Geoffrey Chaucer is an English humanist, educated by life and searching for truth. He considered that a person born in noble family is not always noble in true meaning of this word. Person can be called noble by dids not by birth. Such views were common among humanists. Chaucer opened all ways to develop English literature, enriched it with literary language and views on life truth. That is why many of his successors enriched their own works with Chaucer’s lyrical moods. Chaucer was influenced by knight novels. It is said that he was the last medieval poet in England and the first poet of new times.
Chaucer was the founder of English classical literature, forefather of English realism and new literary language. Further national poetry was based on the versification introduced by Chaucer. Early works betokened further masterpieces. But they are to some extent experimental, as style and content were borrowed from exquisite French writers, being well-known at English court. Poems of love dreams, allegoric visions of the 14th century were favorite French genre. In Chaucer’s time chivalrous novel was one of the main literary genres, no wonder that Chaucer couldn’t avoid using it. This genre developed romantic tendency in the Middle Ages. English literature enriched with new ideological and genre points of view. Chaucer developed traditional plots and satiates them with principally new concepts.
“House of Fame” is considered to be a French love “vision” in general. But its style is more realistic, it seems to be a mixture of Dante, Medieval Latin poets and writers, and finally exclusive style of Chaucer himself.
World literature is full of cultural phenomena. It’s always hard to understand what was meant by some classic writer in one of his works. People have different views of life.
Chaucer’s fame started to spread inter vivos and didn’t stop as time goes by. Chaucer’s works contain main features of English national poetry: fertile imagination, common sense, humor, power of observation, contrasts. “The Canterbury Tales” sums up all types of stories that existed in the Middle Ages. Some of stories were known Norman-French before Chaucer. This work contain all kinds of 14th century literature, such as stories about knights, love, fablio, national tales, ballads, allegories, sermon. He also used the writings of his contemporaries as well as the works of writers of ancient times and distant lands. The important thing about Chaucer is that he managed to show all ranks of society, all types of people who lived during his time. He depicts life of people in the 14th century. At Chaucer times it was common to criticize Church, but the majority of churchmen depicted in his stories are not religious at all. For example the Prior cares only for good delicious food, hunting and wine. He looks for joyful life and nothing more. However the author doesn’t seem to blame him at all.
Chaucer is considered to be creator of a new literary language. He chose to write in common language, no matter that aristocrats spoke French. A new kind of language appears only in case when people speaking different dialects become one nation. Chaucer shared national feeling of being united. He wrote in London dialect to define special features of his characters, to satirize feudal literature. Besides it probably enriched old stories with humor, to make them livelier. It is also well known that Chaucer created some new words which firmly remained in language. For instance “daisy” as a name of flower means “day’s eye” (light), “coal-black” and “snow-white”. Chaucer’s poetry transformed popular tongue into a literary English.
At Chaucer’s time poetry was at its top. But later it stopped developing and even lost many features of Chaucer’s achievements. Chaucer is famous for creating strict so-called “royal” English rhyme. The only problem is probably difference in writing and pronunciation. In spite of these real poets still pay more attention to meaning rather than rhythm.
Chaucer admired French literature, its allegory and sentimental courtliness. He thoroughly studied French poetry, even though he wasn’t a translator. Some poets were carried away by women, others sneered at them. But Chaucer united two methods and created a basically new one. His medieval works are represented by “The book of the Duchess”, an allegory and a dream mixed with memories. These works along with his lyrics and ballads made him a remarkable poet of his epoch.
One of his works “Troilus and Criseyde” was later used by Shakespeare. It is a story of love and treachery. In comparison with it “Legend of good women” seems to be colorless. Literary work of Chaucer is sometimes compared with John Gauer who knew Latin, composed works in 3 languages and shared Chaucer’s ideas and views. Gauer could have become the greatest poet for all times if it were not Chaucer.
