Early Life and Education
A legendary literary figure, Geoffrey Chaucer, was born circa 1340 in London. His father was a prosperous wine merchant, while his mother, Agnes Compton, was a homemaker. He attained formal education at the popular St. Paul’s Cathedral School where he learned Latin and fell in love with the writings of great masters, Ovid and Virgil. This love continued with him for not only he adored their versatile style but also tried to imitate it.
Before making a start in literature, he pursued writing for long that shaped his life, and provided him a ground to write better pieces. He also worked as a civil servant after he joined the government in 1357 to serve the Countess Elizabeth of Ulster and held that position until his last breath. Later, in 1359, he took part in the Hundred Years’ War fought in France, and was imprisoned for ransom. His association with the royals brought him a fortune when King Edward-III fixed a good salary for his services. During this service, he traveled through France and after retirement, the king paid him a pension of twenty marks for his illustrious career.
Personal Life and Death
Chaucer married Philippa Roet, daughter of Sir Payne Roet, in 1366. Their union helped him accelerate his political career in London; he became one of King Edward III’s esquires. Also, the couple produced four children named Elizabeth, Thomas, Agnes, and Lewis. Unfortunately, the lady’s death in 1387 brought financial hardships to Chaucer; it was Philippa’s annuities that kept him living and he lost those after her death. Afterward, he devoted himself to writing and produced magnificent pieces. After providing a literary treasure to the world, this iconic figure left for his eternal abode at the age of sixty on the 25th of October in 1400 in London. He was buried in Westminster Abbey.
Some important Facts about Him
- He is considered one of the greatest poets of the Middle Ages and is regarded as the father of English literature.
- He is best known for his work, The Canterbury Tales.
- Geoffrey Chaucer was the first writer buried in the Poet’s Corner.
Geoffrey Chaucer’s association with politics and visits to various places provided him materials for his writings. His literary career formally began when the Duke of Lancaster asked him to pen down a memorial poem for his deceased wife. Following his wish, Chaucer composed a poem, The Book for Duchess that was regarded as a fitting memorial to the highest-ranking women of English royalties. His other long poem, Troilus and Criseyde, a tragedy, was written in the background of the Trojan War. However, his best known and acclaimed work, The Canterbury Tales, appeared in 1476. The book presents the journey of certain characters to the holy shrine of St. Thomas Becket, where each pilgrim is supposed to tell a tale that links it to the prologue and epilogue. Besides producing these literary wonders, he also tried his hands on nonfiction. His essay, A Treatise on the Astrolabe, shows writing qualities.
Chaucer has mesmerized generations with his unique, elegant, and fascinating writing approach, showing influences of French literature, Biblical History, and Old English Literature. He demonstrates his powerful imagination and creative approach through simple yet effective and persuasive language. For example, Parliament of Fouls shows the use of literary elements like satire, irony, and allegory when he presents courtly love. In his narrative poem, Troilus and Criseyde, he has used rime royal, a technique that involves rhyming stanzas consisting of seven lines each. Similarly, In The Legend of Good Woman, he introduces another innovative format: the text comprising iambic pentameter couplets and a series of short narratives. Some of his major thematic strands are Christianity, corruption in Church, good versus evil, lies and deception, justice and judgment, courtly love, sexual desire, religion, and rivalry. However, for literary devices, he resorts to irony and satire.
Some Important Works of Geoffrey Chaucer
- Major Works: He was an outstanding literary figure, some of his major writings include Roman de la Rose, The Book of Duchess, The House of Fame, Anelida and Arcite, Parliament of Fouls, Boece, The Legend of Good Woman, The Canterbury Tales and A treatise on the Astrolabe.
Geoffrey Chaucer’s Impact on Future Literature
As the father of English literature, Chaucer has created a niche among the literary giants of the world due to his exceptional intellect and wit. His remarkable works not only provide insight into the language, culture, and literature of his time but also demonstrate their relevance with the modern world. His narrative poems and his magnum opus, The Canterbury Tales, casts a singular shadow over religious narratives and old literary pieces. His use of English in his works helped establish Middle English as a medium, replacing languages like French and Latin and paving the way for great literary production. In fact, his use of appropriate diction has won him a place among the best writers of the world of the classical period.
- “Then you compared a woman’s love to Hell,
To barren land where water will not dwell,
And you compared it to a quenchless fire,
The more it burns the more is its desire
To burn up everything that burnt can be.
You say that just as worms destroy a tree
A wife destroys her husband and contrives,
As husbands know, the ruin of their lives. “ (The Canterbury Tales)
- “And high above, depicted in a tower,
Sat Conquest, robed in majesty and power,
Under a sword that swung above his head,
Sharp-edged and hanging by a subtle thread.” (The Canterbury Tales)
- “By God, if women had written stories,
As clerks had within here oratories,
They would have written of men more wickedness
Than all the mark of Adam may redress.” (The Wife of Bath’s Prologue & Tale)
- “Soun is noght but air ybroken,
And every speche that is spoken,
Loud or privee, foul or fair,
In his substaunce is but air;
For as flaumbe is but lighted smoke,
Right so soun is air ybroke.” (House of Fame)