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  • Geoffrey Chaucer Geoffrey Chaucer , known as the Father of

  • English literature, is widely considered the greatest English poet of the Middle Ages and

  • was the first poet to have been buried in Poet's Corner of Westminster Abbey. While

  • he achieved fame during his lifetime as an author, philosopher, alchemist and astronomer,

  • composing a scientific treatise on the astrolabe for his ten year-old son Lewis, Chaucer also

  • maintained an active career in the civil service as a bureaucrat, courtier and diplomat. Among

  • his many works, which include The Book of the Duchess, the House of Fame, the Legend

  • of Good Women and Troilus and Criseyde, he is best known today for The Canterbury Tales.

  • Chaucer is a crucial figure in developing the legitimacy of the vernacular, Middle English,

  • at a time when the dominant literary languages in England were French and Latin.

  • Life Geoffrey Chaucer was born in London sometime

  • around 1343, though the precise date and location of his birth remain unknown. His father and

  • grandfather were both London vintners; several previous generations had been merchants in

  • Ipswich. (His family name derives from the French chausseur, meaning "shoemaker".) In

  • 1324 John Chaucer, Geoffrey's father, was kidnapped by an aunt in the hope of marrying

  • the twelve-year-old boy to her daughter in an attempt to keep property in Ipswich. The

  • aunt was imprisoned and the £250 fine levied suggests that the family was financially securebourgeois,

  • if not elite. John Chaucer married Agnes Copton, who, in 1349, inherited properties including

  • 24 shops in London from her uncle, Hamo de Copton, who is described in a will dated 3

  • April 1354 and listed in the City Hustings Roll as "moneyer"; he was said to be moneyer

  • at the Tower of London. In the City Hustings Roll 110, 5, Ric II, dated June 1380, Geoffrey

  • Chaucer refers to himself as me Galfridum Chaucer, filium Johannis Chaucer, Vinetarii,

  • Londonie'. While records concerning the lives of his

  • contemporary poets, William Langland and the Pearl Poet are practically non-existent, since

  • Chaucer was a public servant, his official life is very well documented, with nearly

  • five hundred written items testifying to his career. The first of the "Chaucer Life Records"

  • appears in 1357, in the household accounts of Elizabeth de Burgh, the Countess of Ulster,

  • when he became the noblewoman's page through his father's connections. She was married

  • to Lionel, Duke of Clarence, the second surviving son of the king, Edward III, and the position

  • brought the teenage Chaucer into the close court circle, where he was to remain for the

  • rest of his life. He also worked as a courtier, a diplomat, and a civil servant, as well as

  • working for the king, collecting and inventorying scrap metal.

  • In 1359, in the early stages of the Hundred Years' War, Edward III invaded France and

  • Chaucer travelled with Lionel of Antwerp, 1st Duke of Clarence, Elizabeth's husband,

  • as part of the English army. In 1360, he was captured during the siege of Rheims. Edward

  • paid £16 for his ransom, a considerable sum, and Chaucer was released.

  • After this, Chaucer's life is uncertain, but he seems to have travelled in France, Spain,

  • and Flanders, possibly as a messenger and perhaps even going on a pilgrimage to Santiago

  • de Compostela. Around 1366, Chaucer married Philippa (de) Roet. She was a lady-in-waiting

  • to Edward III's queen, Philippa of Hainault, and a sister of Katherine Swynford, who later

  • (c. 1396) became the third wife of John of Gaunt. It is uncertain how many children Chaucer

  • and Philippa had, but three or four are most commonly cited. His son, Thomas Chaucer, had

  • an illustrious career, as chief butler to four kings, envoy to France, and Speaker of

  • the House of Commons. Thomas's daughter, Alice, married the Duke of Suffolk. Thomas's great-grandson

  • (Geoffrey's great-great-grandson), John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, was the heir to

  • the throne designated by Richard III before he was deposed. Geoffrey's other children

  • probably included Elizabeth Chaucy, a nun at Barking Abbey. Agnes, an attendant at Henry

  • IV's coronation; and another son, Lewis Chaucer. Chaucer’s “Treatise on the Astrolabe

  • was written for Lewis. Chaucer probably studied law in the Inner

  • Temple (an Inn of Court) at this time. He became a member of the royal court of Edward

  • III as a varlet de chambre, yeoman, or esquire on 20 June 1367, a position which could entail

