Geoffrey Chaucer and The Canterbury Tales

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Ralph Maltese

I created a number of projects with the Canterbury TalesI found Geoffrey Chaucer himself to be such an interesting character that I took some time to relate his biography to the students and, along the way, discuss medieval times.

Geoffrey Chaucer and The Canterbury Tales

Biographical Notes:

1)      Chaucer (1343-1400) was born to a prosperous wine merchant—middle class was on the rise, and there was this intermingling between the merchant class (which had the wealth) and the nobility (which had the bloodlines but needed the wealth)

2)      He was a page for Lionel of Antwerp---son of reigning monarch Edward III.

3)      Other roles:

a)      soldier captured by French in 1359 (Hundred Years War)

b)      valet for Edward III, 1367, and for John of Gaunt,1374

c)      trade negotiator to Genoese, 1372

d)     emissary to France to contract royal bride for young Prince Richard 1377

e)      controller of Customs and Subsidies on Wool for the Port of London. (England’s most important trade commodity 1374-86 was wool so this was an important position.)

f)       member of Parliament for the county of Kent (1385-86)

g)      erected grandstands for ceremonies

h)      clerk of the Kint’s Works (1389-91); he was robbed while in this position.

i)        deputy forester for the royal preserve of Somerset 1391

j)        inventoried pots and pans for the King.

4)      The reason why we list the above positions is that Chaucer had a great deal of exposure to medieval stereotypes which he uses in The Canterbury Tales.

5)      Chaucer lived wholeheartedly in the world while remaining spiritually detached.

6)      He journeyed to Italy, 1372, so he knew of Dante, Petrarch, and Boccacio.  Chaucer’s House of Fame is an imitation of the Divine Comedy.

7)      He began work on The Canterbury Tales in 1380’s.

8)      Not conventionally English in his work.

9)      Chaucer was born a commoner, but he did not live as a commoner.  He was accepted by the aristocracy because of his utilitarianism (see all the jobs he had above)…he was very useful, but he knew that he did not really belong to the noble class because of his birth, so he had a unique view of the whole.

10)  Chaucer characteristically regards life in terms of aristocratic ideals; but he never lost the ability, which for the poorer class was also a positive necessity, of regarding life as a purely practical matter.

11)  The art of being at once involved in and detached from a given situation is peculiarly Chaucer’s.



 

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