of the difference.
Scala's first chapter, '"We Witen Nat What Thing We Preyen Heere': Desire, Knowledge, and the Ruse of Satisfaction in the Knight's Tale," comments not only on the frustrated desires of characters in the "Knight's Tale," but also references Chaucer's act of appropriating source material and reappropriating his own previously penned "Palamon and Arcite
" into the Canterbury Tales.
Anne Middleton, David Hopkins, Cedric Reverand, and Paul Hammond' variously examine Lucretius as a central influence on the thought of Dryden, especially in "Palamon and Arcite
." And in "Of the Pythagorean Philosophy," Epicurus or Lucretius is often looked upon as a stand-in for Pythagoras.
A similar sentiment is expressed by warriors Palamon and Arcite
, twinned together by imprisonment: "We are one another's wife."
(27) The two heroes of this tale are the Theban nobles Palamon and Arcite
, who are cousins and very close friends.
MacFaul's discussion of The Two Noble Kinsmen, a play in which "the friendships which are most valorized are dead ones" (78), is particularly compelling as it demonstrates how the difficulties of practicing male friendship are figured by Palamon and Arcite
's jail cell, "Shakespeare's ultimate symbol for the Humanist ideal of friendship" (86).
(4) Applying Williams method to The Knight's Tale, it is possible to see the disorderly loves of Palamon and Arcite
as an allegory of the highest of all loves.
Chaucer adapted "The Knight's Tale" from Giovanni Boccaccio's Teseida, the Tuscan epic which prefigured the Orlando poems of Matteo Boiardo and Ludovico Ariosto, as well as John Dryden's "Palamon and Arcite
." In Chaucer's version, two cousins (who constantly refer to each other as brothers) Arcite and Palamon are prisoners of Theseus in Athens.
She offers, too, a reading of the Knight's Tale, where animal images play a crucial role, reflecting on Theseus's kingship and the status of those participating in the tournament, but also demonstrating, in the identification of Palamon and Arcite
with lower animals, the difficulty of defining the boundary between man and beast.
Not only does Theseus invoke and identify with Jupiter as God omnipotent, (14) "maximus deorum" (in Holkot's words, equivalent to God's Providence, or God Himself, according to Bersuire, "Deum, ipsi[u]s celi principem & magistrum" [God, lord and ruler of heaven itself], he dominates all the other characters because he is their conqueror - he has defeated every one of them directly or indirectly in battle and in war, whether the Amazons Hippolyta and Emelye (the first of whom he marries) or the Theban royal cousins Palamon and Arcite
(whom he imprisons).
THE KNIGHT'S TALE: Friends Palamon and Arcite
compete for a girl named Emily in a tournament.