Geoffrey Chaucer (Circa 1340 – 1400) # Chaucer, one of England’s first writers, did more than anyone to prepare a place for the English language in the world’s literary canons. Though more fluent in French, Chaucer chose to write in Middle English, the bastard language of Germanic origins, but the vernacular of England. His writings raised the level of the Germanic over the Norman French establishing the canon of English after Beowulf.
The Prologue of The Canterbury Tales # – Medieval societies were still under the spell of magic or superstition including witches, miracles and folk tales. Archetypal cycles of the dawn, spring and birth phase leading to revival and resurrection of creation and (because the four phases are a cycle) of the defeat of the powers of darkness, winter and death. The archetype of romance and of most dithyrambic and rhapsodic poetry to celebrate a new lease of life.
Chaucer’s Knyght # As the highest order of the social ladder, Knights were expected to provide a good example. Knighthoods were awarded for gallantry and bravery in battle and were not hereditary. They ranked below the nobility. Since ancient times the perception of warriors has been glamourised and glorified. Images of soldiers are meant to inspire confidence and reassurance in their efficacy. The projected image is one of strength, order and decorum.
The Nonne, a Prioress - Prologue and Tale # Nun’s are called on to sacrifice their personal needs, swear an oath of abstemious poverty and trained to be the humble servants of God. Rules frowned on going for solitary walks, pilgrimages or independent thinking. Questioning of authority is criticised as “pride”. You are expected to keep quiet, deny your individuality, sacrifice your primal needs and suppress your intellect. God uses the weak to confound the strong and the unintelligent to confound the knowledgeable, so it was almost lack of faith to try and use your head.
Chaucer – The Pardoner’s Tale # In the Pardoner’s Prologue and Tale. Chaucer appears to drop some of his satire, striking out boldly to condemn an openly corrupt Church. According to Peter Craven, “the grandly sinister prologue is attached to a medieval allegory done with such a sombre face and soft step that any difference between folk tale and the high art of poetry is eliminated. It’s as if we don’t have the luxury of seeing it happen in language but, as if transparently through it.
Chaucer’s The Persoun # Chaucer depicts his society as an inverted Pyramid; with the lowly characters on top and the pillars of society on the lowest levels of a scale of virtues. In this he follows Dante, Boccaccio and even Petrarch. Charles Dickens in Great Expectations, uses the image of Pip being tipped upside down by an escaped convict. He is forced to see society as inverted, seeing the Church’s steeple pointing down; not serving as an inspiration.
Chaucer’s Man of Law # Chaucer’s portrait gallery of 14^(th) C. England is renown for its wit and use of Chaucerian irony; praising a character, but undercutting it with subtle wit. Only one character survives Chaucer’s sarcasm unscathed – the lowly Parson. All of the other Pilgrims fall short of their projected image. Chaucer’s characters generally discredit themselve by their actions or words. He depicts society inverted; the top echelons are corrupted, while the lower orders have integrity and dignity.
The Wife of Bath # The Wife of Bath is a comic caricature created by Chaucer with vivid details to illustrate the vast array of characters in 14 th Century England. Her flamboyant manners: large hat, riding skirt, bright scarlet hose and spurs create a larger than life character who is not restricted by conventional expectations. She is a law onto herself, living a full boisterous life with flair and ostentation - propriety be damned.