Book: Tales from Chaucer
Author: Charles Cowden Clarke

Tales from Chaucer By Charles Cowden Clarke

Format: Global Grey free PDF, epub, Kindle ebook
Pages (PDF): 151
Publication Date: 1833

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This is a modern retelling of the highlights of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, illustrated by fairy-tale style color drawings by Arthur Szyk. Chapters include: The Knight's Tale; The Lawyer's Tale; The Student's Tale; The Wife of Bath; The Squire's Tale; The Pardoner's Tale; The Nun's Priest's Tale; The Cook's Tale of Gamelin; and, The Canon's Yeoman's Tale.

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IN former days there lived a warrior named Theseus; he was the King of Athens, and in his time had been so famous in deeds of arms that he was the most renowned under the sun. He had conquered many a wealthy kingdom, and by his skill and knightly conduct had subdued the whole territory of the Amazons, which formerly was called Scythia. He married the young queen of that country (her name was Ippolita) , and brought her and her young sister, Emily, home with him to Athens in great pomp and solemnity. And thus accompanied by song and triumph I leave this valiant king riding into Athens surrounded by his host in arms.

And here, if it were not tedious to relate, I would describe to you fully the manner in which Theseus overcame the kingdom of the Amazons; also the great battle between the Amazons and the Athenians; how Ippolita, the fair and valiant Queen of Scythia, was besieged; of the feast that was held at her wedding; and of the temple that was raised upon her coming home to Athens: but I have other matter in hand, for my story will be found long enough; and as I would not willingly prevent every man in turn from telling his tale, I will continue mine, and let us see who shall win the supper.

This king of whom I made mention, riding along in his pride and prosperity, as he approached near to Athens perceived kneeling in the highway a company of ladies, by two and two, clad all in black, who made so doleful a weeping and lamentation as the like was never heard: neither would they cease till they had laid hands upon his horse's bridle and stopped his procession.

"What people are ye," said Theseus, "who at my return home thus interrupt my festival with your grievous weeping? Are you envious of my honour and success that you thus wail and lament? or hath any one offended you? Let me know if your wrong can be repaired: likewise the reason of your being clad in this woful black."

The eldest lady of the party, whom it was ruth and pity to see and hear, then spake: "We do not grieve, my lord, at the success of your victory, your glory, and your honour; but we beseech of your mercy help and succour: have compassion upon our woe and our distress! In thy gentle nature let fall one drop of pity upon us wretched women; for of a truth, my lord, there is not one of us all but she has been either a duchess or a queen: now thanks to the falsehood of fortune, with whom no lot is steadfast, we are both miserable and desolate. For fifteen days past have we waited your home-coming here in the temple of the Goddess Clemency: let not our errand fail, but aid us since you have the power.

"I, miserable creature, was formerly wife to King Cassaneus who perished at Thebes; and all we who thus lament lost our husbands during the siege of that place: and yet old Creon, who, alas! is now King of Thebes, in his wrath and wickedness has wreaked his spite and tyranny on the dead bodies of our lords, which he ordered to be drawn together in a heap, and with no entreaty will allow them to be burned or buried, but has left them a prey to the wild dogs." And with that speech they grovelled on the ground piteously weeping. When this gentle conquerer heard them so speak his heart ached to think that those who were then before him in such a plight had been persons of high estate; so, leaping from his horse, he went and raised them from the ground, bidding them be comforted, for that upon the oath of a true knight he would so avenge them upon the tyrant Creon that all Greece should acknowledge the deserved death he would receive from the hand of Theseus.

Whereupon, without delay, or even entering Athens, he raised his banner, and with his host rode forth towards Thebes; the queen, Ippolita, and her young sister, the lovely Emily, he left in Athens awaiting his return. His broad white banner, embroidered in red with the figure of the God Mars, and his ensign, rich in gold tissue, embossed with that of the Minotaur, slain by him in Crete, went glittering through the distant plains. So rode this valiant chief, the flower of chivalry, till he arrived before the walls of Thebes. To shorten this part of my story, he fought with Creon hand to hand, slew him in fair battle, and routed his forces. Afterwards he carried the city by assault, rased its walls, and finally restored to the ladies the remains of their murdered husbands, that they might inter them with the customary rites and solemnity. I pass over the account of the dirge and lament made by those ladies at the funeral pyre, as well as the knightly conduct observed towards them by the noble Theseus when they took their departure.

After the fight Theseus remained all night upon the field of battle, and disposed of the conquered territory in vassalage according to his pleasure. At the same time the plunderers busied themselves in ransacking the bodies of the slain, stripping them of their armour and clothes. It so happened that in one heap they found, grievously wounded, two young knights lying side by side, both dressed in the same armour, which was richly wrought. Palamon was the name of one knight and Arcite that of the other. The heralds recognised them as members of the royal family of Thebes; they were sons of two sisters. The plunderers drew them forth from the heaps of the slain, and bore them tenderly to the tent of Theseus, who soon had them conveyed to Athens and strictly confined in prison, rejecting every offer that was proposed for their ransom. The campaign being over, the king returned home with his army, crowned with the conqueror's laurels, and in joy and honour passed the remainder of his days. But in sorrow and anguish poor Palamon and Arcite were kept close prisoners in a tower, without hope of redemption; the power of gold was unavailing.