The Squire's Tale in The Canterbury Tales: Theme & Analysis

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.

Because 'The Squire's Tale' from Chaucer's 'The Canterbury Tales' is incomplete, the romantic idea of life and love are the prominent themes of the limited story. The interruption of the tale leads more to assumptions than accurate analysis.

A Fantastical Tale

This story begins in a foreign location, introduces a mysterious guest, and describes magical items. How does this not sound like the beginning of a fantasy story along the lines of Lord of the Rings? Instead, it is the imaginative tale of the Squire from Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales. The Squire is a young man who is an apprentice to his father, a knight. His fantastical tale is set in the land of Tartary and is filled with hope. His tale begins as an optimistic story about love.

The Squire never finishes his story. He is interrupted by another member of the travelling group and is not given an opportunity to return to it. The Squire receives praise for what he has told up to the point of the interruption, but another tale takes his place. It is unclear whether this was an intentional device by Chaucer, or if Chaucer just never returned to finish writing this particular tale. There is also speculation that perhaps the Squire was not allowed to finish his story due to the insinuation of incest at the beginning of 'The Squire's Tale.'

Just prior to the interruption of his story, the Squire mentions that he will continue his tale and tell of the 'another Cambalo…Who fought with the two brothers in the list/For Canace.' Perhaps, as this quote indicates, there is another person named as Canace's brother who fights for her hand in marriage. It could also be her brother. The insinuation of an incestual relationship is subjective, and the evidence is sparse to substantiate such a claim, especially considering that the tale is left untold. Aside from this passage, 'The Squire's Tale' does set the scene well for a tale about love.

Exotic Land of Tartary

Tartary stretches from the western border of China to Turkey and the Black Sea. But the Squire doesn't spend much time describing this landscape; instead, he uses it to set the scene. He tells of the king Cambuscan and 'his diadem'. He mentions the great feast in honor of the king's twenty-year rule. He mentions the royal robes, the large quantities of food, and the many guests who are enjoying the festivities. A life of grandeur in foreign land. Amidst all this, in drops a mysterious guest.

How best to make an entrance to a royal feast? This guest brings with him a bronze horse. The Squire goes on to describe him in 'in rich accoutrements.' He arrives on behalf of the king of India, and brings with him several gifts to honor Cambuscan. One is the bronze horse, which has ability to transport its rider anywhere. In addition, he presents a magical sword, mirror, and ring. The ring is for Canace, but all these items are exotic. This all adds another layer to the Squire's story.

The descriptions the Squire uses in telling his story sets a romantic mood. He places the story in a foreign land, giving rise to imagination about the exotic food and clothing. The palatial celebration and feast adds to the luxurious lifestyle, imitating comfort and a relaxed atmosphere. The sudden appearance of a foreign guest and his magical gifts imply mystery and a sense of wonderment. These descriptive parts of the Squire's story excite the senses and emotions, allowing one to be receptive to the idea of love. The Squire is now ready to introduce love into his tale.

Love and Trust

A lone bird sitting in a tree, making a noise that sounds like it is in pain. Thus, begins the Squire's inspection of love. The one gift exclusive for Canace is the ring that allows her to understand and communicate with birds. She uses it to learn what is wrong with the falcon. The bird is injured, not only physically, but emotionally. The falcon she has been with for the past year has left her for a lesser species of bird. As a result, her heart is broken, but she sees the love in Canace 'because of the true womanly kindness/That Nature has implanted in your heart.'

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