Theseus, duke of Athens, returns in triumph from
where he has conquered and married the queen of the Amazons,
Her young sister Emelye accompanies them. As he comes to the
of the town, his progress is interrupted by a group of
kneeling and clad in black.
The eldest explains that they are waiting here at the
Temple of Clemency to ask Theseus' help. She is the queen,
wife, and the others all noble ladies, cast down by Fortune.
tyrant Creon has captured Thebes, killed their husbands, and
not allow the bodies to be buried.
The noble Theseus, moved by their plight, turns aside
Athens and leads his army to Thebes, where he slays Creon
his army. He captures the city, tears down its walls, and
bodies of the ladies' husbands properly cremated and
As the pillagers ransack the bodies, the heralds
among the wounded two princes of the royal blood, born of
Theseus sends them to Athens to dwell in prison
Years pass; one May morning the beautiful Emelye goes
a-Maying in the garden below the tower in which the
prisoners are held.
She gathers flowers and sings like an angel.
One of the prisoners, Palamoun, while he is lamenting
his fate, happens to look out a window; he casts his eye on
and cries out in pain. His fellow prisoner, Arcite, thinks
depressed by their imprisonment and urges him to accept
they are victims of the stars. You are mistaken, Palamoun
I was wounded through the eye by the woman or goddess I saw
garden. He kneels and prays to Venus that if she is indeed
the woman whom
he saw in the garden she help him and Arcite out of
Arcite looks through the window, sees Emelye, and is
wounded as badly as Palamoun. He says he must have her mercy
Palamoun is angered; he reminds Arcite that they are not
only cousins but sworn brothers; he loved Emelye first and
duty bound to help him. Arcite replies that he loved her
Palamoun thought she was a goddess, not a woman. Besides,
love is a
greater law than any other, and other laws may be easily
its name. But, why are we arguing, he asks; we are doomed to
here in prison and neither of us can have her.
They continue bickering. One day Theseus' dearest
friend Perotheus comes for a visit. He knows Arcite well and
with Theseus to release him. Theseus frees Arcite with the
that he, on pain of death, never return to Athens.
Arcite is devastated by the news of his release. He
rather remain in prison, for then he would at least have the
she whom he loves. He repents that he ever wanted out of
how little we understand the workings of Fortune. We often
what brings our own destruction; I wanted freedom from
now that freedom exiles me from happiness; without the sight
Emelye, I shall die.
Palamoun laments as loudly as Arcite. Arcite, he says,
has the better part: he is free from prison and can return
where he can raise an army and make war on Athens, while
must remain in prison. He burns with jealousy. He complains
cruel Gods, who torture the guiltless. Beasts, at least, are
by no laws, and need not fear punishment after death. Saturn
me to prison, and Venus afflicts me with jealousy of
Thus Palamoun remains in perpetual prison and Arcite
is exiled and will see his lady never more. You lovers, I
this: Which has the worse?
Arcite returns to Thebes, where he so suffers for love
that he neither eats nor drinks. He is so afflicted with
that his entire appearance, even his voice, is so changed
that no one
would recognize him.
Mercury appears to Arcite in a dream and commands
him to go to Athens. He sees in a mirror how greatly changed
and determines to go to Athens disguised as a poor laborer.
He is hired
by Emelye's chamberlain; he works so hard that in a year or
two he is
made a page of her chamber. Theseus is so impressed that he
a squire of his household and holds him dear. This continues
Meanwhile Palamoun suffers in prison, so oppressed
by love that he nearly loses his wits. But in the seventh
year of his
imprisonment, on the third night of May, whether by chance
with the help of a friend he escapes prison. The guard was
laced with opium, and Palamoun fled to a nearby forest,
set out the next day for Thebes.
Arcite, unaware of what Fortune has in store for him,
sets out to do honor to May, and he happens to ride to the
where Palamoun is hiding. Palamoun sees Arcite, but he does
recognize him. Suddenly Arcite's mood changes -- as often
to lovers -- and he falls in despair. How long, Juno, he
will you war on Thebes and its royal line? I, once called
am now called Philostrate, deprived of my own name. Worse,
struck me so hard that I shall die. Emelye's eyes slay me!
