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Geoffrey Chaucer

Geoffrey Chaucer Geoffrey Chaucer[2†]

Geoffrey Chaucer (c.1342/43–1400) is a seminal figure in English literature, celebrated as "the first finder of our language." He achieved renown for "The Canterbury Tales," a pinnacle of English poetry. Beyond literature, Chaucer served as a courtier, diplomat, and civil servant under three kings. His diverse writings explore human existence with humor and depth, tackling philosophical questions and love in its earthly and divine forms[1†][2†].

Early Years and Education

Geoffrey Chaucer was born around 1343, most likely in his parents’ house on Thames Street, adjacent to the west bank of the Walbrook in London, England[3†][4†]. His father, John Chaucer, was a prosperous wine merchant[3†][4†][5†], and his mother, Agnes Copton, came from a wealthy family and inherited two dozen shops in London from her uncle[3†].

Chaucer’s early education is not well-documented, but it is believed that he attended the St. Paul’s Cathedral School, where he studied Latin and Greek[3†][5†]. His writings show that he was familiar with the works of both ancient and contemporary writers, and he was also fluent in French[3†]. Sons of wealthy London merchants like Chaucer could receive a good education at that time[3†].

In 1357, Chaucer became a page in the household of Elizabeth de Burgh, the Countess of Ulster, wife of Edward III’s third son[3†][4†]. This position brought him very close to the royal court, helping him to make many important connections[3†].

Career Development and Achievements

Geoffrey Chaucer had a diverse career, serving in various roles such as a page, soldier, esquire, diplomat, customs controller, justice of the peace, member of Parliament, Clerk of the Works of Westminster, Commissioner of Walls and Ditches, and Deputy Forester of the Royal Forest[6†]. He was trusted and aided by three successive kings—Edward III, Richard II, and Henry IV[6†][1†][2†].

Chaucer’s career in the civil service was marked by his roles as a bureaucrat, courtier, and diplomat[6†][7†][3†]. He was also known for his work as an author, philosopher, alchemist, and astronomer[6†][3†]. His most prominent role was developing the legitimacy of the vernacular, Middle English, at a time when French and Latin were the dominant literary languages in England[6†][3†].

As a writer, Chaucer is best known for “The Canterbury Tales”, which ranks as one of the greatest poetic works in English[6†][1†][2†]. His other notable works include “The Book of the Duchess”, “The House of Fame”, “The Legend of Good Women”, and "Troilus and Criseyde"[6†][2†][7†]. His writings consistently reflect an all-pervasive humor combined with serious and tolerant consideration of important philosophical questions[6†][1†].

Chaucer’s contributions to literature and his active career in the civil service have earned him the title of “the first finder of our language” and he is often hailed as the “father of English literature” or the "father of English poetry"[6†][2†].

First Publication of His Main Works

Geoffrey Chaucer’s literary career was prolific, producing numerous works that have had a lasting impact on English literature. Here are some of his main works:

Each of these works showcases Chaucer’s skill as a storyteller and his ability to create complex characters and narratives[1†][8†]. His works have had a profound influence on English literature and continue to be studied and admired today[1†][8†].

Analysis and Evaluation

Geoffrey Chaucer’s works are celebrated for their richness, diversity, and depth. His mastery of various literary genres, his innovative use of the English language, and his keen insights into human nature have earned him a place of honor in the canon of English literature[9†][10†][11†].

Chaucer’s works, particularly “The Canterbury Tales,” demonstrate his ability to create vivid and memorable characters. He skillfully plays with the conventions of various social classes and occupations, imbuing his characters with individuality and depth[9†][10†]. His works reflect a deep understanding of human diversity and a genial nature, which have made him a beloved figure in literature[9†].

Chaucer’s works also reflect his wide-ranging interests and knowledge. From romance and farce to beast fables and technical treatises, Chaucer demonstrated his mastery of almost every literary genre known in the Middle Ages[9†][10†]. His works, such as “Troilus and Criseyde,” “The Book of the Duchess,” and “The House of Fame,” explore complex themes and present a nuanced view of life and human nature[9†][10†].

