Geoffrey Chaucer

I. Historical Background:the breakdown of three “estates” and the rise of the middle class 

A complex, interrelated unstable system of strata where birth was no longer the only factor deciding the interaction.

II. Life and Civil Career:

1. The son of a wine merchant: fluent in French and educated in Latin.

2. Serving as a page in a powerful noble house: the beginning of connection with the ruling class.
3. Once captured and ransomed in the Hundred Years War.

4. Several Diplomatic Missions to Spain, France, and Italy.

5. Serving as Customs officer (Controller), justice of peace, and member of Parliament.

6. Married into the Nobility: bridging the classes of commoner and nobility.

7. Buried in a corner of Westminster Abbey, now called “the poet’s corner”.

III. Poetic Career: never mentioned in official records

1. French Period: French as the fashionable language of the court.

a. Chaucer’s models: lyrics and narratives about courtly love, in the form of dream vision—derived from the 13th-century Romance of the Rose, a dream allegory.

b. Chaucer’s works: partial translation of the Romance and The original Book of the Duchess.

2. Italian Period: Literary inspiration during his trips to Italy.

a. In direct contact with Italian Renaissance: new verse forms, subject matter, modes of representation.

b. Chaucer’s works: The House of Fame (still a dream vision, whose beginning affectionately parodies Dante’s Divine Comedy), The Parliament of Fowls, Troilus and Criseyde (one of the best love poems in English), Legend of Good Women (a defense of women in the religion of love; his first experiment with a series of tales; unfinished).

c. Boccaccio’s influence: in The Knight’s Tale and Troilus and Criseyde.

3. Latin Influence: moral and religious works, usu. in translation:

Prose translation of Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy, a didactic book popular in the Middle Ages

4. English Period: the climax of his poetic career at The Canterbury Tales

IV. Chaucer’s Poetic Vision: as based on his ambivalent social position

1. Belonging to a new class of civil servant: an overlapping bourgeois and aristocratic social worlds.
2. Being involved in and detached from a given situation at the same time: to view with both sympathy and humor the activities of different social levels.

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