Geoffrey Chaucer (1340-1400): A detailed study of his works including his significant work the Canterbury tales
Geoffrey Chaucer, son of a wine merchant, born in the year 1340. He was born and brought up in London. Due to his quality of being the first poet who wrote his poetry in Middle English language, Chaucer is considered as the father of English literature and counted as one of the greatest poets of the English language. He was married to Philippa.
Chaucer has seen the reign of three rulers; he was born during the time of Edward III, lived and prospered during the period of Richard II and died in the reign of Henry IV. He was the first poet to be buried in Westminster Abbey after his death which is also known as poet’s corner.
During his literary and political career Chaucer has travelled extensively to different regions and country and the influence of classic authors like Petrarch and Boccaccio can be evidently seen in his variety of works. The career and works of Chaucer can generally be divided into three periods listed below.
The French Period
1. The Remount of the Rose: Written in octosyllabic couplets this work is generally considered as a translated version of French poet Jean de Meung and Guillaume de Loris’ French work Roman de la Rose.
2. The Book of Duchess: This allegorical elegy was written on the death of Blanche; duchess of Lancaster, who was the first wife of patron of Chaucer, named John of Gaunt.
3. The complaint of Mars.
4. The ABC
The Italian Period
1. Anelida and Arcite: A poem of 357 lines.
2. Troilus and Criseyde: Influenced by Italian author Giovanni Boccaccio’s II filostrato, this poem was written in Rhyme Royale stanza which consists of seven lines, written in iambic pentameter.
3. The Parliament of Fowls: It was written in Rhyme Royale stanza on the occasion of the marriage of Richard II to Ann of Bohemia.
4. The house of fame: resembling the Dante’s famous Divine Comedy, this dream allegory is in octosyllabic couplets.
5. The Legend of Good Women: Written in dream vision format this is considered as the first ever work which used the Heroic couplet. Thought Chaucer intended to compile total 19 tales but 8 got completed and 9th only began and half done.
The English Period
1. The Canterbury Tales: this work is considered as the most significant and remarkable work of Chaucer. It is a collection of 24 tales told by a group of 29 pilgrims belonging to different profession, class and hierarchy on their way to the shrine of Thomas Becket situated in Canterbury. Each story is told by a different pilgrim from the group, the tales range from coarse humor to ethical teaching, which very well mirrors the diversity of 14th-century England and its social order.
While sketching the characters and their tales Chaucer has brilliantly employed an extensive variety of literary techniques, including satire, irony and allegory, to convey his subtle but effective messages in the undertones of the tales narrated by different pilgrims. This quality of Chaucer makes The Canterbury Tales a very affluent and multifaceted work that can be interpreted and analyzed in many different ways.
The Canterbury Tales is considered as a magnum opus of medieval literature and that is why even today it is widely studied and read. This continuing recognition of this work can be credited to the description of its vivid characters representing the still pertinent themes presented with the touch of humour and wit. This ability of Chaucer to weave a multi-layered yet simple and interesting story in combination of his elegant writing style, has placed the Canterbury Tales as a significant classic ornament of English literature.
Canterbury tales is Not just a classic work of significance but it also holds great importance because it reflects a detailed informative light on people and society of England during 14th century. The tales narrated by different characters belonging to different class and culture reflects the real issues of time be it social, political, or religion based. The tales provide a glance into the everyday lives of ordinary people. This makes it not just a great work of literature but also a very significant historical manuscript.
Some of the important characters depicted in the Canterbury tales are as follows:-
The Knight – The Knight is depicted as the personification of gallantry and honor. He is presented as a nobleman who has fought in many tough battles for the sake of humanity and justice. He is respected by everyone for his bravery and honesty.
The Squire – He is depicted as the son of the Knight, a Courageous, young, handsome and well mannered man who has taken part in many battles. In Chaucer’s words he is called as fresh as the month of May.
The Wife of Bath – The Wife of Bath is depicted as a very confident and independent woman who has travelled a lot and also married several times. Her name is Alison and called wife of bath which alludes to her native city called Bath.
The Pardoner – presenting the corruption prevalent in religious institutions of the time, a controversial character who sells pardons and forgiveness in exchange of money for sins to wealthy individuals. He is presented as a morally corrupt and gluttonous person.
The Monk – a member of the clergy group who loves hunting and food but never follows the right and moral path suggested by the bible. He is depicted as someone more interested in materialistic affairs than the religious practices.
The Prioress – She is referred with the name Madam Eglantine;a sophisticated, affectionate and kind hearted lady.she weeps to even seeing a mouse in trouble or problem. She wears a broach inscribed
With’Love Conquers All’.
The Friar – presented as a merry fellow named Hubert. Member of the clergy group, Cheats with poor people and instead of living a simple life as prescribed to clergy, he never follows the rules and likes to live lavishly.
The Miller – He steals grains from his customer’s bags while grinding them. He is depicted as a very impolite and rude with short temper.
The Merchant – presented as a wealthy businessman with an unhappy marriage.
The Sergeant-at-Law – depicted as a pretentious man who likes to flaunt his abilities and knowledge. Pretends to be busy than he is in reality.
The Summoner – depicted as a man with a red face containing lot of pimples on it. Children feared him because of his face.
The Franklin – sketched as a very rich and well-respected person and a landlord. He is depicted as being cheerful, generous, and hospitable.
The Clerk of oxford – A poor and humble character filled with wisdom and piousness. He is depicted as someone who prefers books over any other pleasure.
The Host – Depicted as a friendly and social person who owns the Tabard Inn where pilgrims are staying.