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Geoffrey Chaucer Geoffrey Chaucer , known as the Father of
English literature, is widely considered the greatest English poet of the Middle Ages and
was the first poet to have been buried in Poet's Corner of Westminster Abbey. While
he achieved fame during his lifetime as an author, philosopher, alchemist and astronomer,
composing a scientific treatise on the astrolabe for his ten year-old son Lewis, Chaucer also
maintained an active career in the civil service as a bureaucrat, courtier and diplomat. Among
his many works, which include The Book of the Duchess, the House of Fame, the Legend
of Good Women and Troilus and Criseyde, he is best known today for The Canterbury Tales.
Chaucer is a crucial figure in developing the legitimacy of the vernacular, Middle English,
at a time when the dominant literary languages in England were French and Latin.
Life Geoffrey Chaucer was born in London sometime
around 1343, though the precise date and location of his birth remain unknown. His father and
grandfather were both London vintners; several previous generations had been merchants in
Ipswich. (His family name derives from the French chausseur, meaning "shoemaker".) In
1324 John Chaucer, Geoffrey's father, was kidnapped by an aunt in the hope of marrying
the twelve-year-old boy to her daughter in an attempt to keep property in Ipswich. The
aunt was imprisoned and the £250 fine levied suggests that the family was financially secure—bourgeois,
if not elite. John Chaucer married Agnes Copton, who, in 1349, inherited properties including
24 shops in London from her uncle, Hamo de Copton, who is described in a will dated 3
April 1354 and listed in the City Hustings Roll as "moneyer"; he was said to be moneyer
at the Tower of London. In the City Hustings Roll 110, 5, Ric II, dated June 1380, Geoffrey
Chaucer refers to himself as me Galfridum Chaucer, filium Johannis Chaucer, Vinetarii,
Londonie'. While records concerning the lives of his
contemporary poets, William Langland and the Pearl Poet are practically non-existent, since
Chaucer was a public servant, his official life is very well documented, with nearly
five hundred written items testifying to his career. The first of the "Chaucer Life Records"
appears in 1357, in the household accounts of Elizabeth de Burgh, the Countess of Ulster,
when he became the noblewoman's page through his father's connections. She was married
to Lionel, Duke of Clarence, the second surviving son of the king, Edward III, and the position
brought the teenage Chaucer into the close court circle, where he was to remain for the
rest of his life. He also worked as a courtier, a diplomat, and a civil servant, as well as
working for the king, collecting and inventorying scrap metal.
In 1359, in the early stages of the Hundred Years' War, Edward III invaded France and
Chaucer travelled with Lionel of Antwerp, 1st Duke of Clarence, Elizabeth's husband,
as part of the English army. In 1360, he was captured during the siege of Rheims. Edward
paid £16 for his ransom, a considerable sum, and Chaucer was released.
After this, Chaucer's life is uncertain, but he seems to have travelled in France, Spain,
and Flanders, possibly as a messenger and perhaps even going on a pilgrimage to Santiago
de Compostela. Around 1366, Chaucer married Philippa (de) Roet. She was a lady-in-waiting
to Edward III's queen, Philippa of Hainault, and a sister of Katherine Swynford, who later
(c. 1396) became the third wife of John of Gaunt. It is uncertain how many children Chaucer
and Philippa had, but three or four are most commonly cited. His son, Thomas Chaucer, had
an illustrious career, as chief butler to four kings, envoy to France, and Speaker of
the House of Commons. Thomas's daughter, Alice, married the Duke of Suffolk. Thomas's great-grandson
(Geoffrey's great-great-grandson), John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, was the heir to
the throne designated by Richard III before he was deposed. Geoffrey's other children
probably included Elizabeth Chaucy, a nun at Barking Abbey. Agnes, an attendant at Henry
IV's coronation; and another son, Lewis Chaucer. Chaucer’s “Treatise on the Astrolabe”
was written for Lewis. Chaucer probably studied law in the Inner
Temple (an Inn of Court) at this time. He became a member of the royal court of Edward
III as a varlet de chambre, yeoman, or esquire on 20 June 1367, a position which could entail
a wide variety of tasks. His wife also received a pension for court employment. He travelled
abroad many times, at least some of them in his role as a valet. In 1368, he may have
attended the wedding of Lionel of Antwerp to Violante Visconti, daughter of Galeazzo
II Visconti, in Milan. Two other literary stars of the era were in attendance: Jean
Froissart and Petrarch. Around this time, Chaucer is believed to have written The Book
of the Duchess in honour of Blanche of Lancaster, the late wife of John of Gaunt, who died in
1369. Chaucer travelled to Picardy the next year
as part of a military expedition; in 1373 he visited Genoa and Florence. Numerous scholars
such as Skeat, Boitani, and Rowland suggested that, on this Italian trip, he came into contact
with Petrarch or Boccaccio. They introduced him to medieval Italian poetry, the forms
and stories of which he would use later. The purposes of a voyage in 1377 are mysterious,
as details within the historical record conflict. Later documents suggest it was a mission,
along with Jean Froissart, to arrange a marriage between the future King Richard II and a French
princess, thereby ending the Hundred Years War. If this was the purpose of their trip,
they seem to have been unsuccessful, as no wedding occurred.