Speaking about romantic stories it’s important to mention that Chaucer didn’t like them, thought they were not interesting and captivating enough for those times. It comparison with love novels medieval poems contained stable and long-lasting views, uncommon structure and language.
In medieval France and England people believed that in the second spring month birds were looking for beloved. This popular belief was described by Chaucer, while in French and English courtly literature of XIV and XV centuries such an image becomes well-spread.
How could it happen that Chaucer started writing in English? Society, in which he lived, spoke French. King Edward III spoke French only in special occasions. His wife and all aristocrats used French as a mother-tongue. Chaucer’s life made him go through all groups of English society. He learned to understand common and individual differences between people, their joys and sorrows. He faced language problems concerning style of writing (prose or verses). Chaucer could write only in English. He didn’t want to share his thoughts between three languages as Gauer did. Despite the fact that society read French literature, Chaucer decided to compose English stories from the very beginning. As a poet Chaucer started with lyrical verses and small poems. Chaucer paid much attention to genre of ballads, consisting of 28 lines. Rhymes had an order of ababbcbc and ought to repeat in all 3 stanzas.
“Legend of good women” is also a vision. This time poet enters the garden, smells nice spring flowers, says a nice morning prayer to a daisy, lies under the tree and sees a god of love. He leads a beautiful queen, dressed in green and golden flowers. It was Alkesta, followed by thousands of women. God of love disapproves his writing about unfaithful women. Alkesta protects the poet and makes him write a poem of loyalty a year. Chaucer accepts the terms and in nine years he writes nine laudatory tales, following leadership of Boccacho. In the prologue to “Legends of good women” Chaucer shows elements of his early work and says that he has written lots of hymns dedicated to gods of love. These stories didn’t survive, but they were probably his first literary experience. Visions in “Legend of good women” are inserted into “Prologue” which is considered to be the best part of the poem in any way.
“Book of the Duchess” was the first original Chaucer’s work. It is interested not only by style but by content. This book is a vision, author of which is tormented by the insomnia. He asks for a book of “past days stories” and falls a sleep over it. He dreams of luxurious room, hunters, rushing at full speed through the forest. He saddled a horse and joined other riders. He meets a knight, dressed in black, who tells about a wonderful woman whom he had just lost. The author imitates French patterns, but enriches it with his own exclusive talent.
“The parliament of Fowls” is a mixture of literary facts and impressions. It was composed on account of King Richard’s marriage. Just as many other Chaucer’s books this one starts with a dream. But this time poet is absorbed in a book of Cicero. He sees Roman commander who holds his hand and leads to a wonderful walled garden. It seems that Chaucer managed to fill the picture with tender lyrics. He depicts a court — a love court, though it bursts with elements of English parliament procedure. Birds behave themselves as if they were old members of parliament. Leaders are goose, duck, cuckoo and dove. Court is about to decide who will marry the kingly eagle-hen. There are three of eagle-candidates, who have lots of screaming fans. “Parliament” behaves extremely impatient and incontinently. At the Middle Ages such courts were not rare. And it doesn’t seem to be just a metaphor of writer. Court hearing was held according to moral norms of those times. Unless that such courts didn’t end with death sentence. Women gained power in life. “The parliament of Fowls” is a work of so-called middle style. Chaucer gives a true image of life. Vivid depiction of life more and more captivates him. Even if plot is far from reality, but by analogy it is possible to see real state of things. It is written in so-called Chaucer’s stanza. It is characterized by deep interest in human feelings, skillful and ironical depiction of human, using popular theme of poem-vision. It is and allegoric satire on parliament’s activity, describing political struggle in the form of bird squabble. But it’s only a writing image, hiding real feudal conflicts.
