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If I were to be sent back in time and were placed into any of the reading selections we have had during the medieval period, I would choose to be a character in The Canterbury Tales. This piece of literature shows us a better view into the lives of a cross section of cultures that is broader than any other piece of literature studied. In fact, Norton's Anthology states that all people in social classes of the day were represented in Chaucer's depiction of the characters in The Canterbury Tales.
I must admit that my selection for the essays is in no doubt, a result of being more familiar with the time and place than any other piece of literature we have studied. Whether or not it is accurate, I have a mental image of what the Tabard Inn at Southwark looks like, sounds like and smells like. Honestly, this image is a creation of other sources seen throughout the years, yet it seems fitting for the story. These types of images and familiarity are probably why I chose Geoffrey Chaucer and The Canterbury Tales. It seems to boil down to a matter of comfort and familiarity.
We have given much credit to Chaucer in our discussions for his writings. We have credited him with doing something worthwhile with his life by writing these stories, as well as, his other works. No doubt this is true because he is masterful with a pen and is considered the best English writer of the period and second only to Dante as far as medieval authors go. Yet, I feel we have really discriminated his class of life in doing this and have taken a bit away from his life in the military, in politics, and in the rest of his career.
He was a man of privilege. However, he did serve the crown and England well. We seem to be somewhat looking at literature as the pinnacle for him and I'm not certain this is the case. This may be ignorance on my part, but if we saw Chaucer's life as a whole with the same emphasis that we see the literary side, we would see a distinguished life as a whole. I believe it was this "whole" that allows us to see and appreciate his life as the author that we was. His broad education and past experience at home and abroad offered us a great view of the people and the period. We are offered more than glimpses of a "merry old England" in these stories.
As Absolom prepares to meet Alison below her window in the night we are told how he chewed licorice and cardamom for his breath to be sweet and fresh for a kiss. Of course the kiss never comes. We do get to see deep into the people though, including what the use for breath freshener is. Probably nothing tells us more about Chaucer's life and professional experience better than the characters he develops in The Canterbury Tales. A Second reading for me was required of the biography before I began to group the complexity of his fellow travelers. The cast covers all areas of class and society of England in 1830. His description of the Knight with his honesty, bravery, and chivalry, is great, as with all other characters. Obviously he not only knew social classes, but he knew each class' cares and concerns. Speaking about the Skipper's knowledge of the ports and how to pilot them "from Hull to Cartagena." He shares information with us the readers that we want to know. It livens up the characters, gives them a personality and we get to see why they are as they are. These characters hold me as a reader. Maybe that's why I chose Chaucer. I have never read much; nor have I read anything deep or long (shame on me). So, for this to hold or interest me, says something. I do believe though the thing that really drove me to enjoy Chaucer and to appreciate his work is his literary education and how his style comes forth from that. Several weeks ago, I wouldn't have cared to know the difference between a fabliaux or a prose yet, to realize that he uses most all medieval writing style in the Canterbury Tales is a bit mesmerizing and I genuinely appreciate it.
As the text describes, Chaucer moves into a more traditional English writing style as he describes the group of pilgrims that have set out for the shrine of St. Thomas A. Becket. What this means to me is that Chaucer had studied the ages of literature and knew these periods, their writers and their individual styles. As his writings continued they transformed each time. Growing and maturing in breadth and depth with each project he did. The Canterbury Tales seem to be an accumulation of that transformation. We do learn that at least some of the material may be a revision of earlier work. One can suggest that at least some of the characters were developed earlier in his writing career and then revisions in them were made to become part of the classic.
Maybe in giving him too much credit, considering the position in society he was born into, but his knowledge of literature of the ages is astounding. I am sure my short-sightedness stems from my own ignorance about historical writing and peoples' interest of that period compared to my own. I am aware of my own shallowness in formal education, but hope to expand and deepen my personal knowledge. I do admire his use of language. All writers display great use of vocabulary and Chaucer is no different. Feeble attempts for someone like me to create a simple or verse for a birth both expose my weakness in this area and at the same time raise my appreciation for a poet's brilliance.
When I read the selected portions of The Canterbury Tales, I can only see Chaucer as the narrator or the guest at the inn where he becomes acquainted with the party that is traveling together. As he spends time with them, he learns each person's story and the tales they are to share with their traveling group. I can picture no other person to be the narrator, but Chaucer himself. After years of service to his king and country, and his exposure to thousands of people and events his brain must have been full of characters and tales.
Furthermore, I don't see him ever being a full time writer, as his professional position always would keep him busy. Now days he might very well have been a reclusive writer supported by family and friends churning out book after book for publishers paying millions in royalties. That is not what I see in Chaucer. I do not know his whole story. I do no know how later chapters of his life unfolded. I do not know what his last page reveals.