In 1378, Richard II sent Chaucer as an envoy (secret dispatch) to the Visconti and to Sir
John Hawkwood, English condottiere (mercenary leader) in Milan. It has been speculated that
it was Hawkwood on whom Chaucer based his character the Knight in the Canterbury Tales,
for a description matches that of a 14th-century condottiere.
A possible indication that his career as a writer was appreciated came when Edward III
granted Chaucer "a gallon of wine daily for the rest of his life" for some unspecified
task. This was an unusual grant, but given on a day of celebration, St George's Day,
1374, when artistic endeavours were traditionally rewarded, it is assumed to have been another
early poetic work. It is not known which, if any, of Chaucer's extant works prompted
the reward, but the suggestion of him as poet to a king places him as a precursor to later
poets laureate. Chaucer continued to collect the liquid stipend until Richard II came to
power, after which it was converted to a monetary grant on 18 April 1378.
Chaucer obtained the very substantial job of comptroller of the customs for the port
of London, which he began on 8 June 1374. He must have been suited for the role as he
continued in it for twelve years, a long time in such a post at that time. His life goes
undocumented for much of the next ten years, but it is believed that he wrote (or began)
most of his famous works during this period. He was mentioned in law papers of 4 May 1380,
involved in the raptus of Cecilia Chaumpaigne. What raptus means is unclear, but the incident
seems to have been resolved quickly and did not leave a stain on Chaucer's reputation.
It is not known if Chaucer was in the city of London at the time of the Peasants' Revolt,
but if he was, he would have seen its leaders pass almost directly under his apartment window
at Aldgate. While still working as comptroller, Chaucer
appears to have moved to Kent, being appointed as one of the commissioners of peace for Kent,
at a time when French invasion was a possibility. He is thought to have started work on The
Canterbury Tales in the early 1380s. He also became a Member of Parliament for Kent in
1386. There is no further reference after this date to Philippa, Chaucer's wife, and
she is presumed to have died in 1387. He survived the political upheavals caused by the Lords
Appellants, despite the fact that Chaucer knew some of the men executed over the affair
quite well. On 12 July 1389, Chaucer was appointed the
clerk of the king's works, a sort of foreman organising most of the king's building projects.
No major works were begun during his tenure, but he did conduct repairs on Westminster
Palace, St. George's Chapel, Windsor, continue building the wharf at the Tower of London,
and build the stands for a tournament held in 1390. It may have been a difficult job,
but it paid well: two shillings a day, more than three times his salary as a comptroller.
