When you look in a dictionary for the definition of the word ‘fate’, you find it is explained as a power, that some people believe it causes and controls all events, so that you cannot change or control the way things happen. In the Canterbury Tales, Chaucer often draws a personified Fortune, seen as a kind of goddess, who, with her wheel, controls everyone’s lives. Thus she is able to put someone on top one day, and the day after to make him or her fall from grace. In this essay, we are going to deal with The Knight’s Tale, the Monk’s Tale and to a lower extend the Man of Law’s Tale.
The Knight’s Tale comes from Boccaccio’s Teseida, and it accounts the story of two cousins, Arcite and Palamon, who fell in love with the same woman and who fight against each other to gain her. The Monk’s Tale is a collection of tragedies, telling the destiny and the bad ending of 19 famous figures. Among them, we find Lucifer, Hercules, Julius Caesar, Nero, Alexander the Conqueror… These stories come from several sources: from the Old Testament or the Christian tradition, from the classical history and myths, and from more contemporary stories.
The Man of Law’s Tale is influenced by romance and saint’s live genres, and deals with the life of Custance, who despite her bad fortune, remains faithful to Christianity and gets a happy ending. Fortune Fortune comes from Fortuna, the Roman goddess of fortune and luck who was very popular in the late Roman Empire, and whose fame continues thrtoughout the Middle Ages. She was the only alternative to a belief in God, and also a convenient figure to blame when one was not satisfied with his or her life. Howard Patch “Chaucer and Lady Fortune” The Modern Language Review, Vol 22 No 4 (October 1927) pages 377-388 all subsequent references will be to this edition).
‘How is Gilead presented as a place of power and control in the opening chapters of The Handmaid’s Tale?’ The Republic of Gilead is the fictional country which Margaret Atwood chose as the setting for her dystopian novel, The Handmaid’s Tale. We can infer from the first chapter that Gilead is within the borders of the USA from the fact that ‘old’ blankets still said US: this hints that some sort ...
Chaucer uses Boethius’s ideas from The Consolation of Philosophy, a work he translated. This book deals with a debate between Boethius, a Roman philosopher, disgraced and imprisoned, and the personified figure of Philosophy. Boethius complains about the injustice of human life and Fortune.
Philosophy answers that all is a matter of perspective. (Introduction of Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales, edited by Jill Mann (London: Penguin, 2005) All subsequent references will be to this edition).
When they speak about the superior force that rules their lives, human beings use several words, the most common are, of course, fortune and luck. We can also find the nouns aventure, hap, cas, chance… The personified Fortune is reputed to be changeable, cruel, and to like playing games on humans.
The Monks opens his tale in saying “For certein, whan that Fortune list to flee / Ther may no man the cours of hire withholde” (The Monk’s Tale, 1995-96) People at that time believed Fortune was a kind of god, without limits and all-powerful. She likes to play with human’s lives, and her doing can never be foreseen, as shown in the Monk’s Tale “ for whan that Fortune list to glose / Thanne waiteth she hir man to overthrowe / By swich a wey as he wolde leest suppose” (2140-12).
Fortune is seen as cruel, because she takes men and women from high status to almost nothing, from happiness to sorrow: “Thus kan Fortune hire wheel governe and gye/ And out of joye bringe men to sorwe” (The Monk’s Tale, 2397-98).
Moreover, it is a common belief that to her, human kind is nothing, and Palamon apostrophes Fortune in The Knight’s Tale to say it: “o cruel goddess, that governe/ this world (…) What is mankind moore unto yow holde/ than is the heep that rowketh in the folde? / For slain is man right as another beest / and dwelleth eek in prisoun and areest / And hath siknesse nd greet adversitee / and ofte times gilteless, pardee” (1303-1312).
In D. H. Lawrence's story, "The Blind Man," a man realizes what life is all about. Through the help of three very strong characters, Maurice, the blind man, figures out that you never realize all you have until something is taken away from you. Today, people take things for granted. Whether it be a person or an ability, they never begin to understand the worth and and meaning of peoples actions ...
Fortune cannot be trusted: “who may truste on Fortune any throwe? ” (The Monk’s Tale, 2136), “For whan men trusteth hire, thane wol she faille” (The Monk’s Tale, 2765) because she is also changeable: she can favour one person one day, and turn her tail the day after. The Monk tells the story of Alexander in saying “Fortune him made the heir of hire honour” (2643) at the beginning, and stating at the end “Thy sis Fortune hath turned into aas / And yet for thee ne weep she nevere a teere” (2661-62).
Her ceaseless change can be sumned up into one single sentence: “Fortune was first freen, and sitthe foo” (2723).
With Fortune, you get what you ask for: in prison, Palamon asks to see Emily every day and Arcite to be freed. Palamon stays in prison, seeing Emily every day through the window fenced with iron bars, whereas Arcite is released from prison thanks to one of his friends. The day before the tournament, each protagonist goes to a temple to pray to a god.
