Geoffrey Chaucer created one of the worlds’ greatest works of literature when he wrote The Canterbury Tales. He stepped out of his era and created works of poetry that withstood the tests of time. His life has slowly been pieced together over time and we catch a glimpse of the people and places to whom have influenced his thoughts and ideas. Chaucer’s most prized work, The Canterbury Tales, brought modernism, humor and a fresh, pleasant sense of reality to the English language. These Tales were able to combine Chaucer’s new ideas with the style of old literature. Geoffrey Chaucer and his work on The Canterbury Tales will always have an undying influence on modern literature and the style of writing of today’s poets.
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Geoffrey Chaucer was born in London, roughly between the time of 1340-1344, to John and Agnes Chaucer. His parents were wealthy wine merchants who were successful and had many connections in society. London at this time was a prosperous and thriving city which welcomed many opportunities to Chaucer. Unfortunately, around 1348 the infamous Black Plague started to whip out cities and towns so the Chaucer family moved to Southampton. While in Southampton, Chaucer would have been around the age to receive schooling but there are no records that a formal education took place. Since he came from a family of wealth it would be a possibility that Chaucer was homeschooled or had a private tutor. His love of reading also enhanced his reading and intellect, so much so that he became almost fluent in Italian, Latin, and French. Regardless, Geoffrey Chaucer received a stellar education and was transformed into a gentleman that was received well by society.
In 1357 Chaucer was first noted as being a member of the house of the Countess of Ulster, Elizabeth. He was right where he needed to be in terms of age and success. Chaucer held this position in order to receive an education in the royal court systems. After doing this for a few years he served under Edward III in the army and was captured but later returned for ransom. It was sometime around1360 when Chaucer, who was about 20 years old, began writing and translating poetry quit often. The royal court was a big fan of the arts and encouraged Chaucer’s writing in not only English but other languages such as French and Italian. Over the next few years there was much peace in Europe so Chaucer traveled abroad occasionally for business pertaining to the royal court. These trips heightened his imagination and reality of the world.
A year later Chaucer met Philippa De Roat and they were married. He married into a higher class and because of this was later named as one of the king’s esquires. The following year Philippa gave birth to their first son named Thomas. Now in his thirties, Chaucer started traveling again, at first doing business for the king and later for two merchants trading Italian goods. While on one of his trips to Italy he got his hands on the famous writer Boccaccio’s work which was most likely his inspiration to write The Canterbury Tales. Boccaccio’s work consisted of many small interrelated tales focused around one significant occasion, which was the theme in the Tales.
The beginning of the 1370’s was a time for change in Chaucer’s life. First off, the royal court started to credit and recognize his literature. Better yet, since his writings were so impressive, the king awarded him a pitcher of wine daily and later he was chosen to be Controller of Customs in the Port of London for skins, hides, and wools. While Chaucer held that prestigious position, his poetry was becoming very well know and greatly improving. Some of his work during this decade included parts of The Canterbury Tales, such as The Second Nun’s Tale and The knight’s Tale.
The 1380’s brought many highs and lows in Chaucer’s life. First, in 1385 he became a justice of the peace for Kent and later a knight for the shire of Kent. In 1387 Chaucer’s wife passed away and he moved to Kent, changed his political stance which caused him to be removed from the royal court for a short period. He wrote poetry to keep busy and remove himself from the public eye. During his time in isolation he wrote Parliament of Foules and Troilus and Criseyde.
It is not known the exact date when Chaucer first started writing the famous Canterbury Tales, but one can assume it was definitely around the 1390s. The Tales began from pieces he had previously written with new stories he constructed, and then strewed them all together. This great piece of literature Chaucer created demonstrates how much he was respected in the royal courts, his financial success and his overall growth as a poet. In The Canterbury Tales, Chaucer introduces all 24 of the pilgrims in his stories by describing them briefly in the prologue and then intertwines each pilgrim’s story using great drama, vivid scenes and different genres. The Tales, however, were not completed so there is still some confusion and debate on their exact order. Nonetheless, these tales have helped shape modern literature.
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One of the main writing techniques Chaucer used was blending old literature with his new modern ideas. In The Canterbury Tales, Chaucer thought up characters that the average person could easily relate to. By doing this he grabbed the attention of the vast majority of the population and not just the upper class. He also created his stories with pleasant, fresh and happy plots and thoughts, unlike normal Middle Ages literature, always being portrayed as dark and gloomy with constant war. Chaucer was creative, and by making his work upbeat and fun he enticed more audiences and poetry became an enjoyable read. This stuck with literature through the centuries and to this day we find fun, and lively stories full of life and drama everywhere. Chaucer’s style of writing started a new trend of storytelling, poetry and literature as a whole.
Chaucer not only made literature enjoyable, he helped develop the modern English language of writing and proved that sentence structure and the order of words makes all the difference between sloppy and beautiful. In the Tales Chaucer used mostly modern English, with the help of Middle English as a crutch. In the text it is easy to pick out words that are a mix of modern and Middle English. For the most part this made his writing easier to understand in both modern days and middle ages. The modern version of Chaucer’s work can lack rhyme, meaning, and not flow very well when being read. Reading his work in Middle English shows the true beauty of his masterpiece and enlightens the reader more on the rhyme and meaning of the story being told. Chaucer’s works has remained an evolutionary piece of work largely due to the way he introduced modern English. It has helped The Canterbury Tales endure through the ages.
There is very little known about the end of Chaucer’s life. At the end of 1399 he leased out a tenement in Westminster Abbey. October 25, 1400 is believed to be the date of his death and he was buried in Westminster Abbey with a small, very modest funeral. Since he was a man of much honor and respect, in 1556 his body was moved to a new place, but his old burial place in Westminster is now called, “Poets’ Corner”. While he was alive his works were greatly appreciated and never underestimated. People of his time knew that he was creating great works of literature and he was, in a way, considered famous. Geoffrey Chaucer gave literature The Canterbury Tales, which will live on in English literature and will always have a great influence on modern writing for the rest of time.
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