Chaucer was also appointed keeper of the lodge at the King’s park in Feckenham, which was
a largely honorary appointment. In September 1390, records say that he was
robbed, and possibly injured, while conducting the business, and it was shortly after, on
17 June 1391, that he stopped working in this capacity. Almost immediately, on 22 June,
he began as Deputy Forester in the royal forest of North Petherton, Somerset. This was no
sinecure, with maintenance an important part of the job, although there were many opportunities
to derive profit. He was granted an annual pension of twenty pounds by Richard II in
1394. It is believed that Chaucer stopped work on the Canterbury Tales sometime towards
the end of this decade. Not long after the overthrow of his patron,
Richard II, in 1399, Chaucer's name fades from the historical record. The last few records
of his life show his pension renewed by the new king, and his taking of a lease on a residence
within the close of Westminster Abbey on 24 December 1399. Although Henry IV renewed the
grants assigned to Chaucer by Richard, Chaucer's own The Complaint of Chaucer to his Purse
hints that the grants might not have been paid. The last mention of Chaucer is on 5
June 1400, when some monies owed to him were paid.
He is believed to have died of unknown causes on 25 October 1400, but there is no firm evidence
for this date, as it comes from the engraving on his tomb, erected more than one hundred
years after his death. There is some speculation—most recently in Terry Jones' book Who Murdered
Chaucer?: A Medieval Mystery—that he was murdered by enemies of Richard II or even
on the orders of his successor Henry IV, but the case is entirely circumstantial. Chaucer
was buried in Westminster Abbey in London, as was his right owing to his status as a
tenant of the Abbey's close. In 1556, his remains were transferred to a more ornate
tomb, making Chaucer the first writer interred in the area now known as Poets' Corner.
Works Chaucer's first major work, The Book of the
Duchess, was an elegy for Blanche of Lancaster (who died in 1369). It is possible that this
work was commissioned by her husband John of Gaunt, as he granted Chaucer a £10 annuity
on 13 June 1374. This would seem to place the writing of The Book of the Duchess between
the years 1369 and 1374. Two other early works by Chaucer were Anelida and Arcite and The
House of Fame. Chaucer wrote many of his major works in a prolific period when he held the
job of customs comptroller for London (1374 to 1386). His Parlement of Foules, The Legend
of Good Women and Troilus and Criseyde all date from this time. Also it is believed that
he started work on The Canterbury Tales in the early 1380s. Chaucer is best known as
the writer of The Canterbury Tales, which is a collection of stories told by fictional
pilgrims on the road to the cathedral at Canterbury; these tales would help to shape English literature.
The Canterbury Tales contrasts with other literature of the period in the naturalism
of its narrative, the variety of stories the pilgrims tell and the varied characters who
are engaged in the pilgrimage. Many of the stories narrated by the pilgrims seem to fit
their individual characters and social standing, although some of the stories seem ill-fitting
to their narrators, perhaps as a result of the incomplete state of the work. Chaucer
drew on real life for his cast of pilgrims: the innkeeper shares the name of a contemporary
keeper of an inn in Southwark, and real-life identities for the Wife of Bath, the Merchant,
the Man of Law and the Student have been suggested. The many jobs that Chaucer held in medieval
society—page, soldier, messenger, valet, bureaucrat, foreman and administrator—probably
exposed him to many of the types of people he depicted in the Tales. He was able to shape
their speech and satirise their manners in what was to become popular literature among
people of the same types. Chaucer's works are sometimes grouped into
first a French period, then an Italian period and finally an English period, with Chaucer
being influenced by those countries' literatures in turn. Certainly Troilus and Criseyde is
a middle period work with its reliance on the forms of Italian poetry, little known
in England at the time, but to which Chaucer was probably exposed during his frequent trips
abroad on court business. In addition, its use of a classical subject and its elaborate,
courtly language sets it apart as one of his most complete and well-formed works. In Troilus
and Criseyde Chaucer draws heavily on his source, Boccaccio, and on the late Latin philosopher
Boethius. However, it is The Canterbury Tales, wherein he focuses on English subjects, with
bawdy jokes and respected figures often being undercut with humour, that has cemented his
reputation. Chaucer also translated such important works
as Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy and The Romance of the Rose by Guillaume de Lorris
(extended by Jean de Meun). However, while many scholars maintain that Chaucer did indeed
translate part of the text of Roman de la Rose as The Romaunt of the Rose, others claim
that this has been effectively disproved. Many of his other works were very loose translations
of, or simply based on, works from continental Europe. It is in this role that Chaucer receives
some of his earliest critical praise. Eustache Deschamps wrote a ballade on the great translator
and called himself a "nettle in Chaucer's garden of poetry". In 1385 Thomas Usk made
glowing mention of Chaucer, and John Gower, Chaucer's main poetic rival of the time, also
lauded him. This reference was later edited out of Gower's Confessio Amantis and it has
been suggested by some that this was because of ill feeling between them, but it is likely
due simply to stylistic concerns. One other significant work of Chaucer's is
his Treatise on the Astrolabe, possibly for his own son, that describes the form and use
of that instrument in detail and is sometimes cited as the first example of technical writing
in the English language. Although much of the text may have come from other sources,
the treatise indicates that Chaucer was versed in science in addition to his literary talents.