Critics have praised Chaucer for his wit, charm, and sympathetic yet critical understanding of human nature[9†]. His works have been described as showing the poetic possibilities of the English language[9†][11†]. However, some critics, like Matthew Arnold, have argued that Chaucer’s work lacks the high seriousness required of poetry of the very highest quality[9†][12†].

Despite these criticisms, Chaucer’s influence on English literature is undeniable. His works have shaped the development of English literature and language, and his legacy continues to be felt today[9†][10†][11†].

Personal Life

Geoffrey Chaucer was married to Philippa Roet, the daughter of Sir Payne Roet, in 1366[5†]. This union played a significant role in accelerating his political career in London, as he became one of King Edward III’s esquires[5†]. The couple had four children: Elizabeth, Thomas, Agnes, and Lewis[5†].

Philippa’s sister was Katherine Swynford, who was initially the acknowledged mistress of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster (1340-1399)—King Richard’s uncle and for long periods the most powerful magnate in the country—but toward the end of his life his third wife[5†][13†].

Chaucer’s family offers an extraordinary example of upward mobility. His great-grandfather was a tavern keeper, his grandfather worked as a purveyor of wines, and his father John Chaucer rose to become an important wine merchant with a royal appointment[5†][2†]. Several previous generations of Geoffrey Chaucer’s family had been vintners and merchants in Ipswich[5†][2†]. His family name is derived from the French chaucier, once thought to mean ‘shoemaker’, but now known to mean a maker of hose or leggings[5†][2†].

In 1324, his father John Chaucer was kidnapped by an aunt in the hope of marrying the 12-year-old to her daughter in an attempt to keep the property in Ipswich. The aunt was imprisoned and fined £250, now equivalent to about £200,000, which suggests that the family was financially secure[5†][2†]. John Chaucer married Agnes Copton, who inherited properties in 1349, including 24 shops in London from her uncle Hamo de Copton, who is described in a will dated 3 April 1354 and listed in the City Hustings Roll as “moneyer”, said to be a moneyer at the Tower of London[5†][2†].

Conclusion and Legacy

Geoffrey Chaucer, often referred to as the “father of English literature” or alternatively, the “father of English poetry”, has left an indelible mark on the literary world[2†][14†]. His most notable work, “The Canterbury Tales”, is considered one of the greatest poetic works in English[2†][1†][2†]. Chaucer’s contributions extend beyond his extensive body of literature. He is credited with introducing iambic pentameter and the Rhyme Royal to English poetry[2†].

Chaucer’s work indirectly contributed to the creation of English language dictionaries[2†]. He proved that literature written in English could be every bit as beautiful, enjoyable, complex, and profound as literature written in a supposedly “better” language[2†]. He is seen as crucial in legitimising the literary use of Middle English when the dominant literary languages in England were still Anglo-Norman French and Latin[2†].

Chaucer was the first writer to be buried in what has since come to be called Poets’ Corner, in Westminster Abbey[2†]. His legacy continues to influence and inspire, demonstrating the timeless relevance of his work[2†][1†][2†].

Key Information

References and Citations:

  1. Britannica - Geoffrey Chaucer: English writer [website] - link
  2. Wikipedia (English) - Geoffrey Chaucer [website] - link
  3. The Famous People - Geoffrey Chaucer Biography [website] - link
  4. BBC History - Historic Figures - Geoffrey Chaucer (c.1343-1400) [website] - link
  5. Literary Devices - Geoffrey Chaucer [website] - link
  6. eNotes - Geoffrey Chaucer Biography [website] - link
  7. English History - Geoffrey Chaucer [website] - link
  8. Britannica - Notable works of Geoffrey Chaucer [website] - link
  9. eNotes - Geoffrey Chaucer Analysis [website] - link
  10. eNotes - The Canterbury Tales Critical Evaluation [website] - link
  11. EnglishLiterature.info - Joffrey Chaucer: Contribution to English Literature [website] - link
  12. LitCharts - Geoffrey Chaucer Character Analysis in The Study of Poetry [website] - link
  13. eNotes - The Life of Geoffrey Chaucer Summary [website] - link
  14. ThoughtCo - Geoffrey Chaucer: Early Feminist? [website] - link
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