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except in the title, given us any notion of who the speaker is. In both tales the speaker is a well-born knight, and the subjects of his tale are those which we should expect to find coursing through the mind of one whose occupation was war and tournaments, and whose life was lived at courts and among high-born ladies. It would be interesting to see how far the two poets make the knight speak in character, but the subject cannot be here pursued, since we are concerned with the tale and not with the supposed narrator of it.
In point of construction, the tale, as told by both poets, is excellent; as a piece of narrative it leaves little to be desired. Each event bears on the central action of the story, that is, on the quarrel between the Theban knights —their duel, the tourney, and the victory of Arcite, the reconciliation, the death of Arcite, and the marriage of Palamon to Emily. The only possible exceptions to this assertion are the opening scenes at the sack of Thebes, which are necessary to start the story properly and make it plausible, and the descriptions, which give the tale a tone of grandeur. The actors and their actions are kept moving steadily before us without obscurity or confusion. In these respects the treatments of Chaucer and Dryden are practically identical.
In general, too, the characters are similar. What differences arise will be considered later as springing from the diverse ways which the two poets have of saying the same thing. In each poem the characters are noble, to the manner born. Of all the actors the two young knights are the most interesting and individual. Arcite is the more ready of the two, has the quicker wit, is the bolder; he is the "tiger.” He is generous, gentle, courteous, and in their bitter rivalry never takes advantage of his friend. The latter is slower and more ponderous in his movements; he is, throughout, the “lion." He is not so sharp
. witted as Arcite, as is shown in the scene where he first sees Emily and fails to recognize her as a mortal. Theseus is remarkable in both poems as a consistently royal person; he never forgets the dignity of his position, not before Thebes, or in the forest, or in the trying scenes that follow the accident to Arcite. Once only, at the death of Arcite, does he fail to maintain his lordly bearing; then his old father, Ægeus, has to comfort him. The other characters, even Emily, are more commonplace and conventional creatures, though often, as in the case of Emetrius and Lycurgus, sketched with much detail and magnificence. The populace are naturally, from the knight's point of view, a "rude, promiscuous crowd," "clowns with cudgels in their hands," though it should be added that Dryden here displays contempt that is not Chaucer's. The women in general appear as weak, emotional creatures, who faint by the wayside, and lament that Arcite should die when he “had gold enough and Emily.” In both poems, then, we find characters depicted on broad lines, in classes, and in conformity with conventional types.
This similar handling of the structure and characterization of the story in the two versions is obvious to the modern reader. There is, however, a broader and more essential likeness—the epic quality which, from the time of Statius down to the period of our modern analysis and introspection, has made the tale one of the continually delightful stories of the world. Both Chaucer and Dryden were quick to see the literary value of the tale, and Chaucer put it in the mouth of his pilgrim best fitted to tell it. It deals with large figures and glorious pageantry, with courtly women and heroical men; and it deals with these things in a complete way; it gives a reader all that he could desire to learn or need to know about the fortune and character of the heroes. There is an abundance of colour, of manly fighting, of generous rivalry, and of constant and romantic love all that makes a story interesting, in any age, to lovers of romance. To the reader of Chaucer's time the
world of chivalry was near at hand; but to the reader of the eighteenth century, in the midst of an alien age, the tale of brotherhood, courtesy, knightly deeds, and deathless love was still moving; even to us it still retains its freshness and beauty, and the poetic imagination allows us as little to doubt its seriousness and plausibility as the religious imagination allows us to doubt the giants and steep cliffs of Bunyan's vision. The favorite form of reading is in all ages likely to be, not the presentation of a problem of life, but a romantic story, and of all the stories that appeared from Chaucer and Malory down to “Robinson Crusoe” none is better for grandeur and completeness of treatment than this. Both our poets recognized the fitness of the story for a great popular narrative and its literary excellence, and by treating it as the times demanded, each in his own manner, made of it two great poems, similar in form, character, and purpose.
III. DRYDEN'S STYLE COMPARED WITH CHAUCER'S
A study of the differences in the treatment of the same story as told by the two poets will prove suggestive. One must admit at once that the comparison results almost wholly in Chaucer's favour; he is, from our modern point of view, altogether the greater poet. This method, however, is the best for showing the characteristics of Dryden's work. The differences are those of detail, but taken together they constitute the great difference in effect between the two poems.
To begin with what is most external, “ Palamon and Arcite” contains 161 lines more than “ The Knightes Tale." Superficially, Dryden divided his version differently: he has three books of very unequal length; Chaucer has four books of about the same length. The fact that, in point of unity, Dryden's division can hardly be deemed so good as Chaucer's need not be elaborated here. Dryden
naturally, in translating freely, used more words and broke the poem where he chose.
Underlying Dryden's expansion, however, there is a graver difference than the mere breaking of the chapters and the adding of words. The 161 lines mean, on the whole, a weakening of the original. “The Knightes Tale” is compactly written; every word tells. Dryden's expansion would have been well enough had he given us more ideas. Now, if we analyze this expansion we shall find that it is mostly padding, and often bombast, that it occurs chiefly in the emotional speeches, and grows, on the whole, more common in the latter parts of the poem. Perhaps the most glaring example of the difference of manner is the death speech of Arcite: Dryden has swelled 33 lines of natural lamentation and farewell, ending with the simple plea,
“Foryet nat Palamon, the gentil man," into 58 lines of moralizing and such sententious posing as
“ This I may say, I only grieve to die
Because I lose my charming Emily” (III., 782). Perhaps the best instance is Arcite's address to May:
May, with alle thy floures and thy grene, Welcome be thou, wel faire fresshe May,
I hope that I som grene gete may.” 1 Out of this simple, hearty lyric passage Dryden has constructed the following posture:
“For thee, sweet month, the groves green liveries wear,
The passage with its context is to be found on pages 103, 104. Here it is sufficient to note that wel means “ very,” and that in the last line the order of words is not that of modern English.
So may thy tender blossoms fear no blight,
The fragrant greens I seek, my brows to bind ” (II., 53). The weakening of effect in such passages comes chiefly from the fact that Arcite's words are not, in Dryden, natural to the situation; no normal man in his proper mind could think in such terms. We must, however, bear in mind that such lines were in accordance with the taste of Dryden's time.
In the simple narrative and descriptive passages, too, as well as in the speeches, we find that Dryden has, to our modern taste once more, weakened Chaucer. Thus Dryden flattens Chaucer's powerful line,
The smyler with the knyf under the cloke," into
Next stood Hypocrisy, with holy leer, Soft, smiling, and demurely looking down,
But hid the dagger underneath the gown” (II., 564). Another instance of weakening through expansion is in the description of Emetrius. Chaucer has specifically:
“Of fyve and twenty yeer his age I caste. His berd was wel bigonne for to springe;
His voys was as a trompe thunderinge."
“ His age in nature's youthful prime appeared,
Such passages are perhaps extreme examples of the difference between the two poems in point of vigour. They illustrate, of course, differences in arrangement and syntax, which need not be touched upon here; and they serve to show one great difference which is almost constant