Another scientific work discovered in 1952, Equatorie of the Planetis, has similar language
and handwriting compared to some considered to be Chaucer's and it continues many of the
ideas from the Astrolabe. Furthermore, it contains an example of early European encryption.
The attribution of this work to Chaucer is still uncertain.
Influence Linguistic
Chaucer wrote in continental accentual-syllabic meter, a style which had developed since around
the 12th century as an alternative to the alliterative Anglo-Saxon metre. Chaucer is
known for metrical innovation, inventing the rhyme royal, and he was one of the first English
poets to use the five-stress line, a decasyllabic cousin to the iambic pentameter, in his work,
with only a few anonymous short works using it before him. The arrangement of these five-stress
lines into rhyming couplets, first seen in his The Legend of Good Women, was used in
much of his later work and became one of the standard poetic forms in English. His early
influence as a satirist is also important, with the common humorous device, the funny
accent of a regional dialect, apparently making its first appearance in The Reeve's Tale.
The poetry of Chaucer, along with other writers of the era, is credited with helping to standardise
the London Dialect of the Middle English language from a combination of the Kentish and Midlands
dialects. This is probably overstated; the influence of the court, chancery and bureaucracy—of
which Chaucer was a part—remains a more probable influence on the development of Standard
English. Modern English is somewhat distanced from the language of Chaucer's poems owing
to the effect of the Great Vowel Shift some time after his death. This change in the pronunciation
of English, still not fully understood, makes the reading of Chaucer difficult for the modern
audience. The status of the final -e in Chaucer's verse is uncertain: it seems likely that during
the period of Chaucer's writing the final -e was dropping out of colloquial English
and that its use was somewhat irregular. Chaucer's versification suggests that the final -e is
sometimes to be vocalised, and sometimes to be silent; however, this remains a point on
which there is disagreement. When it is vocalised, most scholars pronounce it as a schwa. Apart
from the irregular spelling, much of the vocabulary is recognisable to the modern reader. Chaucer
is also recorded in the Oxford English Dictionary as the first author to use many common English
words in his writings. These words were probably frequently used in the language at the time
but Chaucer, with his ear for common speech, is the earliest manuscript source. Acceptable,
alkali, altercation, amble, angrily, annex, annoyance, approaching, arbitration, armless,
army, arrogant, arsenic, arc, artillery and aspect are just some of the many English words
first attested in Chaucer. Literary
Widespread knowledge of Chaucer's works is attested by the many poets who imitated or
responded to his writing. John Lydgate was one of the earliest poets to write continuations
of Chaucer's unfinished Tales while Robert Henryson's Testament of Cresseid completes
the story of Cressida left unfinished in his Troilus and Criseyde. Many of the manuscripts
of Chaucer's works contain material from these poets and later appreciations by the romantic
era poets were shaped by their failure to distinguish the later "additions" from original
Chaucer. Writers or the 17th and 18th centuries, such as John Dryden, admired Chaucer for his
stories, but not for his rhythm and rhyme, as few critics could then read Middle English
and the text had been butchered by printers, leaving a somewhat unadmirable mess. It was
not until the late 19th century that the official Chaucerian canon, accepted today, was decided
upon, largely as a result of Walter William Skeat's work. Roughly seventy-five years after
Chaucer's death, The Canterbury Tales was selected by William Caxton to be one of the
first books to be printed in England. English
Chaucer is sometimes considered the source of the English vernacular tradition. His achievement
for the language can be seen as part of a general historical trend towards the creation
of a vernacular literature, after the example of Dante, in many parts of Europe. A parallel
trend in Chaucer's own lifetime was underway in Scotland through the work of his slightly
earlier contemporary, John Barbour, and was likely to have been even more general, as
is evidenced by the example of the Pearl Poet in the north of England.
