Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Arts


Medieval Studies

First Advisor

Dr. Thomas H. Seiler

Second Advisor

Dr. Larry E. Syndergaard

Third Advisor

Dr. Paul E. Szarmach

Access Setting

Masters Thesis-Open Access


Through an analysis of characterization and the sub-text of infernal allusions to the myths of Orpheus and the ravishment of Proserpina, my thesis demonstrates that the Theban cousins Palamon and Arcite are not only distinct but diametrically opposed characters who are more central to The Knight' s Tale than the present critical consensus allows. Chapter I analyzes Charles Muscarine, who so convincingly put an end to the once lively debate over the characterization of the cousins that the proposition that they are indistinguishable remains an a priori assumption in the criticism of the poem to this day. Chapter II analyzes the characterization of the cousins, principally in dramatic terms, showing that Palamon' s actions are patently villainous and Arcite' s heroic and that Arcite' s love for Emelye is genuine and Palamon's feigned. Chapter III explores the allusions that underscore the cousins' differences, showing that Palamon is likened to Pluto while Arcite pursues Emelye in the manner of Orpheus and Perotheus for Eurydice and Proserpina, respectively, and dies as Proserpina in Emelye' s place. The concluding chapter presents, in brief, a larger argument that explores the characterization of the cousins in the context of the tale as a whole, ascribing the failure of critics to fully recognize the cousins' differences to the interpretive failures of Theseus and the tale's narrator, the Knight.