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The Squire's Tale in The Canterbury Tales: Prologue & Summary

Instructor: Joseph Altnether

Joe has taught college English courses for several years, has a Bachelor's degree in Russian Studies and a Master's degree in English literature.

Not all of the tales in Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales are complete, and 'The Squire's Tale' happens to be truncated, with no clear indication whether the friar's interruption is an intentional disruption of the squire's descriptive tale of King Cambuscan.

King Cambuscan

As the squire begins his tale, he introduces King Cambuscan, who has ruled Tatary for twenty years. Tatary is a region stretching from Turkey and the Caspian Sea to China. Cambuscan, or Genghis Khan, as he is more familiarly known, rules from the city of Sarai, which is located in the southern portion of Russia, near the Ukrainian and Turkish borders.

The squire continues his tale by further introducing the king's wife Elpheta, and their three children: two sons, Algarsyf and Cambolo, and daughter, Canace, who is also the youngest. The squire concludes these introductions and moves directly into a celebration the king is throwing in honor of his lengthy reign. The squire proceeds to describe the delicious feast.

A Great Feast

The squire begins to tell of all the food that has been prepared, but as he does, he decides that to describe everything, 'would take up all of a summer's day'. He then begins anew to describe some of the food that is thought to be the most sumptuous before realizing that 'it leads nowhere, and is a waste of time'. He returns to his tale and introduces the audience to a most unexpected guest, a knight of foreign origins.

Within this brief passage, the squire's story wanders onto topics unnecessary and disrupts the flow of his tale. This can be seen as characteristic of the squire. Since he is an attendant to his father, a knight, it is an indication that he is young and inexperienced. The disruption to his story exemplifies this inexperience. The attempt at extravagant detail also demonstrates romantic ideals about life. It would seem based on this that his experiences come from thoughts and ideas found in books rather than direct experience. These subtle hints provide sufficient clues to gain an idea of the type of person this squire really is.

Gifts

During the feast, a knight arrives with a bronze horse. The knight is unknown, but claims to represent the king of India and Arabia. He has several gifts for the king, all possessing some incredible ability. First is the bronze horse. It will take the king wherever he wants to go. He sits in the saddle, pulls a pin in the horse's ear, and whispers his destination. Only the king is aware of how to make the horse move. Without this knowledge, the horse cannot be moved.

The other gifts that the knight presents are a sword that can cut through anything. A wound caused by this sword will never heal unless the flat of the blade is placed over it. There is also a mirror which will show anyone who wishes to betray the user, whether via treachery, deceit, or adultery. Finally, there is a ring that is given to Canace. This ring allows its user to speak to and understand birds, as well as 'have knowledge of each herb that grows,/And whom it benefits by its properties'. This ring will have an immediate impact on Canace's life.

Canace Uses the Ring

Peregrine

While the feast continues on into the night, Canace goes to bed just as night begins to fall. She awakens early the next morning, unable to sleep, perhaps due to excitement over the ring. She goes out with her hand-maidens, and they stroll through the spacious property. Canace comes across a bird crying in one of the trees. As she approaches, the ring allows her to hear why the falcon is crying. Canace pries further and learns that the female falcon has been jilted. This male falcon, to which she professes her love, has flown off to be with 'a vulgar kite upon the wing'. He leaves her for a bird that would be considered of lower stature and appeal than a peregrine falcon.

A vulgar bird

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