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Physically the two characters appear extremely different. The knight is dressed in a fustian tunic, “Stained and dark with smudges where his armour had left mark” (Chaucer 5). Although he is a distinguished man, he dresses humbly and does not give the appearance of arrogance. It is also apparent that he carries a sword, which would match his profession as a knight because he is able to fight. The Sea Captain’s attire matches his occupation. He wears a “Woollen gown that [reaches] his knee” (Chaucer 15); he is tan and has a large beard.
He carries a dagger, implying that he knows how to fight and defend himself like the Knight.
Considering their occupations, one can find many similarities. They are both very proficient at their jobs. The Sea Captain is described as having no competition: “None from Hull to Carthage was his match” (Chaucer 16). He is experienced and knows the seas better than any captain. He is known for his skill at commanding his ship, the Maudelayne.
He frequently travels the sea. Similarly, the knight is a traveler, except on land. He is an experienced fighter, as he has been in many battles. He was present at the battle where Alexandria was taken in 1365 by the King of Cyprus. In fifteen mortal battles he had been” (Chaucer 5). According to the examples of battles given in the text, the knight rarely loses a battle. He owns fine horses and is skilled at riding horseback. However, behavior is what really sets these two characters apart.
The knight is a chivalrous man. He believes in truth, honor, and generosity. People look up to him; he is “Ever honoured for his noble graces” (Chaucer 4). A Christian and a virtuous man, he is even more humbled by his position as a knight. His many victories did not permit him to lose his modesty; instead, they led him to be wise and honorable.
The Sea Captain, in contrast, is a fearsome character. When dealing with prisoners, “The nicer rules of conscience he ignored” (Chaucer 16); they walked the plank. Not a virtuous man by any means, he has a reputation of stealing goods from traders while they sleep. Those who fight him fear him. He does not have a high position in society, but his brutality and prudence make him successful in battle. He is revered for his skill and success, but people do not look up to him. In summary, the use of foil by Chaucer enables the reader to notice differences and similarities between the Knight and the Sea Captain.
They have similar occupations, but different roles in society as well as nearly opposite personalities. The foil emphasizes their characteristics to make them even more prominent to the reader. For example, the knight’s Christian values make the Sea Captain seem extremely harsh and lowly in comparison. The reader will be able to gain more out of the story these characters tell because of how detailed their character sketches are. Specifically, the characters are given more depth by their similarities and differences to other characters in the tale.
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