A lovyere and a lusty bacheler,
With lokkes crulle as they were leyd in presse.
. . .
Embrouded was he, as it were a meede
Al ful of fresshe floures, whyte and reede.
Syngynge he was, or floytynge, al the day;
He was as fressh as is the month of May.
Short was his gowne, with sleves longe and wyde.
Wel koude he sitte on hors and faire ryde.
Part I -- In Tartary, king Cambuskan, who has two sons by his wife Elpheta; Algarsyf and Cambalus, and a daughter, Canacee, holds his birthday feast. At the third course a knight rides in bearing four gifts from the king of Arabia and India -- a mechanical brass steed, a magic mirror, a ring that enables its bearer to understand the language of the birds, and a sword that will cure any wound it makes. The ring and mirror are gifts for Canacee.
Part II -- Canacee finds a wounded falcon, lamenting her sad lot. Canacee, whose ring allows her to understand the bird, hears the story of her betrayal by a false lover. Now, the narrator says, I shall tell the adventures of Cambuskan, Cambalus, and Algarsif.
Part III -- Here the poem ends.
(Students reading this text for the first time may find an interlinear translation helpful).
The Squire's Tale is left unfinished; perhaps that is just as well: the plot implied in the final lines would require a tale longer than the Knight's Tale for its completion. Like Sir Thopas, it is a romance, but whereas Thopas is an old-fashioned minstrel romance, the Squire's Tale is in the mode of the fantastic verse romance which was to come to flower in the works of Boiardo, Pulci, and Ariosto in the next century. Perhaps that is why the work was so admired by Milton and Spenser, both of whom were deeply influenced by the Italian poets.
No source is known for the Squire's Tale. Clearly it owes something to the late medieval interest in the exotic Orient as it appears in works such as The Travels of Marco Polo and The Travels of Sir John Mandeville . For a sample of Mandeville see the passage on Paul Halsall's Internet Source Book: The Account of Prester John.
It is not clear whether the Squire's Tale is really unfinished (abandoned or left aside for later completion) or is meant to be interrupted by the speech of the Franklin that immediately follows. Sixteenth and seventeeth-century readers were convinced that a conclusion was wanting. John Milton, in his Il Penseroso wrote:
Or call him up who left half told
The story of Cambuscan bold
Of Camball, and of Algarsife ,
And who had Canace to wife,
That owns the vertuous Ring and Glass,
And of the wondrous Hors of Brass,
On which the Tartar King did ride;
And if ought els, great Bards beside,
In sage and solemn tunes have sung,
Of Turneys and of Trophies hung;
Of Forests, and inchantments drear,
Where more is meant than meets the ear.
Other poets did attempt to complete the half told story: the Elizabethan John Lane's Continuation of Chaucer's Squire's Tale , ed. F.J. Furnivall, Ch Soc. Sec. Ser, 23, 26, 1888, 1890 (2 vols) [Widener 11483.23, 26] is very long and not very good. Much more successful is the continuation by Edmund Spenser in Books III and IV of The Fairy Queen. It does not have all that much to do with Chaucer but it is great fun to read: Spenser's Continuation of The Squire's Tale.
The admiration evinced by Spenser and Milton for this work is not often shared by modern critics, though in recent years it has received some sympathetic attention (notably by Jennifer Goodman, "The Squire's Tale and the Use of Chivalry," in Studies in the Age of Chaucer 5, 127-36).
For a bibliography of critical and scholarly works on the Squire's Tale click here.