CHAUCER / 1340 - 1400 /
Nov. 20th, 97
Born in London, belonged to a continental tradition literary line - Gawain poet, W. Langland. His work is close
to theirs in outlook, reflects the trends of the time, appreciated during his lifestyle, father of English poetry.
Comfortable life - his father a prosperous merchant. Chaucer - page at the court 1360 - soldier in France in the
100 War - captured, saved with the help of the king. Became courtier in diplomatic missions to France and Italy.
Petrarch, Boccaccio - he met them when he visited Italy, but not proved. He was aware of the flowering of
Italian Ren; his work bears the stamp of his country, which is lagging behind. He was made controller of
Customs - secure positions, allows to spend most of his time in what he was interested in. He was a courtier
servant of the king, had some duties, and could not devote all his time to writing. He was affluent, capable, not
literary amateur. He was in court from his birth to his death, but in contact with the lower social strata too. Not
of noble birth, but aristocratic environment. Died under Henry IV, the third king in his time. Comfortable life by
the contemporary standards, lesser opportunity for leisure, widely read, well educated - knew Latin, French,
Italian. Knew the works of Ovid, Virgil, Seneca, Dante, Boccaccio, Petrarch, Roman de la Rose, the Bible,
apocryphal books, astronomy, medicine, physics, and alchemy.
Three periods - each of about 15 years:
(i) the French
- until he was 37, elegant courtly poetry,
elegy "The Book of the Duchess"
influenced by the Roman de la Rose (the French romantic tradition).
(ii) the Italian
- strong influence of contemporary Italian literature, allegorical fantasies, dream visions
"The Parliament of Fowls", "The House of Fame" idiosyncratic humor and delicacy. "The Legend of
Good Women" - collection of tales about life of illustrious women of the time. "Troilus and Criseyde" -
first English psychological novel in verse, memorable portraits of two personages - Criseyde and the
uncle Panda, his first immortal work, in rhyme ababbcc.
(iii) the English
- entirely given to his greatest work
"The Canterbury Tales"
(1385 - 1400). Slight
resemblance to foreign models, but distinct originalities. This is Chaucer's mature period. It is a
collection of stories like Ovid's "Metamorphosis" and Arabian Nights, Boccaccio's Decameron, but
placed in a framework of originality. People of all social strata going on a pilgrimage to Canterbury, the
others a collection of tales - people on the road, interaction, sharing tales. 30 people gather in an inn,
make a contest for a pleasant journey. Each one tells two tales on their way to Canterbury. In addition,
two on the way back, so 120 tales all together. The story does not go as far as Canterbury, only 24 tales,
Diverse in style, each character has a specific way of using language