Bilingualism and Social Snobbery in Medieval England. Plurilingualism is and has it seems alsways been the norm. It is accordingly far from being specific to the modern world, and is especially relevant in the case of medieval England. For language has a unique capacity to reflect a profound For language has a unique capacity to reflect a profound social and political transformation. The Norman invasion in represented a massive language shift and cultural revolution in Anglo-Saxon England, which would lead to the co-existence of French and English — medieval England was, of course, a plurilingual space but we will mainly focus on French-English bilingualism today.
Although overlooked, one significant use of An ABC, as its title suggests, is as a language-teaching tool. The poem's alphabetical The poem's alphabetical structure provides a mnemonic for Marian words and phrases, rendering An ABC both a prayer to the Virgin Mary and a tutorial in basic English. This essay demonstrates how Chaucer compares alphabetical letters to rosary beads and thereby prompts his readers--probably adult foreigners at court--to remember their ABCs. French poet and wunderkind Arthur Rimbaud very serious at seventeen had a natural affinity for Latinate sounds and word-structures.
I believe that he would have been fascinated with the wild Anglo-Saxon unpredictability of the English I believe that he would have been fascinated with the wild Anglo-Saxon unpredictability of the English language. In this three-paragraph essay, I focus on two tales which are taken from the medieval collection of tales The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer.
The Knight's Tale is a story of chivalric romance with two knights competing each other to attain the love of the lady. In the story, the one who is the most worthy of the love of the lady will get it. However, in " The Miller's Tale " we have a mock-heroic tale. We move on from a world of courtly love to a world of lust. We have middle class characters. Later, they will be punished for this because they break the order of The Chain of Being by being pretentious and acting out of their class.
In short, " The Knight's Tale " is a tale embodying the conventions of medieval romance tradition, whereas " The Miller's Tale " is a story of coarse humour in which there is no love but lust. Poetic Landscapes Spring Arnald of the Newe Toun Revisited. Exam Chaucer resit 03 07 Assessment. Video of the Performance of Cooch E. Can the relentless misogyny of medieval French farce still play in the twenty-first century? Check out this brilliant performance of Cooch E.
It has already helped me to teach comedy. He does, they do, and Cooch can but accept his lot as a henpecked husband. Whippet, which appears as Play 10 in The Farce of the Fart. The king granted him a pension of twenty pounds in , and in an annual cask of wine was added to this grant. King Henry IV — renewed and increased these grants in Between and Chaucer must have devoted much time to the writing of his most famous work, The Canterbury Tales. Chaucer gives his tale of pilgrimage, or journey to a sacred site, national suggestions by directing it toward the shrine of St.
Thomas Becket c. The humor is sometimes very subtle, but it is also often broad and out-spoken. His original plan for The Canterbury Tales called for two tales each from over twenty pilgrims people who travel to a holy site making a journey from Southwark, England, to the shrine of St. Thomas Becket at Canterbury, England, and back. He later modified the plan to write only one tale from each pilgrim on the road to Canterbury, but even this plan was never completed. The tales survive in groups connected by prologues introductions and epilogues conclusions , but the proper arrangement of these groups is not altogether clear.
In addition to the translation and major works mentioned, Chaucer wrote a number of shorter poems and translated at least part of Roman de la rose, a late medieval French poem by Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun. Chaucer's interests also included science. He prepared a translation of a Latin article on the use of the astrolabe, an instrument for finding the latitude of the sun and planets. He may also have been the translator of a work concerning the use of an equatorium, an instrument for calculating the positions of the planets. In October Chaucer died. Bloom, Harold, ed.
Geoffrey Chaucer. New York : Chelsea House, Chute, Marchette G. Geoffrey Chaucer of England. New York : E. Dutton, Wagenknecht, Edward. The Personality of Chaucer. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, Life and Career The known facts of Chaucer's life are fragmentary and are based almost entirely on official records. He was born in London between and , the son of John Chaucer, a vintner.
In he was a page in the household of Prince Lionel, later duke of Clarence, whom he served for many years. During the years to , Chaucer was frequently employed on diplomatic missions to the Continent, visiting Italy in —73 and in From on he held a number of official positions, among them comptroller of customs on furs, skins, and hides for the port of London —86 and clerk of the king's works — The official date of Chaucer's death is Oct.
