"In helle is noon ordre of rule": Order and Chaos in The Knight's Tale Public Deposited

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  • February 26, 2019
  • Fry, Chandler Thomas
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of English and Comparative Literature
  • Medieval man, as C.S. Lewis reminds us, “was not a dreamer nor a wanderer,” but “an organizer, a codifier, a builder of systems”. He believed not in chaos or randomness, but in universal order. “God hath creat alle thynges,” Chaucer’s Parson says in his tale, “in right ordre, and no thyng withouten ordre, but alle thynges been ordeyned and nombred” (X.218). One need not look further than the Ptolemaic model of the universe to get a sense of medieval man’s conception of the universe. This geocentric model is a complex array of perfect spheres, each one charting the orbit of a planet around the Earth. Primum Mobile—“first moved”—is the outermost sphere in the model, setting everything in motion. Ptolemy no doubt associated Primum Mobile with pagan gods. Medieval man thought of God. When we read, therefore, of the Black Death, and of the limited accounts of it in Froissart and Chaucer, we need not be surprised that medieval man accepted the plague as divine punishment. God set the universe in motion; everything was as He ordered it. Yet order did not persist in the medieval world, especially during Chaucer’s lifetime. As Marion Turner writes: “[t]he years in which Chaucer produced the bulk of his opus were years of extraordinary upheaval in the country as a whole, and in London in particular”. Chaucer, then, was situated on a societal divide: “on the divide between a world conceived in terms of a stable and God-given feudal hierarchy, and a society disrupted and energized” (Cooper, 6). The Canterbury Tales, I believe, documents this divide: it articulates the societal anxiety of an unordered world while simultaneously denying the possibility of social order and harmony. We see this, for example, in Harry Bailey’s protestation of the Miller’s telling a tale and upsetting the hierarchical order. We also see it in the tales of the Man of Law, Clerk, Physician, Parson, and Knight. This essay focuses on the Knight and his tale.
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  • In Copyright
  • Funding: None
  • Leinbaugh, Theodore
  • Bachelor of Arts
Honors level
  • Honors
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • 46 p.

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