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Notes on the Context of Middle English Literature: Geoffrey Chaucer

Chaucer generally recognized as Englands first great poet Biography -born sometime in the early 1340s -son of a wine merchant---member of the rising middle class -life spent in service to English nobility page to Countess of !lster" valet to the #oyal $ousehold% -captured and ransomed by the Edward &&& during military service in 'rance $undred (ears )ar% -serves as Comptroller of Customs for *ort of +ondon" ,ustice of the *eace in -ent" and member of *arliament -patronage of ,ohn of .aunt---one of the most powerful noblemen of the time Literary Career -begins writing in the two ma/or genres of late medieval literature 1% 'rench #omance0 translates part of Roman de la Rose .uillaume de +orris and ,ean de 1eun% into English----heavily allegorical and philosophical poem of chivalric love 2% 3ream 4ision0 56oo7 of the 3uchess8 is elegy for wife of ,ohn of .aunt" cast in form of the poets dream of her -.awain poet had also wor7ed in both these genres0 romance of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" dream vision of Pearl" in which poet has a vision of his dead daughter in paradise -Chaucers early philosophical poem 59he *arliament of 'oules8 also cast in 3ream 4ision form -Chaucers royal service enabled him to ma7e several trips to the Continent" specifically to 'rance and &taly" with profound conse:uences for his literary output 13;2 trip to &taly---discovers stirrings of early #enaissance---rebirth of interest in classical learning and literature -becomes ac:uainted with the wor7 of 3ante" *etrarch" 6occaccio -6occaccios Decameron e<erts strong influence on form of Canterbury Tales -features 10 young aristocrats who have fled from the plague ravaging 'lorence -they pass the time by telling tales to amuse one another---100 tales in all -tales have a great range---some pious" some bawdy -frame of Canterbury Tales echoes Decameron0 30 men and women from various wal7s of life" and of various moral proclivities decide to while away the time on their pilgrimage to Canterbury by telling two stories on the way" and two more on the way bac7

-stories encompass wide range of genres and tones---from pious saints lives to bawdy fabliau< -plan calls for 120 stories" but Chaucer finished less than a fifth of that number before his death around 1400 -&talian influence moves Chaucer away from stereotyped allegorical characters of romance toward realism which anticipates modern fiction 'rench influence remains in formal aspects of Canterbury Tales" most written in rhymed couplets" = beat iambic lines Canterbury Tales begins with a 5.eneral *rologue8 that provides e<position---introduces setting and characters ---also features the first of several 5retractions"8 apologies from the Chaucerian narrator in case he has given offense