He was buried in Westminster Abbey. Early Works Chaucer's literary activity is often divided into three periods. The first period includes his early work to , which is based largely on French models, especially the Roman de la Rose and the poems of Guillaume de Machaut. Chaucer's chief works during this time are the Book of the Duchess, an allegorical lament written in on the death of Blanche, wife of John of Gaunt , and a partial translation of the Roman de la Rose.
Italian Period Chaucer's second period up to c. Major works of the second period include The House of Fame, recounting the adventures of Aeneas after the fall of Troy; The Parliament of Fowls, which tells of the mating of fowls on St. Valentine's Day and is thought to celebrate the betrothal of Richard II to Anne of Bohemia ; and a prose translation of Boethius' De consolatione philosophiae. Also among the works of this period are the unfinished Legend of Good Women, a poem telling of nine classical heroines, which introduced the heroic couplet two rhyming lines of iambic pentameter into English verse; the prose fragment The Treatise on the Astrolabe, written for his son Lewis; and Troilus and Criseyde, based on Boccaccio's Filostrato, one of the great love poems in the English language see Troilus and Cressida.
In Troilus and Criseyde, Chaucer perfected the seven-line stanza later called rhyme royal. The Canterbury Tales To Chaucer's final period, in which he achieved his fullest artistic power, belongs his masterpiece, The Canterbury Tales written mostly after This unfinished poem, about 17, lines, is one of the most brilliant works in all literature. The poem introduces a group of pilgrims journeying from London to the shrine of St. To help pass the time they decide to tell stories. Together, the pilgrims represent a wide cross section of 14th-century English life. The pilgrims' tales include a variety of medieval genres from the humorous fabliau to the serious homily, and they vividly indicate medieval attitudes and customs in such areas as love, marriage, and religion.
Through Chaucer's superb powers of characterization the pilgrims—such as the earthy wife of Bath, the gentle knight, the worldly prioress, the evil summoner—come intensely alive. Chaucer was a master storyteller and craftsman, but because of a change in the language after , his metrical technique was not fully appreciated until the 18th cent. Only in Scotland in the 15th and 16th cent. Bibliography The best editions of Chaucer's works are those of F.
Robinson and W. Skeat 7 vol.
Manly and E. Rickert 8 vol. Root See C. Muscatine, Chaucer and the French Tradition ; G. Coulton, Chaucer and His England , repr. Hussey et al. Kittredge, Chaucer and His Poetry , repr. Kean, Chaucer and the Making of English Poetry 2 vol. Brewer, ed. Rowland, ed. Bibliographies for to by D.
Griffith rev. Crawford Chaucer, Geoffrey c. Chaucer's enduring fame reflects the range and quality of his poetry and prose, but also the accessibility of his midlands-based London English compared with that of works such as the north-western Pearl and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Born into a family of prosperous vintners, Chaucer served as page then esquire to various aristocratic households, including that of Richard II — His wife Philippa Roet, with whom he probably had two sons, Lewis and Thomas, was also in royal service.
Chaucer's specific assignments included fighting in the Hundred Years War c. How closely the professional and artistic lives interlocked is unclear. A courtly audience seems implied, for instance, by The Book of the Duchess , probably a consolation for John of Gaunt at the death of his duchess Blanche c. Like other gifted contemporaries, Chaucer made an art of breathing new life into established conventions, and despite an increasing independence from sources, many of his late, masterly Canterbury Tales are modified translations of existing works.
Apart from the brilliant five-part tragedy Troilus and Criseyde , the poems are mainly small to medium scale, while in the broken ending of The House of Fame we perhaps see Chaucer losing his direction in an ambitious experimental project. Notable, especially compared with the stiff rhetoric and unambiguous didacticism of much medieval literature, is Chaucer's ability not only to impersonate other voices from the coy hen falcon in The Parliament of Fowls to the blustering Host in the Canterbury Tales , but also to articulate different world-views with apparent impartiality.
This permits a fascinating range of interpretation for many individual poems reflected in the abundant secondary literature , and occasions ongoing debates about the advancedness or otherwise of Chaucer's views on such issues as love, marriage, war, and the church.
The only direct mention of 14th-cent. Chaucer, Geoffrey — English medieval poet. His writings are remarkable for their range, narrative sense, power of characterization, and humour. His most famous and popular work is The Canterbury Tales c. Influenced by both French and Italian literary traditions, Chaucer's writings exercised a powerful influence on the future direction of English literature , not least in confirming se English as its principal language. His most famous work, the Canterbury Tales c. His skills of characterization, humour, and versatility established him as the first great English poet.
