Palamon and Arcite's tragic rivalry for the hand of Emily is both amplified and thwarted through their mutual competition. When a triangle is applied to love there is bound to be discord. Strong relationships are based on the connections between two people—not three. A love triangle, by its very name, implies tension and dissatisfaction. Like a dissonant chord in music, a love triangle seeks resolution. In “The Knights Tale,” this resolution is forced upon the threesome by Theseus’s staged showdown in a jousting tournament. Just before the inevitable battle, they each choose a different god to hear their prayers. Arcite asks Mars for help to win the battle, while Palamon asks Venus to help him win Emily’s heart. Through their choice in gods, at this time of great turmoil, both friends’ motives are exposed. Arcite desires the glory that comes with the victory for Emily’s hand, while in contrast, Palamon simply wants Emily in the spirit of love.
These contradicting motives are reinforced later as Arcite triumphantly rides to Theseus, rather than to Emily, his prize. In doing so, he falls on his chest, killing himself. His self-aggrandizing action suggests Arcite is more motivated by the prestige granted to him by Theseus, than by his love for Emily, which the reader was misled to believe in. To emphasize this point, his unorthodox death symbolizes that he died at Venus’s hand—the hand of love. By comparison, the unwavering devotion of Palamon for Emily suggests that true love cannot only endure but triumph in the most hopeless of circumstances.
For the majority of the story, Emily’s role is only as the third point in the love triangle—the object of desire. At the same time, Emily’s own ambivalence toward her suitors keeps her equidistantly removed from both men. Emily wants to remain a virgin and not marry either one, because as the sister of Hippolyta, she is an Amazon at heart. Before the final battle, Emily prays at the temple of Diana, to maintain her chastity and like Diana, stay a virgin huntress forever. Emily would greatly prefer to find an exit from the triangle and not marry either man. Her initial request for her chastity to be preserved is not granted, because as a goddess, Diana understands that change is an inevitable part of life. Emily acquiesces to this higher power and makes a new request to marry whoever loves her most.
The triangle is the most fundamental and stable shape in mathematics. Larger polygons are composed of triangles, and the sum of their interior angles always add up to the same 180 degrees, regardless of the lengths of the sides. In “The Knight’s Tale,” two points determine a simple relationship, while three points define a plane and thereby symbolically reference a more complex cross-section of society. The conclusion of the “The Knight’s Tale” does provide balance, as the desires of all three main characters are eventually fulfilled – Arcite wins the battle; Palamon wins his true love; and Emily marries the one who loves her most. In addition, as illustrated in this story, the 180 ° triangle can also be viewed as representative of the paradoxical idea that love and hate come from the same emotional base and are closely interrelated—just turned 180 degrees. At the same time that the triangle is an expression of balance, it is also the symbol for the Greek letter delta, which is used to express change. One of the primary themes of "The Knight's Tale" is the seeming randomness of fate. This tale depicts two characters that are fundamentally the same, but come to very different ends. It seems a person's character has very little to do with fate – and change is something that must be accepted, as it is outside of personal control.
Love is the most powerful, yet mysterious human emotion. It is love that governs our relationships and therefore, by extension, governs our society. Furthermore, the abstraction that surrounds love adds to its power. The unknown does not only induce man to fear, but also to desire—love’s greatest avatar. In The Canterbury Tales, and more specifically “The Knights Tale,” Geoffrey Chaucer embraces the unknown and tackles love head on. Through Palamon, Arcite, and Emily’s intricate love triangle, Chaucer advocates love’s power. The emotional tensions that exist between the lovers are reflected symbolically in the quantitative properties of triangles. In the end, the endurance of the conflicted three-way relationship, holding the characters both together and apart, proves that love is an unwavering force that conquers all.