September 27

General Prologue, Canterbury Tales, I


Chaucer the Man

Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1340-1400) was perceived by later poets as a kind of literary father figure: the poet who polished and embellished the vernacular tongue, refined it for literary purposes.

A member of the rising merchant class (his father was a vintner), Chaucer bridges the gap between the world of the urban merchant class and the nobility when he enters court service in his teens.

Chaucer spent his life in royal service. His main patron was John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, third son of King Edward III's third son.

At one time or another Chaucer was:

In Italy, while on royal business, he seems to have discovered the poetry of the famous 14th century Italian writers Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio.

Chaucer the Poet

His works include translations:

Some of his own compositions:

The Tales

(See handouts for notes on Chaucer’s language and on the verse form of the Canterbury Tales)

The MS

A Note on Terminology

More Games

Notes on Genre

(Recall the three estates of medieval social theory, explained in the handout from Medieval Backgrounds lecture).

Chaucer seems to have drawn upon the tradition of estates satire in the General Prologue,although by no means are all the pilgrims portrayed satirically, nor does Chaucer use the very broad strokes with which estates satire usually depicts bad rulers, bad churchmen, bad peasants, etc. His techniques are more subtle.