Greatest English poet of the Middle Ages ; b.
London, c. From surviving official records, Chaucer would appear to have been a moderately successful public servant. He was bourgeois by birth, the descendant of a prosperous family long associated with London and the wine trade. The first records place him as a member of the household of Elizabeth, Countess of Ulster and wife of Lionel, third son of the reigning king, Edward III. Chaucer's father, John Chaucer, had already made a beginning in service to the crown, and the presence in a noble household of the son of a well — to — do bourgeois was not unusual during that period.
The exact nature of Chaucer's early schooling is uncertain, but another form of his education is not. He accompanied the expedition to France in , probably as a member of the company of Lionel, and was captured and ransomed. The timing of Chaucer's military service is important, because the campaign. The result was a devastated French countryside and a devastated English army. Little in what Chaucer had seen of war inclined him toward the profession of arms.
From , when Chaucer is recorded as still in the service of Ulster, to , when he received a safe — conduct for travel in Navarre — a document difficult to dissociate from the Black Prince's campaign of the following year — Chaucer's life is a blank. With the Book of the Duchess, however, Chaucer emerges as an accomplished and confident poet, well read in the polite French literature of the day. Since the most persuasive evidence one has from this period is precisely this poetic ability, the rather slightly founded theory that Chaucer was a favorite of Alice Perrers is not without some probability.
Patronesses were not sparing in their demands for poetic tribute, and the court of Edward would have afforded the kind of reading with which Chaucer shows himself familiar. The composition of the numerous amatory lays he dimly remembers in the Retraction could most easily be assigned to this period. In addition there is the important evidence of the annuity of 20 marks granted Chaucer in , by Edward III. Since the annuity specifically connects him with the household of Edward, rather than with that of Lionel, the theory of pragmatic poetical devotion to the highly pragmatic Alice seems not impossible.
An advantageous marriage seems to have been one of the perquisites of an esquire attached to the court, and Chaucer's career in this respect parallels that of other esquires of the court. If Chaucer's marriage is to be regarded as one of love, it conformed to the adage: it was not smooth. Chaucer's bride Philippa retained her position of attendant domicella upon Queen Philippa, just as her sister Katherine, who had from a very early age been attached to Blanche of Lancaster, retained her position in the Lancastrian household after her marriage to the short — lived Sir Hugh Swynford.
In , some three years after the death of the Queen , Philippa joined her sister Katherine in the Lancastrian household, where Katherine's position was undoubtedly strengthened by the death, in the same year, of the Duchess Blanche, wife of John of Gaunt. It is certain that after the death of Blanche, Katherine Swynford was the acknowledged mistress of John of Gaunt , but at what point she became his mistress is uncertain. In any case, Philippa's attachment was to the Lancastrian household and Chaucer's to the king's. Because of this mutual and conflicting complex of loyalties and duties, it is likely that it was not until , with Chaucer's appointment as Comptroller of Customs that Philippa and Geoffrey were able to set up something approaching a normal household.
Even so connubial life must have been difficult, for Philippa did not abandon her connections with Lancaster, and-Chaucer's diplomatic services were becoming increasingly in demand. Hence, perhaps, a certain absence of domesticity in Chaucer's self — portraits. Italy and Humanism. The date of outstanding importance in Chaucer's intellectual life is Although it is possible that Chaucer could have gotten to Italy as early as or , it is unquestionable that in he was appointed to a commission to treat with the Genoese regarding the establishment of a commercial center in an English port.
Chaucer not only reached Genoa, but spent some time in Florence, almost certainly as negotiator for a much — needed loan to England. The mission is important in showing the trust that Chaucer enjoyed, but its real significance lies in the fact that from this journey dates Chaucer's knowledge of dante, boccaccio, and petrarch, and of Italian humanism in general. A second mission in must have deepened their impression on him.
The Public Servant. With rare exceptions, the remaining records reveal the vicissitudes of a public servant who wished to be a poet. Chaucer's financial situation further improved in , when he obtained the positions of Comptroller of Customs on wool and of the Petty Customs on wine, and on other merchandise in the Port of London.
The difficulty was, however, that the duties of the Comptroller involved an independent audit of the Collectors' accounts, and therefore had to be kept in Chaucer's own hand. The position was lucrative, but hardly a sinecure. In addition, Chaucer was engaged in two diplomatic missions in and the first probably concerning a projected French marriage for Richard II ; the second, in regard to an attempt to gain military aid in Italy. However beneficial these activities may have been to Chaucer the man of affairs, they left little time for Chaucer the poet.