Although Chaucer's language is much closer to Modern English than the text of Beowulf,
such that (unlike that of Beowulf) a Modern English-speaker with a large vocabulary of
archaic words may understand it, it differs enough that most publications modernise his
idiom. Following is a sample from the prologue of "The Summoner's Tale" that compares Chaucer's
text to a modern translation: Critical reception
Early criticism The poet Thomas Hoccleve, who may have met
Chaucer and considered him his role model, hailed Chaucer as "the firste fyndere of our
fair langage." John Lydgate referred to Chaucer within his own text The Fall of Princes as
the "lodesterre... off our language". Around two centuries later, Sir Philip Sidney greatly
praised Troilus and Criseyde in his own Defence of Poesie.
Manuscripts and audience The large number of surviving manuscripts
of Chaucer's works is testimony to the enduring interest in his poetry prior to the arrival
of the printing press. There are 83 surviving manuscripts of the Canterbury Tales (in whole
or part) alone, along with sixteen of Troilus and Criseyde, including the personal copy
of Henry IV. Given the ravages of time, it is likely that these surviving manuscripts
represent hundreds since lost. Chaucer's original audience was a courtly one, and would have
included women as well as men of the upper social classes. Yet even before his death
in 1400, Chaucer's audience had begun to include members of the rising literate, middle and
merchant classes, which included many Lollard sympathisers who may well have been inclined
to read Chaucer as one of their own, particularly in his satirical writings about friars, priests,
and other church officials. In 1464, John Baron, a tenant farmer in Agmondesham, was
brought before John Chadworth, the Bishop of Lincoln, on charges he was a Lollard heretic;
he confessed to owning a "boke of the Tales of Caunterburie" among other suspect volumes.
Printed editions William Caxton, the first English printer,
was responsible for the first two folio editions of The Canterbury Tales which were published
in 1478 and 1483. Caxton's second printing, by his own account, came about because a customer
complained that the printed text differed from a manuscript he knew; Caxton obligingly
used the man's manuscript as his source. Both Caxton editions carry the equivalent of manuscript
authority. Caxton's edition was reprinted by his successor, Wynkyn de Worde, but this
edition has no independent authority. Richard Pynson, the King's Printer under Henry
VIII for about twenty years, was the first to collect and sell something that resembled
an edition of the collected works of Chaucer, introducing in the process five previously
printed texts that we now know are not Chaucer's. (The collection is actually three separately
printed texts, or collections of texts, bound together as one volume.) There is a likely
connection between Pynson's product and William Thynne's a mere six years later. Thynne had
a successful career from the 1520s until his death in 1546, when he was one of the masters
of the royal household. His editions of Chaucers Works in 1532 and 1542 were the first major
contributions to the existence of a widely recognised Chaucerian canon. Thynne represents
his edition as a book sponsored by and supportive of the king who is praised in the preface
by Sir Brian Tuke. Thynne's canon brought the number of apocryphal works associated
with Chaucer to a total of 28, even if that was not his intention. As with Pynson, once
included in the Works, pseudepigraphic texts stayed within it, regardless of their first
editor's intentions. In the 16th and 17th centuries, Chaucer was
printed more than any other English author, and he was the first author to have his works
collected in comprehensive single-volume editions in which a Chaucer canon began to cohere.
Some scholars contend that 16th-century editions of Chaucer's Works set the precedent for all
other English authors in terms of presentation, prestige and success in print. These editions
certainly established Chaucer's reputation, but they also began the complicated process
of reconstructing and frequently inventing Chaucer's biography and the canonical list
of works which were attributed to him. Probably the most significant aspect of the
growing apocrypha is that, beginning with Thynne's editions, it began to include medieval
texts that made Chaucer appear as a proto-Protestant Lollard, primarily the Testament of Love and
The Plowman's Tale. As "Chaucerian" works that were not considered apocryphal until
the late 19th century, these medieval texts enjoyed a new life, with English Protestants
carrying on the earlier Lollard project of appropriating existing texts and authors who
seemed sympathetic—or malleable enough to be construed as sympathetic—to their cause.
