Fightin’ and Rockin’ with Geoff

  • Candace Barrington
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


A Knight’s Tale, the first portrayal of Chaucer in a twenty-first-century American film, uses the poet to validate a distinctly American ethos: risk-taking for personal gain.1 The movie imagines Chaucer as a ne’er-do-well versifier overwhelmed with gambling debt (and debt collectors) who hitches up with William Thatcher, a young peasant making his mark in the world by impersonating a knight. Though William and his entire entourage risk their lives with the impersonation, as a good American hero William overcomes the odds, wins the championships, and gets the girl. Inspired by this success, Chaucer renounces gambling—a form of unmanageable risk-taking—and engages in a form of deliberative risk-taking. Rather than to play it safe with courtly poetry, he chooses to write about a broad range of human interests, ultimately producing The Canterbury Tales.


American Film Extreme Sport Canterbury Tale Gambling Debt Debt Collector 
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  1. 1.
    Perhaps because Chaucer’s reputation offered such a rich source for “codpiece comedies [in which] all women wish to be deflowered or raped and all husbands deserve to be cuckolded,” his Tales have been avoided by the rather priggish American film industry but adapted—or referred to in the case of Guerrini—by Italian film makers: Paolo Pasolini’s The Canterbury Tales (1971), Mino Guerrine’s Gli Altri Raconti de Canterbury (1972), and Lucio Dandolo’s Lusty Wife of Canterbury (1972), as well as Michael Wotruba’s Novelle licenziose di vergini vogliose, which features Chaucer guiding Boccaccio through Hell (Kevin J. Harty, The Reel Middle Ages: American, Western, and Eastern European, Middle Eastern and Asian Films about Medieval Europe [Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Company, 1999], 7 and 373).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Conferring nobility on a lowly squire is an essentially American twist, for “in an authentic medieval romance,” as Angela Jane Weisl points out, “[William] would turn out instead to be [Edward the Black Prince’s] long-lost son” (Angela Jane Weisl, The Persistence of Medievalism: Narrative Adventures in Contemporary Culture [New York: Palgrave, 2003], 5).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Kathleen Forni, “Reinventing Chaucer: Helgeland’s A Knight’s Tale,” Chaucer Review 37, no. 3 (2003): 256CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Brian Helgeland, A Knight’s Tale: The Shooting Script (New York: Newmarket Press, 2001), ix.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Umberto Eco, “Dreaming of the Middle Ages,” in Travels in Hyper Reality, trans. William Weaver (London: Harvest/Harcourt, 1986), 61.Google Scholar
  6. 11.
    Stephen Lyng, “Edgework and the Risk-Taking Experience,” in Edgework: The Sodology of Risk-Taking, ed. Stephen Lyng (New York: Routledge, 2005), 7; and Rick Lyman, “A Culture of Both Luck and Pluck,” New York Times, December 18, 1999, B9.Google Scholar
  7. 12.
    Ben Gilad, Early Warning: Using Competitive Intelligence to Anticipate Market Shifts, Control Risk, and Create Powerful Strategies (New York: Amacom, 2004), 5.Google Scholar

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© Candace Barrington 2007

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  • Candace Barrington

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