In he successfully petitioned for leave to exercise his office through a permanent deputy. To what extent political factors affected his decision is uncertain. Henceforth, he resided in Kent. One would wish that this well — timed withdrawal had led to a prolonged period of literary productivity, but absolute detachment from the world of affairs did not come easily to Chaucer. In , Philippa died, with the consequent loss to Chaucer of her royal and Lancastrian annuities. The extent to which Chaucer's finances were actually affected by this event is problematical, but it is clear that during this period he was involved in numerous law suits, mostly for debt, and that in he assigned both his exchequer annuities, probably for a cash sum.
Public office seems again to have become a necessity.
Bibliography | Harvard's Geoffrey Chaucer Website
In , he was appointed Clerk of the Works, a position he held until Possibly he resigned this demanding and hazardous task in favor of a less demanding one as subforester of the King's Park in North Petherton, Somersetshire, but the date of this latter appointment is highly uncertain. Further favors were forthcoming from Richard, but the poet seems nevertheless to have remained in difficult financial circumstances. The deposition of Richard II in could have been disastrous, entailing as it would the loss of these favors, but Richard's successor was Henry IV , son of John of Gaunt, who had both family and personal reasons for assisting Chaucer.
Henry's actions were generous, and in Chaucer was able to take a lease on a house in the garden of St. Mary's Chapel, Westminster Abbey. The action seems singularly appropriate: Chaucer's withdrawal from the world shows an awareness of. Whatever kind of work he intended to write in his last years, the uninterrupted time to create, which throughout his life he had so earnestly sought, had finally come. Some 10 months later, he died. At the center of any consideration of Chaucer's works is the date Previous to his first Italian journey, Chaucer's sources had been French. After his return, it is obvious that he became an avid reader of Italian literature , especially of Boccaccio.
Hence, he has in the past been said to have had a French, an Italian, and curiously enough, from the point of view of sources, an English Canterbury Tales period. More recently, influences have remained the basis for establishing Chaucer's periods of composition, but judgments as to maturity or lack of maturity of a poem have been allowed a greater scope. However, it is questionable whether the term "influence" is with Chaucer not more confusing. For example, Chaucer may be said to have devoured Boccaccio's romances and meditated upon the philosophy of Boethius.
In the Knight's Tale, the latter is imposed upon the former. Both are influences, but hardly of the same sort. Thus it has seemed preferable to abandon the conception of "influence" as an organizing principle and to consider the various periods of Chaucer's works in terms of those activities or attitudes that were sufficiently dominant during the various periods of his life to make division meaningful.
Court Poems ? As noted above, Chaucer's earliest works were probably court poems of a rather simple variety. Although the invariable principles of court poetry were well established, what is interesting about Chaucer is a certain artistic waywardness. It was acceptable, if not obligatory, to translate the conventionalized process of enamorment in the first part of the Roman de la Rose, but the sexual naturalism of the second part, no matter how Christian and philosophic, was not acceptable to the court for which Chaucer wrote.
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It is known from the "Prologue" to the Legend of Good Women that Chaucer translated the objectionable second part, but of the acceptable first part no mention is here made. So well known were the allegorical personages of the Garden of Love in the Roman de la Rose that Chaucer could not have avoided making their acquaintance; yet he could, and did, avoid taking them seriously. The most one can say is that a part of a Middle English translation may be attributed to him cf. When the Black Death of took from England one of its most beloved women, the Duchess Blanche of Lancaster, Chaucer seems to have been urged or commissioned to write an elegy, presumably as a consolation directed to her husband, John of Gaunt.
This elegy, The Book of the Duchess, is a literary masterpiece, the finest of all his early poems. Blanche stands out as if alive in all her native beauty, goodness, and intelligence. Yet the poem bestowed upon its creator no immediate rewards — probably because its success depended upon the highly daring and unconventional device of introducing humor into an elegy. It is Chaucer's first — known use of the "persona," or mask, and in the Book of the Duchess its function is central; for it is the bemused stupidity of the persona — Chaucer that evokes from the Black Knight the lyrical praise of his departed lady, Blanche.
But the stupidity of the oaf is humorous, and unconventional in an elegy. Almost as unconventional is the failure to present a vision of the subject of the elegy among the joys of heaven. In a complex way, which accepted the convention of the mistress as well as that of the wife, John of Gaunt was highly conventional, and Chaucer must have known it. Yet he refused to sacrifice his own personal vision of the earthly Blanche to a conventionally pious one.