These words are like a sword in Palamoun's heart.
He leaps out and shouts that Arcite is a false traitor and
Palamoun, is his mortal foe. Unless he renounces his love
Emelye, one of the two must die.
Arcite replies that he will love Emelye despite all.
He will supply Palamoun with food and drink and he will
armor and weapons, and the next day they will fight to the
It is true; love will have no fellowship. Early the
next morning Arcite returns with the weapons, and they fight
fiercely as wild beasts, up to the ankles in their own
Fate, which executes God's will, is so strong that
sometimes something happens that will not happen again in a
years; all is ruled by God's foresight. Theseus, who loves
the great hart in May, has risen early and ridden out
accompanied by Ypolita and Emelye, all clad in green, and
come to the forest where Palamoun and Arcite are
When Theseus sees them he commands them to stop and
demands to know who is here fighting without judges or other
Palamoun confesses their identities: This, he says, is your
foe Arcite, who called himself Philostrate and who loves
and I am Palamoun, who also loves her. He admits they both
Theseus says that indeed they shall both die. But
his queen, moved by womanhood, begins to weep, and so does
and all others. They kneel and beg Theseus for mercy until
his anger abates; pity comes quickly to a noble heart. A
have pity and take account of circumstances in rendering
How mighty a lord is the God of Love! He rules each
heart as he wishes. See what he has done to Palamoun and
They could have lived royally in Thebes but Love has brought
here to die. That is what Love has done for them. But the
is that she for whom they are fighting knows nothing about
Yet a man must be a fool, either when young or when old. I
that from my own experience; I was a lover once. Having said
Theseus forgives the two young men.
Theseus then says that each of them is worthy to marry
Emelye, but obviously she cannot marry both. Therefore he
a great tournament a year hence; Palamoun and Arcite are
bring a hundred knights. Whoever slays his opponent or
out of the lists will win Emelye. The two young men rejoice
to Thebes to gather their armies.
Men would think me neglectful if I failed to tell you
of the great expense that Theseus incurred in building the
It was built round, with walls and a moat, with seats in
was a white marble gate on the East and another on the West.
eastern Gate is a temple of Venus, on the west side a temple
and on the north a temple of Diana, goddess of chastity.
I must not forget to tell you of the sculpture and
paintings in these chapels.
On the walls in the temple of Venus are painted sighs,
tears, lamenting, and other sorrows that lovers suffer,
their oaths and Pleasure, Hope, Desire and such; indeed
dwelling was painted there and her garden with its porter
and also Narcissus, Solomon, and others whom love has
overcome. The statue
of Venus was naked, floating on the sea, with a musical
in her hand and a rose garland on her head. Her blind son
stood before her, with his bow and arrows.
The temple of Mars was a dark and grisly place, like
the temple in Thrace that is his principal residence. A
is painted on the wall, made of steel, dark, and guarded by
iron-bound doors. There is Felony, rage, murder, and such.
are paintings of corpses with their throats cut, devastated
burning ships, hunters killed by bears, infants devoured by
sows in their
cradles. There are paintings of the murder of Julius Caesar
and others whose deaths were shaped by the stars. The statue
stood on a chariot, with the stars Puella and Rubeus above
at his feet a red-eyed wolf, devouring a man.
The temple of Diana was painted with scenes of hunting
and chastity, with Calisitopee transformed into a bear, Dane
transformed into a tree, and Acteon devoured by his own
because he saw Diana naked, as well as others whom the
Her statue was seated on a hart, a moon at her feet, dressed
and with a bow and arrow. A woman in childbirth lay
her, calling for her help. The colors for this cost a great
Now I turn to Palamoun and Arcite. The day of their
return approaches, and they come to Athens, each with a
knights. So noble a company was never seen, for everyone who
chivalry and would have a good name wanted to take part. You
well this would be the same case today. To fight for a lady
me! -- that is a sight to see!
Palamoun's company contains knights armed in every way.
