A Comparison Of The Knight And The Squire In Chauc

ers The CanterburyIn the medieval period that is described by Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales,
chivalry was perhaps the most recognized quality of a true gentleman. This
quality is explored in Chaucer’s two characters of the warrior class, the
Knight and the Squire. The squire is the son of the Knight; both ride
gallantly and have the air of true gentleman warriors. However, the two are
very dissimilar despite their appearances. The Knight possesses the true
qualities of chivalry, devotion to service, constancy in humility, and
honesty. The Squire possesses none of these qualities truly; instead his
demeanor is one that is less honorable and virtuous. Although both claim
the same vocation, the Squire and the Knight display contradicting attitudes
in respect to dedication, material possessions, and sincerity.


The main point in the description of the Knight was the abundance and
importance of his battles, while it was the least mentioned aspect in the
Squire. The entirety of the Squire’s military experience is named in two
lines, “he had seen some service with the cavalry/ If Flanders and Artois
and Picardy,” perchance a direct consequence of the Squire’s youth (5). The
list of the Knight’s battles clearly dominates the text of his description,
running many lines. He had embarked “.along the Mediterranean coast” to
such places as Alexandria, Lithuania, Russia, Granada, Algeciras, North
Africa, Benamarin, Anatolia, Ayas, and Attalia (4). Not only were the
battles of the knight more numerous, they were more extensive and required
lengthy travels to far-away lands. The Squire had “done valiantly in little
space” in these battles, but had not distinguished himself from his peers.


This is implied when it is said that he had only seen “some service with the
cavalry” (5).


The Squire had pursued no noteworthy errands in the interest of chivalry
like his father. The “distinguished knight”, on the other hand, was very
chivalrous because of his unconditional dedication (4). He had been in
“fifteen mortal battles” and “always killed his men” which supports that he
is committed to his work, as opposed to the Squire, who possessed a
distracted attitude (4). “He could make sons and poems and recite, / Knew
how to joust and dance, to draw and write” and so has focused his time and
energy to many other things (5). The Squire’s
priorities are in entertaining rather than in his vocation, perhaps due to
his young age. In contrast, the Knight focused solely on his chivalrous
duty; returning “home from service, he had joined the ranks / To do his
pilgrimage and give thanks” (5). Although Chaucer does not criticize the
Squire by his writing, the Squire’s hesitant attitude towards putting
himself in mortal danger as well as his lack of conviction are revealed in
light of the Knight’s numerous demonstrations of a willingness to defend his
faith single-handedly and also in extreme hardship and distance.


In addition to Chaucer’s descriptions of dedication that distinguish the
Knight, Chaucer also provides a description of the Squire’s acquisitiveness
for wealth and beauty, a quality that is contrary to the humble nature of
the knight. The Squire had “locks as curly as if they had been pressed”,
while there is no such description of the Knight’s appearance whatsoever
(5). I feel that Chaucer does not intend to criticize the Squire by the
mention of the beauty of the Squire’s hair in conjunction with the mention
of the poor outfit of the Knight. Instead he attempts to point out that the
Squire is the lesser of the two in terms of keeping to the code of chivalry.


Regarding his articles of clothing, the Knight wore a fustian tunic, which
was only somewhat bright and only sufficiently comfortable. An example of
the Squire’s meticulous appearance is:
He was embroidered like a meadow bright
And full of freshest flowers, red and white.


. . . He was as fresh as is the month of May.


Short was his gown, the sleeves were long and wide…(5)
This passage exhibits the superficial qualities that were found in the
Squire’s clothing. The Squire’s clothing was clean and “bright”, and so
this seemingly fitting dress is compared to the
“stained and dark” tunic that the Knight wore beneath his armor (5). These
articles of clothing are also unnecessary to the vocation of a knight. This
accounts for the Knight’s plain armor and tunic while clearly showing the
Squire to be indulging in excesses. The Knight’s humility is then revealed,
despite his worn-down appearance, by the Squire’s exhibition of beauty.


Because of the previously described comparisons that depicted the Squire,
his sincerity is questionable. This is illustrated by the contradiction
between certain descriptions of the Squire:
He loved so hotly that till dawn grew pale
He slept as little as a nightingale.


Courteous he was, lowly and serviceable,
And carved to serve his father at the table. (5)
The first two lines suggest a tendency to waste time and energy on the
pursuits of women. This is supported by an earlier line where he fought “to
win his lady’s grace” (5). The few battles that he pursued had been
motivated by the hopes of gaining these favors rather than the intentions of
the leader. These stand in contrast to his chivalrous performances before
his father and at the table, where everyone would be able to watch. It shows
that the real motivation behind the Squire is not based on chivalry; rather
it is the appearance of chivalry that he wishes to display. The Knight is
utterly sincere, however, as Chaucer explicitly states that the Knight,
“from the day on which he first began / To ride abroad, had followed
chivalry” (5). The Knight’s manner of speech also supports this:
And though so much distinguished, he was wise
And in his bearing as modest as a maid.


He never yet a boorish thing had said
In all his life to any, come what might;
He was a true, a perfect gentle-knight. (5)
Chaucer already summarizes the characteristics of the Knight as making up a
“perfect gentle-knight”, and the many tales of courage add more credibility
to Chaucer’s summary. The knight’s behavior was “as modest as a maid” (5).


This is contrary to the “lad of fire” and although the Squire had “wonderful
strength and agility”, he did not use it to the full extent that his father
used his own. In all aspects, in comparison with his own contradictory
behavior, and in comparison with the Knight’s behavior, the Squire is shown
to be less than sincere in his chivalry.


The Knight and the Squire have distinctly different attitudes towards their
vocation. As a result, they are complementing images of the medieval
warrior. The Knight is the romantic image that all true knights aspire to,
generously practicing such chivalrous qualities as dedication, humility, and
sincerity. Contrasting this, however, is the image depicted by the Squire,
that of an imperfect knight who was to some degree boastful, lusting, or
superficial. The Squire was never directly criticized by Chaucer, but the
implications that resulted from the description amounted to an extravagant,
un-chivalrous image, perhaps a reflection of the actual knights of Chaucer’s
day. Therefore, Chaucer was not merely comparing two knights and defining
the virtues that comprised chivalry, but on a bigger scale was revealing the
corruption of
humanity by comparing the difference between the realities of our humanity
with the ideal of perfection.