The same is true of the incomplete House of Fame. It seems inescapable that the court poet was expected to prepare a romantic poem culminating in the announcement of a forthcoming wedding of no small consequence. But the poem prepared is pure parody — parody of Dante; parody of a second persona — Chaucer, the overfed and underrewarded servant of Venus; parody even of the set beginning of the metrical romance. Yet in the wildness and unevenness of the parody, as in the portrait of Geoffrey seeking to overcome the fatigue of the day in order to read yet another book, one senses not so much comedy, as a strongly implied appeal for relief from his customs duties, and for the opportunity to acquire the learning he considers necessary to the kind of poetry he wishes to write.
Philosophic Period — Throughout his life Chaucer was never without an interest in ideas. In this brief period, however, one would judge that much of the reading he had been seeking to do had in fact been accomplished. The Parlement of Foules is an occasional poem perhaps for St. Valentine's Day , cast in the familiar form of the love — debate. However, its questioning of the function of love in the universe, and its debating of the values of the various forms of love by a wide range of social classes, seem to indicate a philosophical interest both in an abstract concept and in its operation throughout society.
Chaucer's most explicit philosophical venture, however, is his Herculean struggle to translate Boethius's De consolatione philosophiae. It must be kept in mind that the nonexistence of a philosophical vocabulary in English inevitably forced Chaucer into a heavily circumlocutional style, but, with the aid of a massive use of explanatory phrases, Chaucer, who left so much unfinished, indomitably struggled through.
One may presume that the labor could not have been as painful as it would appear, for it is the Boethian view of the world that dominates Troilus and Criseyde, the most ambitious poem Chaucer ever completed. This story of a noble Trojan prince who finds his goddess in the beautiful and gentle Criseyde, who loves her with a love in which sheer adoration exceeds passion, yet is betrayed by her and gives his life for the loss of his love, has a magnitude and artistic perfection Chaucer never attained before or after.
Yet it has a fault. It has to be read by human beings.
The human being likes to believe in love, himself falls in love with the exquisite Criseyde, forgets the opening statement that flatly states Criseyde's ultimate falseness, and himself experiences the anguish of Troilus over an event he, as reader, has foreknown since the poem began. Nor can he, like Matthew Arnold in "Dover Beach," take refuge from the treacherous world in human love.
It is precisely because Criseyde's love is human that it fails. Only God's love will betray no one. At the end of the poem, Chaucer calls Troilus and Criseyde his "tragedye" ed. Robinson, V, It is a ruthlessly logical working — out of the Boethian — Christian view of the nature of the world, and of the nature of the human soul. Chaucer has expressed the view with a completeness that leaves very little further to be said: its precision is almost too absolute. When Chaucer begs of God strength to create an undefined "comedye" V, , there is more than a suggestion that a kindlier, more complex, more expansive treatment of the phenomenon of human nature is forthcoming.
Canterbury Tales. Not a single character has escaped him. All his pilgrims are severally distinguished from each other" Spurgeon, 1. Dryden's statement is important not only because it emphasizes the comprehensiveness of Chaucer's art, but because, by the phrase "severally distinguished," he points to Chaucer's method of imparting particularity to generality, a literary method perhaps drawn from the substance and accident of medieval philosophy. Thus the Miller and Reeve share the common acquisitive instincts of their class, but their physical and temperamental attributes are exact opposites.
The comprehensiveness of class coverage was not an idea entirely new with Chaucer, but the matching of tale to teller, apparent as early as the first two tales of the Pilgrimage, was new, and remains sufficiently new to cause difficulties even for present — day readers. The question inevitably arises: Why should a respected author like Chaucer include such "low" tales as those of the Reeve and the Miller?
The answer would appear to be relatively simple. If Chaucer was to achieve the comprehensiveness for which he has been consistently praised, he had to include uncultured as well as cultured classes, and with them, the tales they might naturally be expected to tell. The Miller, drunk before the pilgrimage even begins, is not a likely narrator for a saint's legend. Furthermore, it cannot be overemphasized that in including such tales, Chaucer, dependent upon court favor, is activated by no profit motive. On the contrary, he knows the risk he is running, as is apparent from his remarks preceding these tales [I A ; ].