The great king of Thrace, Lygurge, is there himself; he
rides on a
chariot of gold, drawn by white oxen. He is richly clad in
jewels, and about his chariot run twenty-two white hunting
as large as a steer.
With Arcite is Emetreus, the great king of India,
riding on a steed clad in steel and covered with cloth of
he seems like Mars himself. His saddle is covered with
he is handsome; he wears a garland on his head and carries
There are many noble lords in his company and many a tame
All arrive early on Sunday morning. Theseus sees that
they are richly housed and he entertains them at an
There is no time to tell you where they sat, what ladies
beautiful or who spoke most feelingly of love; I must come
to the point.
Sunday night, two hours before dawn on Monday morning,
Palamoun goes to Venus' Temple. He prays to Venus to have
him, and vows to be her true servant. He does not ask
victory but only that he have Emelye. He makes his sacrifice
the statue of Venus is motionless for a while and then
He takes this as a sign that his prayer will be answered,
with some delay.
The third planetary hour after this, Emelye rises
with the sun and goes to Diana's temple with her maidens.
her body and does her rite, but what it is I shall not tell.
prays to Diana, asking that she be allowed to remain a
her life; Turn the hearts of Palamoun and Arcite away from
if I must marry, send me the one who most desires me. She
The fires on the altar go out, come to life again, and go
a roaring sound, and blood drips from the brands. Emelye
frightened, but Diana appears and addresses her: You must
of them, she says, though I can not tell you which. The
disappears with a clattering of her arrows, and Emelye, not
this all means, leaves.
In the next planetary hour of Mars following this
Arcite goes to Mars' temple. O fierce God of arms, he prays,
burned for love as you burned for the love of Venus that
Vulcan caught you. Help me in the battle tomorrow, and I
your true servant forever. The fires on the alter flared up,
sweet smell came up from the ground, Mars' armor clattered,
a low voice murmured "Victory!" Elated, Arcite returns to
At this a great dispute arose in the heavens between
Venus and Mars. Jupiter could not stop it, but the aged
who had learned much in his long life, found a remedy. My
he says to Venus, I who bring ruin to men, shall manage
so that Palamoun shall have his lady even though Mars will
victory to Arcite. Now to the main point.
There was great festivity in Athens that May. All
Monday they jousted and danced. The next day there was
activity throughout the city; armor was donned, lords rode
armorers worked, and yeomen and commoners thronged, music
and all speculated about who would do best in the fight.
Theseus was awakened by the music and noise but he
until the Theban knights came to his palace. Then he
the people. The heralds called for silence and announced
decision: He desires no loss of life; projectiles, poleaxes,
knives, and short swords are not to be used. Each rider is
but once with a sharpened spear. If any one is captured, he
be brought to a stake where he must remain. If either leader
or captured, the fighting is to stop. The people cheer
proclamation, and the trumpets blow as the procession begins
pass through the city.
Theseus rides with the two knights to the lists and
takes his place with Ypolita and Emelye. Arcite enters from
West gate, under the temple of Mars. At the same moment
enters from the east, under the temple of Venus. The two
are evenly matched. The cry goes up "Do now your duty,
The melee begins with a general charge; spears are
shattered, swords hammer on helms, blood flows, and maces
bones. Horse stumble; one knight falls under the hoofs of
another tries to defend himself with a broken spear, others
hurt and taken to the stake. They fight all day, with
ordering breaks for rest. Palamoun and Arcite duel fiercely;
blood flows freely.
All things must end. Finally Palamoun, wounded by
Emetreus, is dragged down by twenty men and forced to the
When Theseus sees this, he orders the fighting to stop.
In the heavens Venus weeps so much at this frustration
of her will that her tears fall in the lists. Saturn
Mars has had his will; now you shall soon be eased.
