The Importance of Order in Knight's Tale
Chaucer claims to place the Knight's Tale just after the General Prologue by chance, the drawing of lots. The Knight draws the short straw, and all are glad for it. The appropriateness of his lengthy tale to follow is clear on some levels, and barely perceptible on others. I intend to launch my investigation of the Knight's Tale with a scrutiny of these three statements, and perhaps we shall find an interesting conclusion in this, albeit a disputable one.
The honorable Host, Harry Bailey, begins this famous day of pilgrimage by calling everyone together to draw lots, "He which that hath the shorteste shal beginne." (838) He calls the Knight to draw first, presumably as a gesture of respect, as he refers to the Knight as master and lord. Harry continues to speak for a short moment, as we have the visual image of the Knight stepping up to claim his straw. The host continues to call up two more pilgrims, but quickly decides that everyone might as well draw in a free-for-all. And surprise! The Knight finds himself holding the short cut. Is it possible that Harry managed to give the Knight the short straw intentionally? "Now draweth cut," says he, "for that is myn accord" (840). A close eye may suggest some punning going on in that line: Now draw the cut (short) straw, for it is my wish. The words "cord" and "accord" were both used in Middle English, so we may be able to find some double meaning there as well. If indeed Harry wishes to give the Knight the "cord," there are several interesting cases to think on: a) the cord is simply the short straw, b) the cord is the hangman's rope, or c) the cord is a unit of wood cut for fuel. The hangman's rope would make for subtle sarcasm, but the cord of wood is an even more intriguing metaphor - as it is passed off to the Knight, it becomes his firewood which he must light in order to shine. If his tale gets away from him, then the once harmless stick will become the fire that consumes his knightly image and respect. However Harry meant it, the Knight decides that "welcome be the cut" (856), and he dives into his tale.
"The soothe is this, the cut fil to the Knight; / Of which ful blithe and glad was every wight," (848). Certainly, it is most reasonable that the first to tell a tale be the Knight, since in the company's eyes he is the most respectable figure of social degree. He ought to be capable of telling a terrific tale, since he's been to war against the very edges of the known world, having seen and done things beyond the imagination of the common folk. Whether the Knight had simply told the tale at the host's request, or whether he was secretly given the lot is of no consequence to the position the tale assumes (what's done is done). It does matter to the rest of the pilgrims though, for certainly someone would have spoken up in protest had the Knight been given outward preferential treatment - probably the Miller. Harry Bailey must surely hope...