For the court poet, profit lay in the forms of literature known to be in favor at court — romances, chronicles, moralities — certainly not the "vileinie" of the classes living close to the land. Characteristically, Chaucer took the chance of court disapproval, and in the high comedy of his so — called "low" tales, he demonstrates an artistic skill and, more important, an artistic conscience unequalled in his time.
Artistic Devices. Numerous devices are used in the Canterbury Tales. Two have already been mentioned — the breadth of class and attitude included, and the imposing of individual characteristics and attitudes upon those of the class. The latter technique at its best creates the illusion of immediate experience; the former — together with Chaucer's almost complete suppression of references to the events of his age — tends to remove the pilgrims from time and to make of them universal figures. A further device, related to both of the above, is that of the "persona" or mask. Behind his chosen mask — in the Canterbury Tales that of the ingenuous bourgeois — Chaucer withdraws from the stage and leaves it open for the dramatic interplay of the pilgrims.
It is one of the major contributions of modern criticism to have made a sharp distinction between this Pilgrim Chaucer, as much an artistic creation as any of his characters, and Chaucer, man and poet. The most extensive opportunity for failure to observe this distinction is offered by the Prioress's Tale. Even so reputable a historian as Cecil Roth believes that anti — Semitism had penetrated the soul of "gentle Geoffrey Chaucer ," apparently because the Prioress's Tale, which he considers simply an imitation of the Hugh of Lincoln legend, is included in the Canterbury Tales [ History of the Jews in England 3d ed.
Oxford 57,89]. However, it is not Chaucer, nor even the fictive Pilgrim Chaucer, who tells the tale. It is the Prioress. Like Browning's monk in the Soliloquy in a Spanish Cloister — with whose attitudes Browning himself seems customarily not to have been identified — the Prioress is an artistic creation, and it is her own attitudes and her own personality she is exposing. It is essential to observe that the Prioress's personality is plastic; she conveys no sense of the energy and vocation of the otherwise colorless Second Nun.
It may be presumed that the Prioress was the younger daughter of a well — to — do bourgeois family, where one imitated both the manners and the customs of the nobility. One of the latter was to attempt the provision of adequate land and dower for elder children, and positions of distinction in the Church for younger. The Prioress has dutifully imitated polite manners, and this imitation she has brought with her into the cloister; but once inside the cloister, she has adopted the ideal of the cloister — the ideal of virginity, and its conception of virginity as involving participation in the Incarnation.
In her tale, the principal figure is a "litel clergeon" who goes to a "litel scole" where he reads a "litel boke" , , Furthermore, the "cursednesse" of the Jews when finally defined is that of Herod — the attempted murderer of Christ, and the actual murderer of the Holy Innocents , with which latter the "litel clergeon" is, in the Prioress's mind, associated , It is important to realize that the Prioress has never seen a Jew — they were expelled from England in — and that the death of "yonge" Hugh of Lincoln, mentioned as a recent outrage , happened about a century and a half earlier.
Nevertheless, the Prioress is persuaded that the Jews are bad people and should therefore be executed like other bad people. Her description of the execution of the Jews, horrible though it is, actually contains only the rudest elemental basics — which anyone could have heard or read — of the fine and much appreciated art of execution. It is just as unlikely that the Prioress ever saw an actual execution as that she ever saw a Jew. One has no real basis for assuming that she would have felt less pain over the tearing apart of a human being than over the sufferings of a mouse.
She simply loves what, in her position, it is conventional to love, and hates what it is conventional to hate — without any knowledge of either. What is really important is that her hate as well as her love are deferentially accepted by the Pilgrims. The Prioress's Tale is prophetic, in that it deals with an aspect of the problem of evil that mankind has met again and again, and is still far from solving. Chaucer, who broke his self — imposed silence on contemporary happenings to permit the Nun's Priest's satirical allusion to the mass murder of the Flemings [VII B 2 ], is not a likely supporter of genocide, no matter how conventional.
Philosophy of the Tales. The preceding section has dealt with some of Chaucer's literary techniques and some of the misunderstandings to which they have given rise. At least one major question concerning the Canterbury Tales remains: Did Chaucer in his "comedye" have in mind any philosophical conception such as that which informed his "tragedye," Troilus and Criseyde? Or was he content simply to present a great panorama of human personalities and attitudes? The answer to this question is made difficult by the simple fact that Chaucer, at the time of his death, left the Canterbury Tales in a very incomplete state, so incomplete that even the order of the tales has furnished material for extensive controversy.