The official Chaucer of the early printed volumes of his Works was construed as a proto-Protestant
as the same was done, concurrently, with William Langland and Piers Plowman. The famous Plowman's
Tale did not enter Thynne's Works until the second, 1542, edition. Its entry was surely
facilitated by Thynne's inclusion of Thomas Usk's Testament of Love in the first edition.
The Testament of Love imitates, borrows from, and thus resembles Usk's contemporary, Chaucer.
(Testament of Love also appears to borrow from Piers Plowman.) Since the Testament of
Love mentions its author's part in a failed plot (book 1, chapter 6), his imprisonment,
and (perhaps) a recantation of (possibly Lollard) heresy, all this was associated with Chaucer.
(Usk himself was executed as a traitor in 1388.) Interestingly, John Foxe took this
recantation of heresy as a defence of the true faith, calling Chaucer a "right Wiclevian"
and (erroneously) identifying him as a schoolmate and close friend of John Wycliffe at Merton
College, Oxford. (Thomas Speght is careful to highlight these facts in his editions and
his "Life of Chaucer.") No other sources for the Testament of Love exist—there is only
Thynne's construction of whatever manuscript sources he had.
John Stow (1525–1605) was an antiquarian and also a chronicler. His edition of Chaucer's
Works in 1561 brought the apocrypha to more than 50 titles. More were added in the 17th
century, and they remained as late as 1810, well after Thomas Tyrwhitt pared the canon
down in his 1775 edition. The compilation and printing of Chaucer's works was, from
its beginning, a political enterprise, since it was intended to establish an English national
identity and history that grounded and authorised the Tudor monarchy and church. What was added
to Chaucer often helped represent him favourably to Protestant England.
In his 1598 edition of the Works, Speght (probably taking cues from Foxe) made good use of Usk's
account of his political intrigue and imprisonment in the Testament of Love to assemble a largely
fictional "Life of Our Learned English Poet, Geffrey Chaucer." Speght's "Life" presents
readers with an erstwhile radical in troubled times much like their own, a proto-Protestant
who eventually came around the king's views on religion. Speght states that "In the second
year of Richard the second, the King tooke Geffrey Chaucer and his lands into his protection.
The occasion wherof no doubt was some daunger and trouble whereinto he was fallen by favouring
some rash attempt of the common people." Under the discussion of Chaucer's friends, namely
John of Gaunt, Speght further explains: Later, in "The Argument" to the Testament
of Love, Speght adds: Speght is also the source of the famous tale
of Chaucer being fined for beating a Franciscan friar in Fleet Street, as well as a fictitious
coat of arms and family tree. Ironically—and perhaps consciously so—an introductory,
apologetic letter in Speght's edition from Francis Beaumont defends the unseemly, "low",
and bawdy bits in Chaucer from an elite, classicist position. Francis Thynne noted some of these
inconsistencies in his Animadversions, insisting that Chaucer was not a commoner, and he objected
to the friar-beating story. Yet Thynne himself underscores Chaucer's support for popular
religious reform, associating Chaucer's views with his father William Thynne's attempts
to include The Plowman's Tale and The Pilgrim's Tale in the 1532 and 1542 Works.
The myth of the Protestant Chaucer continues to have a lasting impact on a large body of
Chaucerian scholarship. Though it is extremely rare for a modern scholar to suggest Chaucer
supported a religious movement that didn't exist until more than a century after his
death, the predominance of this thinking for so many centuries left it for granted that
Chaucer was at least hostile toward Catholicism. This assumption forms a large part of many
critical approaches to Chaucer's works, including neo-Marxism.
Alongside Chaucer's Works, the most impressive literary monument of the period is John Foxe's
Acts and Monuments.... As with the Chaucer editions, it was critically significant to
English Protestant identity and included Chaucer in its project. Foxe's Chaucer both derived
from and contributed to the printed editions of Chaucer's Works, particularly the pseudepigrapha.
