A Knight’s Tale Relishes Its Silliness

by Mr. Sheehy

My students are practicing using the “they say/I say” rhetorical structure in class by responding to a movie review of A Knight’s Tale. This is my own contribution. I find the “they say/I say” structure a very practical and flexible structure for students to use. It almost instantly adds a maturity to their writing they otherwise have not had.

In his 2001 review for New York Magazine Peter Rainer offers a harsh critique of the film A Knight’s Tale. Rainer claims the movie attempts to demonstrate “that there’s no essential difference between then and now.” To make his point, he likens each character to our modern equivalent: the hero’s friends are groupies, complete with squires as buddies, a herald as PR agent, and a pretty lady oogling from the luxury boxes.

By focusing on his thesis that the movie wants us to see how “the fourteenth century was as glitzy and starstruck as our own,” Rainer entirely misses the film writers’ self-consciousness. Surely the writers were not trying to convey a real parallel between the middle ages and the modern world. A noble woman sneaking around men’s tents at night? A prince declaring a peasant a knight because the peasant was tough? Next, a historian might counter, you’ll tell me a king wrote the Magna Carta. At practically every turn, any historical record shows the medieval world is strikingly different than the way the movie portrays it. But before criticizing the movie for this difference, shouldn’t a viewer stop to realize the writers were surely aware of how discordant their story is with history, and that it must have been part of their point? In A Knight’s Tale, filmmakers have reveled in setting the archetypal rags to riches and David & Goliath plots of sports movies in a completely new place. They’re committing the same old clichés in all the new ways, and like homecoming dress-up days, we revel in A Knight’s Tale because we know it’s silly and we think its clichés are fun. In the climactic moment of this movie, William jousts against the world’s second best jouster without armor or a helmet. Somehow—through quick edits and close-ups—his opponent completely misses him, and William knocks the guy off his horse. In sum, anyone who sees an ending like this and does not recognize its aspirations to silliness has been weighed, and found lacking.