FATHER OF ENGLISH – English Blog: Eng Lit; CHAUCER - his life and works


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                       FATHER OF ENGLISH

Since the Norman conquest, English Literature entered into a long silence. In the 13thcentury and the first half of the 14th century, English literature proclaimed itself through some religious and secular works. English Literature made a brilliant beginning only in the second half of the 14th century. And this was no ordinary beginning. This new beginning was the beginning of a great era, popularly known as the Chaucerian Era or the age of Chaucer.

                 THE AGE OF CHAUCER

Here the English Literature blossomed under the new great supervision and the new essential inventiveness. This great awakening of English Literature in the second half of the 14th century, especially because of an outstanding master. He was none other than Geoffrey Chaucer.

Geoffrey Chaucer indeed is a great name in the development of English Literature.

The advancement of English literature progressively from the Old English Era to the Middle English, reached its summit of brilliance in this age, by his literary genius. It is his uniqueness and great significance in English literature that has nicknamed the age as the Age of Chaucer.

The literary world of the Chaucerian Era facilitated from allegories to lyricisms to romances to social comedies, hence showing not only the development of Chaucer’s own skill but also the development of the literature of his age. Chaucer also succeeded in imbuing literature with a strong subjective sense, without affecting the detached objective presentation of literary matters.

He stands at the junction of medievalism and modernism and represents all that is perfect in the former and points out what is potential in the latter. He can very well be termed the predecessor of the Renaissance. The English literature has marched prosperously from the stagnation of medievalism to modernism holding his hand. Dryden very rightly compliments him as a modern writer.

Chaucer’s literary works are chiefly categorized into three periods that correspond to the three periods of his life. The first period of his works which roughly included the first thirty years of his life were influenced by the literary models of France. The second period or the next fifteen years of Chaucer’s life was chiefly under the Italian influence and the last fifteen years of his life, which was the time of his richest development is said to be the English period. Although the French influence was strong on him still in the last fifteen years of his life(well perceived from the Canterbury Tales), he seemed to have grown more independent of foreign literary models. Now he is more dominated by the vigorous life of his native English people.

Chaucer’s earlier works were mostly under French influence. At this time his works are chiefly lyrical and allegorical. His first works are some love lyrics, which however are no longer in existence. ROMAUNT OF THE ROSE, a translation of the most popular French poem of the middle ages roman DE LA ROSE, though not the best poem but the best-known poem of the first period of Chaucer. The poem though graceful was an extremely tiresome allegory of love. Although it was written in octosyllabic couplet only the first seventeen hundred lines can be accredited to him with any certainty. Among the allegorical works of Chaucer, the one which is worth mentioning is DEATH OF BLANCHE THE DUCHESSE, which is better known as the BOKE OF THE DUCHESSE, is in all probability the best poem of this period. He wrote this poem to commemorate the death of Blanche, the first wife of Chaucer’s patron the John of Gaunt. His power to blend realism with allegory is very well revealed in his two allegorical works, THE PARLEMENT OF FOULES  and THE HOUS OF FAME.

The Italian influence on Chaucer is felt in two of his famous romances, KNIGHTES TALE and TROILUS AND CRISEYDE. Both these poems deal with the romance of love and adventure, the spirit of heroism, and the sense of devotion. For the subject matter of both these romances, Chaucer remains indebted to Boccaccio, the great Italian storyteller. However, Chaucer can not be considered a mere imitator of Boccaccio. Rather he remains fresh and original throughout. His creative genius modifies the simple tale of Boccaccio into the diverting and impulsive live poems of immense potency. Although Chaucer learns from Boccaccio, he does not blindly copy him. He only takes from him what seems appropriate to his literary ventures. THE CLARKES TALE, THE COMPLAINT OF MARS,THE COMPLAINT TO PITYexhibits with marked evidence the Italian influence on Chaucer. Another great work of the Italian period is THE LEGENDE OF GOOD WIMMEN. This however is an unfinished work.Chaucer once while resting in a field of daisies falls asleep and in his dreams saw a merry procession drawing near him. The love god lead by the hand of Alcestis came near him. Alcestis was the symbol of all wifely virtues and she had a daisy as her emblem. Behind Alcestis were a group of beautiful women all of whomhad been faithful in love. They all crowd around him and the god rebukes him for translating the ROMANCE DE LA ROSE, and all his early poems where he has highlighted the fickleness and vanity of women.Alcestis entreats for Chaucer and accepts to pardon him if he redeems his mistakes by writing a wonderful legend on good women. Chaucer promises to fulfill this task and immediately he wakes up sets himself to accomplish the task.

The third or the English period which covers the last fifteen years of his life contains his masterpiece, THE CANTERBURY TALES. Although the tales were written in different periods of his life it is combined together and given its name in this English period. Inspire of being an unfinished work it is considered the crowning glory of Chaucer’s literary art.THE CANTERBURY TALES is a unique piece of literary art in English literature for all times to come. It is only in THE CANTERBURY TALES that we see the creative mastery, his art of characterization, his sense of realism, his narrative power and his gift of wit and humour.

Chaucer’s distinctive artistry and his literary achievements deserve unquestioning commendation in all periods. Chaucer’s treatment of the French model, the Italian ideal and the English realism reveals his mastery in dealing with the various forms of literature.

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