Jack Upland was first printed in Foxe's Acts and Monuments, and then it appeared in Speght's
edition of Chaucer's Works. Speght's "Life of Chaucer" echoes Foxe's own account, which
is itself dependent upon the earlier editions that added the Testament of Love and The Plowman's
Tale to their pages. Like Speght's Chaucer, Foxe's Chaucer was also a shrewd (or lucky)
political survivor. In his 1563 edition, Foxe "thought it not out of season... to couple...
some mention of Geoffrey Chaucer" with a discussion of John Colet, a possible source for John
Skelton's character Colin Clout. Probably referring to the 1542 Act for the
Advancement of True Religion, Foxe said that he "marvel to consider... how the bishops,
condemning and abolishing all manner of English books and treatises which might bring the
people to any light of knowledge, did yet authorise the works of Chaucer to remain still
and to be occupied; who, no doubt, saw into religion as much almost as even we do now,
and uttereth in his works no less, and seemeth to be a right Wicklevian, or else there never
was any. And that, all his works almost, if they be thoroughly advised, will testify (albeit
done in mirth, and covertly); and especially the latter end of his third book of the Testament
of Love... Wherein, except a man be altogether blind, he may espy him at the full: although
in the same book (as in all others he useth to do), under shadows covertly, as under a
visor, he suborneth truth in such sort, as both privily she may profit the godly-minded,
and yet not be espied of the crafty adversary. And therefore the bishops, belike, taking
his works but for jests and toys, in condemning other books, yet permitted his books to be
read." It is significant, too, that Foxe's discussion
of Chaucer leads into his history of "The Reformation of the Church of Christ in the
Time of Martin Luther" when "Printing, being opened, incontinently ministered unto the
church the instruments and tools of learning and knowledge; which were good books and authors,
which before lay hid and unknown. The science of printing being found, immediately followed
the grace of God; which stirred up good wits aptly to conceive the light of knowledge and
judgment: by which light darkness began to be espied, and ignorance to be detected; truth
from error, religion from superstition, to be discerned."
Foxe downplays Chaucer's bawdy and amorous writing, insisting that it all testifies to
his piety. Material that is troubling is deemed metaphoric, while the more forthright satire
(which Foxe prefers) is taken literally. John Urry produced the first edition of the
complete works of Chaucer in a Latin font, published posthumously in 1721. Included were
several tales, according to the editors, for the first time printed, a biography of Chaucer,
a glossary of old English words, and testimonials of author writers concerning Chaucer dating
back to the 16th century. According to A.S.G Edwards, "This was the first collected edition
of Chaucer to be printed in roman type. The life of Chaucer prefixed to the volume was
the work of the Reverend John Dart, corrected and revised by Timothy Thomas. The glossary
appended was also mainly compiled by Thomas. The text of Urry's edition has often been
criticised by subsequent editors for its frequent conjectural emendations, mainly to make it
conform to his sense of Chaucer's metre. The justice of such criticisms should not obscure
his achievement. His is the first edition of Chaucer for nearly a hundred and fifty
years to consult any manuscripts and is the first since that of William Thynne in 1534
to seek systematically to assemble a substantial number of manuscripts to establish his text.
It is also the first edition to offer descriptions of the manuscripts of Chaucer's works, and
the first to print texts of 'Gamelyn' and 'The Tale of Beryn', works ascribed to, but
not by, Chaucer." Modern scholarship
Although Chaucer's works were admired for many years, serious scholarly work on his
legacy did not begin until the 19th century. Scholars such as Frederick James Furnivall,
who founded the Chaucer Society in 1868, pioneered the establishment of diplomatic editions of
Chaucer's major texts, along with careful accounts of Chaucer's language and prosody.
Walter William Skeat, who like Furnivall was closely associated with the Oxford English
Dictionary, established the base text of all of Chaucer's works with his edition, published
by Oxford University Press. Later editions by John H. Fisher and Larry D. Benson have
offered further refinements, along with critical commentary and bibliographies.
With the textual issues largely addressed, if not solved, the questions of Chaucer's
themes, structure, and audience were addressed. In 1966, the Chaucer Review was founded, and
has maintained its position as the preeminent journal of Chaucer studies.
