In the Knight’s Tale, Theseus gives a speech after Acrite’s death. The following lines are in the context of Theseus' speech at Acrite’s funeral and illustrate a shallow view of life and death. He says in the beginning of the quote that all things must die and that there is nothing anyone can do about that, Acrite's death is proof of this. He goes on to say that what mankind can do is reproduce itself in the lines 3012-3014, "He hath so wel biset his ordinaunce,/ That speces of thyngs and progressiouns/ Shullen enduren by successious."[1] It is part of the divine ordinance of God for the earth’s population to reproduce or to perpetuate the human species. Theseus’ banal observation suggests that there is no need to dwell on the death of men and women because they will be replaced just as the earth naturally restores itself to order after natural disasters.

In his speech he speaks about death and his philosophy of death in the following lines:


  • "Of man and womann seen we wel also
    That nedes, in oon of thise termes two,
    This is to seyn, in youthe or elles age,
    He moot be deed, the kyng as shal a page;
    Som in his bed, som in the depe see,
    Som in the large feeld, as men may see;
    Ther helpeth noght, al goth that ilke weye.
    Thanne may I seyn that al this thyng moot
       What maketh this but Juppiter, the kyng,
    That is prince and cause of alle thyng,
    Convertynge al unto his propre welle
    From which it is dirryved, sooth to telle?
    And heer-agayns no creature on lyve,
    Of no degree, availleth for to stryve.
        Thanne is it wysdom, as it thynketh me,
    To maken vertu of necessittee,
    And take it weel that we may nat eschue,
    And namely that to us alle is due.
    And whoso gruccheth ought, he dooth folye,
    And rebel is to hym that al may gye.
    And certeinly a man hath moost honour
    To deyen in his excellence and flour,
    Whan he is siker of his goode name;
    Than hath he doon his freend, ne hym, no 
         shame." [2] (3027-3050)

    Theseus goes on to say in the latter part of the quote that it is best for a man to die while he enjoys fame and youth rather than to die old, his greatest accomplishments forgotten. This is a shallow outlook on life and death because fortune always changes. The wheel of fortune, often referred to in medieval literature and Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy, proves that fortune is always changing and that a person can not, by virtue of fortune’s ever-changing nature, spend half of his life on top, the other half on bottom. Theseus’ outlook on death is furthered with the completion of his thoughts disregarding any reference to the transcendence of the soul after death. There are no allusions to heaven as a consolation of death. Even though Theseus recognizes that there is a God, he does not offer Christian consolation or allude to the transcendence of the soul to a better place.



    [1] Baugh, Albert, ed., Chaucer's Major Poetry, (Englewood Cliffs, 1963), p.288.

    [2] Baugh, p. 289.

    [3] Watts, Victor, ed., The Consolation of Philosophy, (New York, 1969), p. 102.