Age of Chaucer: Geoffrey Chaucer


Age of chaucerAge of Chaucer (1340- 1400)

Age of Chaucer


The 14th century in England, during the Middle English period, was a time of significant historical events and social changes. Here are some key highlights:

The Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453):

– A series of conflicts between England and France, with intermittent periods of truce.

– It had a profound impact on both countries and resulted in significant political, social, and economic consequences.

Edwardian Era War (1337-1360)


– The initial phase of the Hundred Years’ War, named after King Edward III of England.
– Edward III claimed the French crown, which led to a series of military campaigns in France.

Caroline War (1369-1389):-

A phase of the Hundred Years’ War marked by intermittent warfare, raids, and sieges.- Named after Charles V of France (known as Charles the Wise) and saw the French resistance against English forces.

 Lancaster War (1415-1453):
– Another phase of the Hundred Years’ War, marked by intense conflict and territorial disputes.
– The war saw significant English victories, such as the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, but ended with French success, leading to the expulsion of English forces from France.

East Midland dialect as the standard English:
– The East Midland dialect, spoken in the region of London and Oxford, gradually became accepted as the standard form of English.
– This dialect was influential in shaping the development of the English language, as it was spoken in the capital city and at the universities.

Chaucer and the legitimization of Middle English:

– Geoffrey Chaucer, a renowned poet and author, played a crucial role in establishing Middle English as a legitimate literary language.
– Chaucer’s works, such as “The Canterbury Tales,” showcased the richness and versatility of the Middle English vernacular.

Transition and the end of feudalism:
– The 14th century marked a period of transition, with significant changes in society, politics, and economy.
– Feudalism, the social system based on land ownership and vassalage, began to decline, paving the way for a more centralized and urbanized society.

Black Death or Bubonic Plague (1348-1350):
– A devastating pandemic that swept across Europe, including England, resulting in a significant loss of life.
– The Black Death had profound social and economic consequences, leading to labor shortages, changes in agricultural practices, and shifts in power dynamics.

Peasants’ Rebellion (1381):
– Also known as the Wat Tyler Rebellion, it was a major uprising of peasants and workers in response to oppressive social and economic conditions.
– The rebellion was sparked by the imposition of a poll tax and demands for social and political reforms.

Growth of national sentiment:
– The events of the 14th century, including the Hundred Years’ War and social upheavals, contributed to the growth of nationalistic sentiments among the English.
– The merging of the Norman and English races, along with the increasing prosperity of England, fostered a sense of national identity.

Overall, the 14th century was a period of significant transformation and transition in England, marked by historical conflicts, cultural shifts, and the emergence of a distinct English language and identity.

Geoffrey Chaucer (1340- 1400)

  • Son of a London brewer and wine merchant.
  • Father’s proximity to the court circles enabled him easy access to the court.
  • Chaucer married Philippa De Roet, daughter of Sir Giles de Roet.
  • Career- civil service as a bureaucrat, courtier, diplomat, and Member of Parliament.
  • Diplomatic missions to France, Genoa, and Florence.
  • Chaucer is the poet who was born in the reign of Edward III, lived through that of Richard II, and died in the reign of Henry IV.
  • Chaucer has been styled the “Father of English literature“,  Mathew Arnold called him “ the Father of  our splendid English poetry”, “The earliest of the great moderns”,  and “The morning star of Renaissance”
  •  Edmund Spenser called him “The Well of English undefiled
  • He was the 1st  buried in Poets’ Corner of Westminster Abbey.

Major Works


The Book of the Duchess (1368-69)

  •  An elegy on the death of Blanche, Duchess of Lancaster.
  •  Form of a dream allegory.
  • Influence from Guillaume Lorris’s Roman de la Rose.
  • 1300 lines in octosyllables.

The House of Fame (1379-80)

  • An autobiographical poem composed in 3 books.
  • Form of dream allegory
  • Upon falling asleep the poet finds himself in a glass temple dedicated to the Goddess of Venus adorned with images of the famous and their deeds.
  • Influence from Boccaccio, Ovid, Virgil’s Aeneid and Dante’s Divine Comedy
  • Themes- the process of Poetic creation and operations of the capricious Goddess Fame.

The Parliament of Fowls (1380)  

  • Also called the Parlement of Brides (Parliament of Birds) or the Assembly of Fowls, is a poem by Chaucer in 700 lines.
  • This poem is in the form of a dream vision in Chaucer’s rhyme royal stanza.
  • It presents a vision of birds gathered to choose their mates on the St. Valentine’s Day.
  • The poem’s most commonly accepted interpretation is that it celebrates the betrothal of King Richard II to Anne of Bohemia, whom he married in 1382.