However neither order is devoid of objections, and much recent work has been devoted to establishing a definitive order see Manly, Dempster, Pratt. The General Prologue, however, is highly finished and might be expected to give some indication of the presence or absence of some unifying conception. At first glance, the pilgrims of the Prologue appear to be a highly world — oriented group — prosperous, concerned with the pleasures and profits of life.
Furthermore, the company is dominated by the Host of the Tabard, Harry Bailly, whose plan, accepted by the pilgrims, would place the emphasis of the pilgrimage on the pleasure of exchanging stories and would make the climactic event not the arrival at Canterbury, but the return to London and the festive dinner at the Tabard. Yet among the worldly pilgrims there is a distinctly different group: the Knight, the Plowman, and the Parson. Rather interestingly, they represent the old feudal economy — the Knight, who protects Church and people; the Plowman, who provides material food; the Parson, who provides spiritual food.
These three are old also in a deeper sense. None of them is materially motivated; each performs his feudal duty as a duty owed in a universe of which God is the author. It is evident that Chaucer intends to give this group positions of the highest dignity in the order of Tales. Although the Plowman's Tale is never told, the first of the tales is the Knight's, and the last, which is explicitly stated as knitting up the whole matter of the pilgrimage, is the Parson's. Paradoxically, it is equally evident that the old are presented as pale and shadowy, while the new are burgeoning with color and energy.
It is here that the extraordinary aptness of the pilgrimage fiction becomes evident. In its origin, the pilgrimage had been an act of piety carried out under great hardship and danger; by Chaucer's day, it had become generally, though not necessarily, more pleasurable than devotional.
These two attitudes toward the pilgrimage correspond very closely with the attitudes of the worldly and unworldly pilgrims toward life. The central problem posed by Chaucer in the Canterbury Tales may possibly be stated thus: Is life in fact the traditional Christian pilgrimage through trial and temptation toward a future eternal city Heb Or finally — an idea dear to the 14th — century humanist — are the temporal and eternal worlds not really antithetical, but in fact complementary, the logical movement from a lesser good to a greater good? The "Marriage Group. The device of argumentation used in the Group is, of course, not new.
It is a dramatic device used constantly; but only in the Marriage Group is the argument so carefully structured and the subject so consistently adhered to. The first speaker is Alice of Bath, Chaucer's greatest, because most lovingly wrought, personality. As she reveals herself, the Alice of the General Prologue, with her well — rewarded profession of wool weaving in a prosperous wool country, disappears: Alice is first and foremost a professional wife, the respectability of whose profession has been called into question. Alice's career has embraced five husbands, and she is seeking to continue that career with a sixth.
However, someone has recently intimated to her that, according to authoritative scriptural Jn 2. Alice's counterarguments are revealing. To "auctorite," or "gloss," as she prefers to call it [III D 26, ], Alice opposes the "express word" of Scripture 27, Alice finds the gentle text "increase and multiply" Gn1. Alice thus purports to discard the ancient allegorical in favor of the modern literal. However, she is more than slightly self — contradictory. She not only comically misreads on the literal level — as, for instance, that St.
Paul 1 Cor 7. In accord with her position as practicing wife of Bath, her Prologue is a tale of the practical values of dominating husbands; but the tale itself is not one of experience. It is Arthurian, drawn, one is led to suppose, from the Arthurian lore surrounding Bath, where Arthur won perhaps his most famous victory. The tale Alice tells is strikingly different from the Prologue in several respects. For one, although the tale accords superficially with Alice's customary theme of practicality and female dominance, there is none of the preoccupation with sex made so explicit in the Prologue, and the Hag, whose transformation into youth and beauty is the central event of Alice's story, lives happily ever after with a single husband.
Finally, the Hag's discourse shows an awareness of the conflict of grace and sin — 76 that is quite surprising — until one recalls that, in her Prologue, Alice's lyrical praise of past sexual delight is accompanied by her outcry: "Alas! Alice, like Bath, is an uneasy compound of new and old, and perhaps this is why Chaucer becomes progressively more deeply interested in her. Though Alice has, almost unconsciously, revealed a sort of indefeasible Christian heritage, every pronouncement she has made concerning the inevitability of female dominance is heresy.