Popular culture Powell and Pressburger's 1944 film A Canterbury
Tale opens with a re-creation of Chaucer's Canterbury pilgrims; the film itself takes
place on the road to, and in, wartime Canterbury. The plot of the detective novel Landscape
with Dead Dons by Robert Robinson centres on the apparent rediscovery of The Book of
the Leoun, and a passage from it (eleven lines of good Chaucerian pastiche) turn out to be
the vital murder clue as well as proving that the "rediscovered" poem is an elaborate, clever
forgery by the murderer (a Chaucer scholar). In Rudyard Kipling's story "Dayspring Mishandled",
a writer plans an elaborate revenge on a former friend, a Chaucer expert, who has insulted
the woman he loves, by fabricating a "medieval" manuscript sheet containing an alleged fragment
of a lost Canterbury Tale (actually his own composition).
Both an asteroid and a lunar crater have been named after Chaucer.
A (fictionalized) version of Chaucer was portrayed by Paul Bettany in the movie A Knight's Tale.
Kafka's Soup, a literary pastiche in the form of a cookbook, contains a recipe for onion
tart à la Chaucer. Works
The following major works are in rough chronological order but scholars still debate the dating
of most of Chaucer's output and works made up from a collection of stories may have been
compiled over a long period. Major works
Translation of Roman de la Rose, possibly extant as The Romaunt of the Rose
The Book of the Duchess The House of Fame
Anelida and Arcite Parlement of Foules
Translation of Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy as Boece
Troilus and Criseyde The Legend of Good Women
The Canterbury Tales A Treatise on the Astrolabe
Short poems An ABC
Chaucers Wordes unto Adam, His Owne Scriveyn The Complaint unto Pity
The Complaint of Chaucer to his Purse The Complaint of Mars
The Complaint of Venus A Complaint to His Lady
The Former Age Fortune
Gentilesse Lak of Stedfastnesse
Lenvoy de Chaucer a Scogan Lenvoy de Chaucer a Bukton
Proverbs Balade to Rosemounde
Truth Womanly Noblesse
Poems of dubious authorship Against Women Unconstant
A Balade of Complaint Complaynt D'Amours
Merciles Beaute The Equatorie of the Planets – A rough
translation of a Latin work derived from an Arab work of the same title. It is a description
of the construction and use of a planetary equatorium, which was used in calculating
planetary orbits and positions (at the time it was believed the sun orbited the Earth).
The similar Treatise on the Astrolabe, not usually doubted as Chaucer's work, in addition
to Chaucer's name as a gloss to the manuscript are the main pieces of evidence for the ascription
to Chaucer. However, the evidence Chaucer wrote such a work is questionable, and as
such is not included in The Riverside Chaucer. If Chaucer did not compose this work, it was
probably written by a contemporary. Presumedly lost works
Of the Wreched Engendrynge of Mankynde, possible translation of Innocent III's De miseria conditionis
humanae Origenes upon the Maudeleyne
The Book of the Leoun – The Book of the Leon is mentioned in Chaucer's retraction.
It is likely he wrote such a work; one suggestion is that the work was such a bad piece of writing
it was lost, but if that had been the case, Chaucer would not have mentioned it. A likely
source dictates it was probably a 'redaction of Guillaume de Machaut's 'Dit dou lyon,'
a story about courtly love, a subject about which Chaucer frequently wrote.
Spurious works The Pilgrim's Tale – written in the 16th
century with many Chaucerian allusions The Plowman's Tale or The Complaint of the
Ploughman – a Lollard satire later appropriated as a Protestant text
Pierce the Ploughman's Crede – a Lollard satire later appropriated by Protestants
The Ploughman's Tale – its body is largely a version of Thomas Hoccleve's "Item de Beata
Virgine" "La Belle Dame Sans Merci" – Richard Roos's
translation of a poem of the same name by Alain Chartier
The Testament of Love – actually by Thomas Usk
Jack Upland – a Lollard satire The Floure and the Leafe – a 15th-century
allegory Derived works
God Spede the Plough – Borrows twelve stanzas of Chaucer's Monk's Tale
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Geoffrey Chaucer

423 Folder Collection
Chia-Yin Huang published on December 6, 2016
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