Troilus and Criseyde (1378-85)

  • The longest poem in 8000 lines
  • Divided into 5 boos
  • source- Giovanni Boccaccio’s Filostrato 
  • Considered as a psychological novel in verse
  • The tragic love affair of a Trojan prince, Troilus, and a beautiful widow Criseyde.

The Legend of Good Women (1380)

  • Form of a dream vision
  • Contains a prologue and 9 stories
  • Stories of women from history and myth
  • They were martyrs to love, such as Dido, Thisbe, Medea, Cleopatra, Hypsipyle, Ariadne, Lucrece, Phillis, Philomela, and Hypermnestra.
  • Unfinished work of Chaucer.

The Canterbury Tales (1369-95)

  • Collection of stories narrated by 29 pilgrims
  • Pilgrims gather at Tabard Inn, Southwark, and travel their way to the Shrine of martyr Saint Thomas Becket in Canterbury.
  • Harry Bailey is the Host of Inn and suggests a storytelling contest, according to which the pilgrim with the best story would be awarded an elegant dinner at the end of the trip.
  • only 24 tales got written.
  • The book contains general prologue and characterization of the pilgrims.
  • The two tales written in prose style are Tale of Melibee and the Parson Tale.

The Canterbury tales- summary

“The Canterbury Tales” is a collection of stories written by Geoffrey Chaucer in the late 14th century. It is considered one of the greatest works of English literature and provides valuable insights into the medieval society and culture. The tales are framed within a larger narrative, which is a pilgrimage to the shrine of Thomas Becket in Canterbury.

The story begins with a prologue where Chaucer introduces a diverse group of pilgrims who are traveling together to Canterbury. These pilgrims come from different social classes and occupations, ranging from knights and nobles to tradesmen, clergy members, and even commoners. Chaucer describes each character in detail, presenting a vivid and often satirical portrayal of medieval society.

As the pilgrims journey towards Canterbury, they agree to participate in a storytelling competition to pass the time. Each pilgrim is supposed to tell two tales on the way to the shrine and two more on the way back, making a total of 120 stories. However, Chaucer completed only a fraction of the planned tales before his death, leaving the work unfinished.

The tales cover a wide range of themes and genres, including romance, comedy, tragedy, and moral allegory. They often reflect the personalities and perspectives of the characters who tell them, providing a glimpse into their values, beliefs, and experiences. Some of the memorable tales include “The Knight’s Tale,” “The Miller’s Tale,” “The Wife of Bath’s Tale,” and “The Pardoner’s Tale.”

“The Canterbury Tales” is known for its realistic and multi-dimensional characters, intricate narrative structure, and rich depiction of medieval life. It offers a fascinating portrait of the social, political, and religious dynamics of the time, while also exploring timeless themes of love, morality, and human nature.

Although Chaucer never completed the entire collection, “The Canterbury Tales” remains a significant literary work and continues to be studied and appreciated for its historical, cultural, and literary value.

Other poets

William Langland (1330-1386)

Major works

Piers the Plowman

  • The full title of the poem is The vision of William concerning Piers the plowman
  • The allegorical poem in unrhymed alliterative verse.
  • Piers is an honest plowman who takes his spiritual quest.
  • Medieval form of a dream vision
  • Three dreams of the poem
  1. The first dream vision is Holy church and Lady Meed woo the dreamer
  2. The second dream vision is Piers leads a crowd of penitents in search of St. Truth.
  3. The  third vision is Do-well (the practice of the virtues), Do-bet (Piers becomes the Good Samaritan practicing charity) and Do-best (plowman is identified with Christ himself)

 John Gower (1340-1408)

  One of the important court poets of the 14th century.

Major works

  • Speculum Meditants or Miroir de l’omme (1376) – First work in French, describes the development of sin, vices, and virtues, as also the remedy of repentance available to man, with a special appeal to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
  • Vox Clamantis or The Voice of one crying out (1385)– Second work in Latin, is a dream allegory deals with Peasant Revolt.
  • Confesso Amantis or The Lover’s confession– It is a middle English poem written at the request of King Richard II. It is a collection of exemplary tales of love in octosyllabic couplets. The work records the confession made by an aging lover Amans to Genius, the priest of the Goddess Venus.

Also read: Sir Philip Sidney: An Apology for PoetrySamuel Johnson (1709-1784) – Preface to Shakespeare


age of revival

Age of Revival

 The Age of Revival perceived the facts like The War of Roses, Cade Rebellion, Wyatt and Surreyintroduced the sonnet form, and the writings of the English and Scottish Chaucerian. In this age, focus on classical learning of literature. 

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