As for “Troil and Criseyde” it is a love story. Chaucer was captivated by the plot of Boccacho’s story “Philostrato”, but he managed to depict it even more realistically. He avoided romantic elements. It was stretched out and filled 5 books which were read with even greater interest than Boccacho’s one. It describes a young widow knowing sweetness of love and extremely missing it, decides that it’s her destiny to be with Troil and gives herself to him. Chaucer’s version is much more difficult. Criseyde’s doubts and uncertainly last longer. Her passion fights with fears about reputation and reason. Chaucer’s image is more complex and sensitive. Chaucer depicts his heroes as knights and ladies of King Edward and Black Prince. They are real authentic people. “Troil and Criseyde” is easily understood. It is based of an antic love myth of prince Troil and beautiful widow Criseyde. Prince falls in love with her, arouses mutual feelings. But then beauty gets into the Greek camp where she betrays her beloved. When Troil gets to know this he blindly fights and perishes. It seems to be a simple collision. In reality such plot doesn’t suit usual genre of knight novel. A beautiful lady betrays the knight and causes his disgraceful death. Apart from this she is not even going to be punished for improper behavior. It makes Chaucer’s work unique among usual French novels. The poem is a kind of soup-opera about love and betrayal.
Chaucer is one of the greatest humorists in the world literature. His humor is more likely to be called mild rather than wicked. It rarely transforms into sarcasm, his humor is understanding of people’s weak sides. Humor is a natural part of his talent, and from time to time it seems that he himself doesn’t notice how skillfully he uses irony and humor.
Chaucer uses direct and indirect ironical speech. Everyone who read Chaucer’s writings, thinks that poet was pious Christian and catholic without any doubts. But this statement can be argued about. Nobody can say for sure that he had true beliefs. I doubt Chaucer being an atheist, but he was really uncertain about religion. He had rather cold and indifferent views and he didn’t hide it. He thought that if someone believes in miracle it’s his own business. Chaucer is not atheist but SCEPTIC. Chaucer’s moral doesn’t need justification. It finds basis in life. Love hymn in “Legend of good women” is based on historical material, gone through Boccacho’s life perception. Love is not only greedy women’s sensitivity, but also free human feeling, “as clear as altar”. Real love needs time. It doesn’t matter whether people are married or not, the fact that really matters is existence of true feelings, their growth and ripening. At first it may be just concernment in beauty and intelligence, interattraction. But only in the course of time people can acknowledge existence of authentic feeling of love. Medieval times are characterized by chivalry. In marriage sphere situation was like this: knights ought to marry women of their social range. Actually marriage was a kind of socio-economical bargain: one the one hand girl devoted her life to a man, and on the other hand a man was obliged to support and protect wife and children. For aristocracy marriage was a political act, the best way to increase power and authority. The same system was among people of merchant class.
Only during Renaissance and Reformation epochs free marriages, based on true love became possible. Gradually liberal view point began to spread, new spiritual tendencies appeared in social system. Unlike the Middle Ages Renaissance was essentially a revolutionary epoch, became an exclusive epoch of flaming sensitivity. Having many children was rather common phenomenon and brought glory.
Chaucer’s time is time of miracle. Magical transformation of women from being hardly noticeable detail of family life into a mysterious many-sided lady. In the Medieval Ages women occupied rather worthless position in social hierarchy. Women had hardly any rights except giving birth and bringing-up children. Choice of husbands and wives absolutely belonged to parents. At the age of 12-14 children attained majority. So it’s no wonder that for many people marriage was nothing more than a life-long nightmare. It is proved by laws of that time, ordering punishment for women who murdered their husbands. Such cases don’t seem to be rare.
Attitude to marriage was rather contradictory and even strange to some extent. Church strictly divided marriage relations and authentic love. The only thing required of women was giving birth.
As a poet Chaucer was influenced by French and Italian literature. It already contains several features of Renaissance. Chaucer’s heroes are extremely divorce, just as his writing methods. He uses friendly irony speaking about noble and brave knight, sneers at merchants and craftsmen, respects peasants and pious clergymen.
His satire talent reveals when speaking about rich monkshood and clergy, living at the expense of society.