Palamon, in the temple of Venus, the goddess of love, asks “I wolde have fully possessioun / of Emelye” (The Knight’s Tale, 2242-43).
Arcite asks Mars, god of war, to “yif me the victorye! ” (The Knight’s Tale, 2420).
Each god grants his prayer his wish. At the end of the tournament, Arcite won, and so he is supposed to marry Emily, but suddenly a Fury, sent by Saturn, frightens Arcite’s horse and makes Arcite “pighte on the pommel of his heed” (The Knight’s Tale, 2689) and he dies. It leads to Palamon marrying Emily, as he has asked.
According to Elisabeth Brewer (Studying Chaucer (Harlow: Longman, 1987) All subsequent references will be to this edition) Fortune’s gifts are: wealth, fame, power, love… But Fortune’s gifts are not granted forever, and chance turns, as does Fortune’s wheel, and people suffer bad luck: “Some man desireth for to have richesse / that cause is of his moerdren, or greet siknesse / And som man wolde out of his prisoun fain / that in his hous is of his meinee slain” (The Knight’s Tale, 1255-58).
In the epic poem, Beowulf, we discover a new way of looking at life. The poem, which was written by an unknown author, depicts life as a journey that is set out for you by God, one that is unchangeable and indefinite. Beowulf as a character is a marvelous person, however, not even he with all his power and might can change his destiny. We as people today base our lives around the same thoughts and ...
Fortune is held responsible for god or bad luck that happen in people’s lives, but on the other hand, there is also the belief that everything is predestined: everyone’s life is already written, which is called fate or destiny. The popular belief in the Middle Ages was that destiny is written in the stars or in a kind of book, and that it depends of the Fates and of the position of the planets when we were born. The length of our life is determined by the Parcae sisters. Malcolm Andrew (The Palgrave Literary Dictionary of Chaucer, Palgrave MacMillan, 2009.
All subsequent references will be to this edition) explains that Clotho spins, Lachesis measures and Atropos cuts the thread of life. Everything is predestined, that it to say that whatever decision taken, whatever meeting made, whatever minor event occuring, everything had been predicted. This is the reason why Theseus says “and forthy I yow putte in this degree / that ech of yow shal have his destine / As him is shape” (The Knight’s Tale, 1841-43), after having decided on the competition rules.
Similarly, Cunstance lived in the same place for a long time, only because it was her fate: “and longe time dwelled she in that place/ In holy werkes evere, as was hir grace” (The Man of Law’s Tale, 979-80).
Destiny can be read, to those who are careful enough, in the stars: “Par aventure, in thilke large book / Which that men clepe the hevene, ywriten was / With sterres, whan that he his birthe took / That he for love sholde han his deth, allas! For in the sterres, clerer than is glas, / Is written, God woot, whoso koude it rede / The deeth of every man, withouten drede / In sterres many a winter therbiforn / Was write the deeth of Ector, Achilles / Of Pompey, Julius, er they were born / The strif of Thebes, and of Hercules / Of Sampson, Turnus, and of Socrates / The deeth, but mennes wittes been so dulle / That no wight kan wel rede it ate fulle” (The Man of Law’s Tale, 190-203).
One can read his or her destiny in the sky at night because the stars show how the planets are positioned.
According to the position of the planets, one can guess good or bad things that are going to happen. Also, the position in which the planets were on the day on one’s birth will influence his or her fate, as explains Arcite to Palamon in prison, to help him endure it: “Som wikke aspect or disposicioun / Of Saturne, by som constellacioun/ Hath yeven us this, althogh we hadde it sworn / So stood the hevene whan that we were born” (The Knight’s Tale, 1887-90).
Fate in the Lives of Men Fate played a large role in the story of Oedipus the King. Fate is what caused Oedipus to live in Corinth with King Polybus and Queen Me rope, and what also came as his downfall in Thebes. Oedipus, Jocasta, and Laius all tried to escape their fate. Laius ordered his son to be left on the mountains of Cithaeron to die. Jocasta agreed with him, and Oedipus left his home in ...
Once one’s fate has been defined, it seems that it is written in a kind of book, because there are several allusions to a book in which one’s future is consigned: “o cruel goddess, that governe / this world with binding of youre word eterne / And written in the table of atthamaunt” (The Knight’s Tale, 1303-05) or again “among the goddes hye it is affermed / and by eterne word write and confermed / thou shalt be wedded unto oon of tho / han han for thee so muchel care and wo” (The Knight’s Tale, 2349-52).
Because Chaucer always talks about fortune and fate, and never about free will, except to say that human beings have no control on their lives, it is clearly and easily understandable that to him and to his contemporaries (as the concepts of fate or of Fortune and her wheel were very popular in the Middles Ages), human beings decide nothing about their lives.