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The Canterbury Tales

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390


This worthy duk answerde anon agayn,
And seyde, ‘This is a short conclusioun:
Youre owne mouth, by your confessioun,
Hath dampned you, and I wol it recorde,
It nedeth noght to pyne yow with the corde.
Ye shul be deed, by mighty Mars the rede!’
Without a bit of hesitation, Thesus said, “Well, you heard the man! He confessed his crimes, so that settles that. I condemn you to death!”






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The quene anon, for verray wommanhede,
Gan for to wepe, and so dide Emelye,
And alle the ladies in the companye.
Gret pitee was it, as it thoughte hem alle,
That ever swich a chaunce sholde falle;
For gentil men they were, of greet estat,
And no-thing but for love was this debat;
And sawe hir blody woundes wyde and sore;
And alle cryden, bothe lasse and more,
‘Have mercy, lord, upon us wommen alle!’
And on hir bare knees adoun they falle,
And wolde have kist his feet ther-as he stood,
Til at the laste aslaked was his mood;
For pitee renneth sone in gentil herte.
And though he first for ire quook and sterte,
He hath considered shortly, in a clause,
The trespas of hem bothe, and eek the cause:
And al-though that his ire hir gilt accused,
Yet in his reson he hem bothe excused;
As thus, he thoghte wel, that every man
Wol helpe himself in love, if that he can,
And eek delivere him-self out of prisoun;
And eek his herte had compassioun
Of wommen, for they wepen ever in oon;
And in his gentil herte he thoghte anoon,
And softe unto himself he seyde: ‘fy
Upon a lord that wol have no mercy,
But been a leoun, bothe in word and dede,
To hem that been in repentaunce and drede
As wel as to a proud despitous man
That wol maynteyne that he first bigan!
That lord hath litel of discrecioun,
That in swich cas can no divisioun,
But weyeth pryde and humblesse after oon.’
And shortly, whan his ire is thus agoon,
He gan to loken up with eyen lighte,
And spak thise same wordes al on highte:—
The god of love, a! benedicite,
How mighty and how greet a lord is he!
Ayeins his might ther gayneth none obstacles,
He may be cleped a god for his miracles;
For he can maken at his owne gyse
Of everich herte, as that him list devyse.
Lo heer, this Arcite and this Palamoun,
That quitly weren out of my prisoun,
And mighte han lived in Thebes royally,
And witen I am hir mortal enemy,
And that hir deeth lyth in my might also,
And yet hath love, maugree hir eyen two,
Y-broght hem hider bothe for to dye!
Now loketh, is nat that an heigh folye?
Who may been a fool, but-if he love?
Bihold, for Goddes sake that sit above,
Se how they blede! be they noght wel arrayed?
Thus hath hir lord, the god of love, y-payed
Hir wages and hir fees for hir servyse!
And yet they wenen for to been ful wyse
That serven love, for aught that may bifalle!
But this is yet the beste game of alle,
That she, for whom they han this Iolitee,
Can hem ther-for as muche thank as me;
She woot namore of al this hote fare,
By God, than woot a cokkow or an hare!
But al mot been assayed, hoot and cold;
A man mot been a fool, or yong or old;
I woot it by myself ful yore agoon:
For in my tyme a servant was I oon.
And therfore, sin I knowe of loves peyne,
And woot how sore it can a man distreyne,
As he that hath ben caught ofte in his las,
I yow foryeve al hoolly this trespas,
At requeste of the quene that kneleth here,
And eek of Emelye, my suster dere.
And ye shul bothe anon unto me swere,
That never-mo ye shul my contree dere,
Ne make werre upon me night ne day,
But been my freendes in al that ye may;
I yow foryeve this trespas every del.’
And they him swore his axing fayre and wel,
And him of lordshipe and of mercy preyde,
And he hem graunteth grace, and thus he seyde:
It was at that point that Queen Hyppolita, the best example of femininity, began crying, as did Emily and all the other women in their hunting party. The whole situation seemed so tragic to them, and they couldn’t believe that such handome, noble men would be willing to kill each other over their love. The women saw how bloody and bruised the knights were and dropped down on their knees and pleaded, “Please, Theseus, have mercy on these men for our sakes!” Seeing the women like this cooled Theseus’s temper a little, and he thought the situation over with a more level-headed attitude. He figured that every person has the right to pursue love, and will do anything for it, even escape from prison. And as he looked at Arcite and Palamon standing there and the women kneeling before him, he said to himself, “Shame on me for having spoken so rashly and for acting pigheaded a moment ago. What kind of ruler would that make me if I didn’t forgive them? And what kind of ruler would it make me if, now that I’ve realized my mistake, I choose not to change my mind? I’d be pretty foolish if I were too stubborn to be reasonable.” Once his anger had fully passed, he looked at everyone watching him, and said, “How powerful and great the god of love must be! Nothing can stop him, and he has the power to change every heart. Just look at these two men here. Both of them got out of prison and could have returned to Thebes to live as kings, but they chose to be in Athens instead because of their love, in spite of knowing what would happen to them if they were caught. And yet their love has brought them here and is literally killing them. Crazy, isn’t it? Or, then again, would they be crazy not to have followed their hearts and stayed in Athens? For God’s sake, just look at them! Look at how battered they are! Love, I suppose, certainly has its price! And yet, those who follow their hearts believe they’re the happiest people on earth no matter what happens. But the funniest thing about this whole mess is that Emily, the object of their love, didn’t even know they were in love with her and fighting over here! On the other hand, what other options did these two men have? They had to do something about their feelings. I too was once as young and felt as passionately as they do now. So, since I know what these two men must be feeling, and since my wife and my sister-in-law are begging me to be merciful, I’m going to forgive Arcite and Palamon of their crimes. But both of you have to promise me that in exchange for my forgiveness you will never wage war upon Athens and will be my allies instead.” Arcite and Palamon thanked Theseus for his compassion and swore never to hurt the Athenian people.

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