I haven’t watched Knight’s Tale since I started my Ph.D. Now, just to make it clear, I love this movie. I don’t care how wrong it depicts the Middle Ages. Paul Bettany as Chaucer? Alan Tudyk? Heath Ledger? Crazy-eyed Rufus Sewell? Hell yes, I’m in :P
But watching it now, I realize how wrong certain things are.
1. They meet Chaucer naked on the road. He says:
You’ve probably read my book? the Book of the Duchess?
- Not a book - a poem. He never would have called it a book.
- A random peasant on the road definitely would not have heard of the poem.
- Chaucer was famous in his lifetime, but not the most famous. Poets like William Langland (or Piers Plowman as they would have thought him to be) and John Gower would have been much more popular. Plus, it would be years before the Canterbury Tales, so this is super early in his career.
- He talks about writing stuff down on parchment. No one would have wasted parchment to let someone scribble something down - even Chaucer :P It cost too much. Plus, there is no evidence in any of the manuscripts that Chaucer wrote anything in his own hand. He would have had scribes do it. There’s even a funny poem he wrote about how much of an idiot Chaucer’s scribe is.
2. If Chaucer had already written The Book of the Duchess, that means he was somewhat already steeped in the court. BOD was in 1368, and written in response to the death of Blanche of Lancaster, the wife of John of Gaunt. John of Gaunt was King Edward III’s son, and brother to Edward the Black Prince (aka Colville).
Chaucer had a lot to do with JoG, so he may have very well knew Edward the Black Prince. And he may have outed him for who he was if he saw him. Plus, why would a man who is hanging out with the court and the king’s family want to help a bunch of peasants? If he was caught, there’d be a lot at stake for him to lose. Or, since The Black Prince was actually fighting in the Hundred Years’ War in France, he may not have known him. But he wouldn’t have shown up at the tourney, either.
3. Supposedly, the movie is set in 1356 because of a reference to the Battle of Poitiers. If that’s true, then:
- The Book of the Duchess hasn’t been composed yet
- Chaucer is only 13 years old, since he was born (probably) in 1343. Paul Bettany is most definitely not 13 :P
4. Chaucer was well-respected within the courts by the time BOD was written, and there’s no evidence that he had a gambling problem. If he did have a gambling problem, he had money and social status…plus, he was married, too. It’s hard for me to believe a man who rubbed elbows with the king’s bastard son and who would later know and interact with King Richard II would have a gambling problem. Especially if he’s already written the Book of the Duchess (see how that keeps being my point of contention? Prior to him being “Chaucer,” I’d believe anything).
5. I do love, however, the threat to the pardoner and the summoner. PWNED by Geoffrey Chaucer.
6. The later 1300s were very socially conscious. After the Black Plague, since over half of the population was wiped out, many peasants moved into the city, and other ones wanted to charge more money because of the labor shortage. This caused a lot of tension between the classes, and the nobility became even more terrified of the rising middle class.
On top of this, a peasant wouldn’t have been able to act like a nobleman, not even a country one, as Sir Crazy-eyed!Rufus Sewell accuses Heath Ledger of being. The prince and the pauper fantasy would never have happened - which breaks my heart because I love that idea! *sniff* This is why I still have movies and tv :P Keeps the fantasy alive.
But unlike some of my colleagues who get all pompous and pretentious and hate things that are “wrong,” I laugh and just love.
Because really? Nothing is better than Paul Bettany as Geoffrey Chaucer. Every time I think of Chaucer, that’s still who I think of in my head :D And James Purefoy as Edward the Black Prince is pretty hawt, too.