The trumpets blow and Arcite removes his helmet and
through the field, looking at Emelye; and she looks upon him
friendly eye (for women follow the favor of Fortune).
fury sent from hell by Saturn, rises up. Arcite's horse
catching him unaware, and he falls violently forward on the
of his saddle; he falls from the horse, his breast-bone
running in his face. He is carried out of the lists and cut
of his armor; he was still conscious, calling for
Theseus returns to the city; men say that Arcite will
recover and all look to their own wounds. Theseus comforts
and no one can call Palamoun's misadventure cowardly, since
one man alone captured by so many. Theseus declares both
won, and he gives all gifts, holds a feast for three days,
accompanies each departing guest out of town.
Arcite's breast swells, increasing the pain at his
heart. The clotted blood left in his chest corrupts and no
attention can help. His body cannot expel the poison; the
swell, and every muscle is infected. Neither vomiting nor
can help; everything is broken; Arcite must die.
He sends for Emelye and Palamoun. He says to Emily
that though he cannot declare all his sorrows to her, he
her the service of his spirit. Alas, the sorrows that he
her. He asks her to take him in her arms and tells her that
he has had strife with Palamoun, there is no one so worthy
loved as Palamoun, who loves Emelye. If ever you should be a
Arcite tells her, forget not Palamoun. With that word his
fails; the cold begins to grip him and his heart begins to
His last words were "Mercy, Emelye." His spirit left to go I
Emily shrieks, Palamoun howls, and Theseus carries
away the swooning Emelye. All of Thebes mourns for Arcite.
could cheer up Theseus except his old father Egeus, who knew
inevitable changes of the world. He tells Theseus that just
one has ever died who did not live, so no one lives who
not die. We are but pilgrims passing through this world.
Theseus sets about providing for the sepulcher. He
decides it will be in the grove where he first came upon
Palamoun fighting for their love. He orders trees cut for the
and arranges the bier, spread with cloth of gold, upon which
Arcite, crowned with laurel. Theseus has the bier
into the hall.
Then came Palamoun, weeping, and Emelye, saddest
of all. Steeds bearing the trappings of Arcite are ridden by
carrying Arcite's arms. They ride through the main street,
with black, toward the grove. Egeus and Theseus walk bearing
offerings; Palamoun comes with a great company, and then
carrying a burning torch to start the funeral pyre.
Great work went into making the huge fire. First
a great load of straw was laid. But I shall not tell how the
was made nor the names of the trees that were used -- oak,
such -- nor how they were felled. Nor how the gods and
of the forest fled for fear. Nor how the fire was laid first
straw, then sticks, then green wood and spices, cloth of
jewels; nor how Arcite lay there; nor how Emelye lit the
how she swooned nor what she said nor what jewels men cast
flames; nor what other offerings were cast in; nor how the
rode about the fire nor how Arcite was burned; nor the wake
night, the funeral games, their return to Athens. I intend
to be brief.
After some years the mourning abates. In Athens a
parliament decides to make an alliance with Thebes. Theseus
Palamoun; he comes still clothed in black. Then Theseus
Emelye. When all were still, he said thus:
The First Mover knew well what he was about when
he first made the fair chain of love, which unites the
fire, air, water, and earth. That same Mover has established
duration to all creatures, beyond which they cannot endure.
order we can see that the First Mover is eternal. All in
takes its beginning from something that is perfect and
whole. And so
all things must pass. The oak grows slowly and lives long
it dies. Stones under are feet are worn down. Rivers go dry.
pass away. Man and woman too must die. What causes this but
that turns all back to its origin. One cannot deny this.
Then is it wisdom to make a virtue of necessity and
to accept cheerfully what we cannot escape. He who objects
Certainly it is best for one to die young, while he is at
of his honor, rather than to die old when he is forgotten.
to this is mere self-will. Why complain that Arcite is
honor out of the prison of this life? Let us rather thank
for his grace. Before we depart, let us make one perfect joy
Sister, says Theseus to Emelye, my advice and that
of my parliament is that you show some pity unto Palamoun
him as your husband. He is a king's son and he has served
you for many
years. He tells Palamoun to take Emelye's hand. The bond of
was made between them, and they were wed with great bliss.
her so gently and he loves her so tenderly that there was
jealous nor argumentive word between them. Thus ends the
save this company!