Geoffrey Chaucer and "The Canterbury Tales"

GEOFFREY CHAUCER. HIS LIFE AND WORK. "THE CANTERBURY TALES" (1387)
Geoffrey Chaucer is often called "the father of English literature", besides he is considered to be the first English humorist and realist.
He was born in London in 1343 into the family of a successful wine importer who had connections with the royal court and who hoped for the courtier's career for his son. Chaucer's father was able to place his son as a page in a household of one of King Edward III's gentlemen. As Geoffrey grew in his household he learned Latin, French and Italian. His knowledge of these languages fitted him for civil service and diplomatic positions, and also prepared him to translate literary works in all these three language.
Chaucer's position as a page gave him the opportunity of getting into contact with the royal family and their distinguished guests. He soon became a court favourite and got acquainted with contemporary authors.
During the reigns of Edward the III, Richard II and Henry IV he served his country as a soldier, a courtier, a diplomat, a civil administrator, a translator of books into English. He also helped to create the English language.
During the Hundred Years' War Geoffrey Chaucer went with the English army to French where he participated in the siege of Rheims. He was taken prisoner but his friends helped to ransom him. Evidently Chaucer never felt any hatred to the French, he never spoke ill of them in his writing. Later he mode several trips to France and to Italy on governmental missions. Chaucer was inspired by French poets, in his earliest poems he imitated French romances. He translated from French "the Romance of the Rose" written by de Lorris. The second period of Chaucer's creative activity was masked by Italian cultural and literary influences, mainly by the three great poets: Dante, Petrarch and Boccacio. It became evident in his works that Chaucer wrote after his last visit to Italy in 1378: "The House of Fame", "The Parlament of Fowls" and "Trailus and Criseyde".
When Chaucer came to England after his journey abroad he was appointed Controller of Customs for the Port of London. Later he was a representative of Kent in Parlament. However these duties became very tiresome to the poet, he longed for leisure to write. Finally he retired and devoted his time to his literary work. In 1387 he started writing his masterpiece "The Canterbury Tales", the work that was not finished because of the poets death in 1400. Geoffrey Chaucer was buried in the poets' corner at the Westminster Abbey.
"The Canterbury Tales" is the first collection of short stories in English literature. The storytellers are pilgrims who travel together from London to Canterbury to the shrine of Archbishop Thomas Becket who was murderer by the order of Henry II.
In those days it was the custom all over Europe to travel to religious shrines. People hoped to be cured, to gain remission of their sins or just travelled for pleasure. The pilgrimage to Canterbury Cathedral was the most popular travel in England Spring was the best season for that purpose. In "The Canterbury Tales" 30 men and women from different ranks of society are on their way to Canterbury. They travel side by side, share food and shelter, hardships and enjoyment. As the pilgrimage takes several days the innkeeper suggests that each of them should tell his or her story and the one whose tale is the best will earn affective supper at his inn.
Chaucer's characters represent English medieval society and include three important groups of people:
- feudal (the Knight, the Squire, the Yeoman)
- ecclesiastical (the Monk, the Nun, the Priest, the Prioress)
- urban (the Clothmaker, the Shipman, the Doctor)
In the prologue the author gives a rapid portrait of each character. "The Canterbury Tales" represent all types of stories that existed in the middle ages: a romance, a fable, a fabliau, a story of a saint. The author managed to show all ranks of society, all types of people and through these people Chaucer gives us of life of the 14th century.
Geoffrey Chaucer was the creator of literary English, he addressed his work to common people, and not to aristocracy who still spoke French. He didn't teach his readers what was good or evil, he just attracted attention to the people around him who form the English people.

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