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The Canterbury Tales

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What sholde I al-day of his wo endyte?
Whan he endured hadde a yeer or two
This cruel torment, and this peyne and wo,
At Thebes, in his contree, as I seyde,
Upon a night, in sleep as he him leyde,
Him thoughte how that the winged god Mercurie
Biforn him stood, and bad him to be murye.
His slepy yerde in hond he bar uprighte;
An hat he werede upon his heres brighte.
Arrayed was this god (as he took keep)
As he was whan that Argus took his sleep;
And seyde him thus: ‘To Athenes shaltou wende;
Ther is thee shapen of thy wo an ende.’
And with that word Arcite wook and sterte.
‘Now trewely, how sore that me smerte,’
Quod he, ‘to Athenes right now wol I fare;
Ne for the drede of deeth shal I nat spare
To see my lady, that I love and serve;
In hir presence I recche nat to sterve.’
Well, I could go on and on about how awful Arcite’s life had become, but let me just get right to the point. After he’d been living like this for a year or two since coming back from Athens, he had a powerful dream one night. In the dream he saw the god Mercury, who was wearing a hat and carrying a staff. He stood before Arcite and told him to buck up and be happier. “Go to Athens,” he said, “and all your misery will be gone.” Arcite woke up instantly and said, “Okay. I can’t take this any longer. No matter what happens, I’m going to set out for Athens and not stop until I see Emily, the woman I love, again. I don’t care if it ends up killing me.”





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And with that word he caughte a greet mirour,
And saugh that chaunged was al his colour,
And saugh his visage al in another kinde.
And right anoon it ran him in his minde,
That, sith his face was so disfigured
Of maladye, the which he hadde endured,
He mighte wel, if that he bar him lowe,
Live in Athenes ever-more unknowe,
And seen his lady wel ny day by day.
And right anon he chaunged his array,
And cladde him as a povre laborer,
And al allone, save oonly a squyer,
That knew his privetee and al his cas,
Which was disgysed povrely, as he was,
To Athenes is he goon the nexte way.
And to the court he wente upon a day,
And at the gate he profreth his servyse,
To drugge and drawe, what so men wol devyse.
And shortly of this matere for to seyn,
He fil in office with a chamberleyn,
The which that dwelling was with Emelye.
For he was wys, and coude soon aspye
Of every servaunt, which that serveth here.
Wel coude he hewen wode, and water bere,
For he was yong and mighty for the nones,
And ther-to be was strong and big of bones
To doon that any wight can him devyse.
A yeer or two he was in this servyse,
Page of the chambre of Emelye the brighte;
And ‘Philostrate’ he seide that he highte.
But half so wel biloved a man as he
Ne was ther never in court, of his degree;
He was so gentil of condicioun,
That thurghout al the court was his renoun.
They seyden, that it were a charitee
That Theseus wolde enhauncen his degree,
And putten him in worshipful servyse,
Ther as he mighte his vertu excercyse.
And thus, with-inne a whyle, his name is spronge
Bothe of his dedes, and his goode tonge,
That Theseus hath taken him so neer
That of his chambre he made him a squyer,
And yaf him gold to mayntene his degree;
And eek men broghte him out of his contree
From yeer to yeer, ful prively, his rente;
But honestly and slyly he it spente,
That no man wondred how that he it hadde.
And three yeer in this wyse his lyf he ladde,
And bar him so in pees and eek in werre,
Ther nas no man that Theseus hath derre.
And in this blisse lete I now Arcite,
And speke I wol of Palamon a lyte.
As he made this resolution, he caught sight of himself in a mirror and saw that he looked very different from the way he used to look. He realized immediately that his disfigurement from being so lovesick would allow him to disguise himself in Athens. And if he kept a really low profile, he might even be able to live the rest of his life there so that he could see Emily every day. He therefore changed his clothes and dressed himself as a poor worker before setting out for Athens. He took with him only a single servant who knew of his master’s plan and had also disguised himself as a common worker. When he arrived in Athens, he went to Theseus’s castle and offered up his services as a common laborer to do any work that needed to be done. He also told everyone that his name was Philostrato in order to hide his true identity. And to make a long story short, he eventually figured out the best way to get closest to Emily and got a job assisting her chamberlain. Arcite did whatever the chamberlain told him to do, whether it be collecting firewood or carrying water. He was young and strong. He worked as Emily’s chamberlain’s servant for a year or two, and he quickly became one of the most likeable people in the entire castle because of his good manners and personality. In fact, “Philostrato” became so well known and so well liked that people encouraged Theseus to promote him and find more noble work for him to do. And so Theseus made Philostrato his own assistant and paid him plenty of money to reflect his new status and position. Arcite also had, of course, his own yearly income from being a noble landlord back in Thebes, and he had this money secretly brought to him in Athens. He spent this money carefully, though, and lived pretty modestly so that no one noticed how well off he really was. He served Theseus at home and on the battlefield like this for three years, and he became the duke’s most trusted advisor and friend. And with that, I’ll leave Arcite and his adventures for a moment to talk a little more about Palamon.

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