The reader expects these pronouncements to be answered, but instead is carried away by two masterpieces of invective, the tales of the Friar and Summoner, in which each reveals the corrupt practices of the other. By the time the Clerk of Oxford has been called upon, the reader has rather forgotten Alice, but it is clear that the Clerk of Oxford has not. What the story of the Clerk does is to set up against the husband — crushing Alice the portrait of the humble, patient, loving Griselda, the medieval ideal of womanhood, whose perfection is reflected in her horror at remaining anything but a "widwe clene" Before Alice can retort, the tale of the Merchant and the incomplete tale of the Squire intervene, widening the subject of the debate from marriage to love — the first questioning whether love is not in fact simply lust, and the second questioning though fragmentarily presented whether the ideal relationship is not courtly love.
The Franklin's Tale, which concludes the Group, seems at first glance a model of balance among the positions presented. It is old in that it insists on the basic rightness of the marriage relationship. It is new in that love, which marital constraint can never drive from Griselda, the Clerk's medieval ideal, is presented as something that vanishes at constraint — a "thing as any spirit free.
The husband is to retain his realm of sovereignty in the world of affairs, but to the woman is accorded sovereignty in the realm of love. Old and new seem neatly balanced in the Prologue, but what upsets the balance is the view of the nature of man expressed in the Tale.
Rhetoric in the Middle Ages: Geoffrey Chaucer's 'The Parliament of Fowls'
Medieval theology regarded human nature as corrupted by the Fall , and the manifestation of its flawed state as a certain likeness to him whose lies caused the Fall Jn 7. Truth is an attribute of God; lying, a characteristic of man Rom 3. In grace lay the only means to truth. Yet in the Franklin's Tale every man keeps to truth, and woman also — though the scene is pagan Brittany to which grace has yet to come. As in traditional Christian symbolism, woman Emotion needs the control of man Reason , but in the Tale both man and woman are essentially good.
If mankind is essentially good, then the ideal of the Knight and the raw energy of Alice of Bath have something in common. They are not really antithetical, but complementary. As humanity and its ideals progress, a progressively better world becomes possible. This is the highest point of Chaucer's humanism.
Religious Contrition — Chaucer's last works, the Parson's Prologue and Tale and the Retraction, are probably best understood in terms of the medieval attitude toward the activities proper to the ages of men. Traditionally, as the early years of one's life were devoted to action, the later and final were devoted to meditation and prayer.
This was not only a theory but a practice. For those whose life had been letters itself, declining years posed a particular problem. Why had they not applied their talent to glorifying God, rather than to attracting the praises of men? Both Boccaccio and Petrarch had religious experiences that profoundly affected the nature of their last works. In England, the strictures of St.
Paul on any form of writing not conducive to moral instruction had great currency, especially as stated in the opening of Rom The prevalence of Rom When the Nun's Priest suddenly senses that pure comedy does not befit his calling and urges his listeners to seize the miniscule morality of his great satire, it is this same admonition of St.
Paul that he quotes [VII B 2 ]. Chaucer too knew the passage and its meaning. In his Retraction, he states that his intention is in accord with St. Paul: "Al that is writen is writen for our doctrine" [X I ]. The grand comedy of his life is past, and he is eager to have his readers note his moral works but is unable to enumerate as many as he would wish.
He therefore strives to add to the list of devotional works he has already composed or translated a relatively new type of religious work that was becoming very popular at the end of the 14th century. This was a kind of handbook containing an exposition at greater or lesser length of various matters of doctrine. Originally, these manuscripts had been written in Latin and were designed for use by the parish priest. Later they began to be written in English or translated into English, in part to aid the parish priest's Latin, but principally to meet the demand for works of piety and meditation that was rising within a society that was becoming increasingly literate.
Although Chaucer's Parson's Tale was almost certainly translated from Latin tractates designed for use within the Church, there can be little doubt that Chaucer intended it for the same audience as that of the rest of the Tales. He earnestly wished it to circulate with the other Canterbury Tales and to offset the effects he feared of some tales, as Boccaccio feared the effects of the Decameron. The Parson's Tale itself represents an apparently hasty and awkward attempt to incorporate an extensive treatise on the Seven Deadly Sins into a rather small one on penitence.
However artistically inept it may be, the Parson's Tale does communicate, and what it communicates is Chaucer's uncompromising acceptance of medieval Christian doctrine. Heaven is worth striving for, as Chaucer is striving to complete the number of works he believes his calling as poet demands of him. Human nature is worth very little striving for. It is "roten and corrupt" Salvation is not to be found in faith in humanity, any more than in poetic excellence.
Art in and for itself has no standing.