  • a wide variety of tasks. His wife also received a pension for court employment. He travelled

  • abroad many times, at least some of them in his role as a valet. In 1368, he may have

  • attended the wedding of Lionel of Antwerp to Violante Visconti, daughter of Galeazzo

  • II Visconti, in Milan. Two other literary stars of the era were in attendance: Jean

  • Froissart and Petrarch. Around this time, Chaucer is believed to have written The Book

  • of the Duchess in honour of Blanche of Lancaster, the late wife of John of Gaunt, who died in

  • 1369. Chaucer travelled to Picardy the next year

  • as part of a military expedition; in 1373 he visited Genoa and Florence. Numerous scholars

  • such as Skeat, Boitani, and Rowland suggested that, on this Italian trip, he came into contact

  • with Petrarch or Boccaccio. They introduced him to medieval Italian poetry, the forms

  • and stories of which he would use later. The purposes of a voyage in 1377 are mysterious,

  • as details within the historical record conflict. Later documents suggest it was a mission,

  • along with Jean Froissart, to arrange a marriage between the future King Richard II and a French

  • princess, thereby ending the Hundred Years War. If this was the purpose of their trip,

  • they seem to have been unsuccessful, as no wedding occurred.

  • In 1378, Richard II sent Chaucer as an envoy (secret dispatch) to the Visconti and to Sir

  • John Hawkwood, English condottiere (mercenary leader) in Milan. It has been speculated that

  • it was Hawkwood on whom Chaucer based his character the Knight in the Canterbury Tales,

  • for a description matches that of a 14th-century condottiere.

  • A possible indication that his career as a writer was appreciated came when Edward III

  • granted Chaucer "a gallon of wine daily for the rest of his life" for some unspecified

  • task. This was an unusual grant, but given on a day of celebration, St George's Day,

  • 1374, when artistic endeavours were traditionally rewarded, it is assumed to have been another

  • early poetic work. It is not known which, if any, of Chaucer's extant works prompted

  • the reward, but the suggestion of him as poet to a king places him as a precursor to later

  • poets laureate. Chaucer continued to collect the liquid stipend until Richard II came to

  • power, after which it was converted to a monetary grant on 18 April 1378.

  • Chaucer obtained the very substantial job of comptroller of the customs for the port

  • of London, which he began on 8 June 1374. He must have been suited for the role as he

  • continued in it for twelve years, a long time in such a post at that time. His life goes

  • undocumented for much of the next ten years, but it is believed that he wrote (or began)

  • most of his famous works during this period. He was mentioned in law papers of 4 May 1380,

  • involved in the raptus of Cecilia Chaumpaigne. What raptus means is unclear, but the incident

  • seems to have been resolved quickly and did not leave a stain on Chaucer's reputation.

  • It is not known if Chaucer was in the city of London at the time of the Peasants' Revolt,

  • but if he was, he would have seen its leaders pass almost directly under his apartment window

  • at Aldgate. While still working as comptroller, Chaucer

  • appears to have moved to Kent, being appointed as one of the commissioners of peace for Kent,

  • at a time when French invasion was a possibility. He is thought to have started work on The

  • Canterbury Tales in the early 1380s. He also became a Member of Parliament for Kent in

  • 1386. There is no further reference after this date to Philippa, Chaucer's wife, and

  • she is presumed to have died in 1387. He survived the political upheavals caused by the Lords

  • Appellants, despite the fact that Chaucer knew some of the men executed over the affair

  • quite well. On 12 July 1389, Chaucer was appointed the

  • clerk of the king's works, a sort of foreman organising most of the king's building projects.

  • No major works were begun during his tenure, but he did conduct repairs on Westminster

  • Palace, St. George's Chapel, Windsor, continue building the wharf at the Tower of London,

  • and build the stands for a tournament held in 1390. It may have been a difficult job,

  • but it paid well: two shillings a day, more than three times his salary as a comptroller.

  • Chaucer was also appointed keeper of the lodge at the King’s park in Feckenham, which was

  • a largely honorary appointment. In September 1390, records say that he was

  • robbed, and possibly injured, while conducting the business, and it was shortly after, on

  • 17 June 1391, that he stopped working in this capacity. Almost immediately, on 22 June,

  • he began as Deputy Forester in the royal forest of North Petherton, Somerset. This was no

  • sinecure, with maintenance an important part of the job, although there were many opportunities

  • to derive profit. He was granted an annual pension of twenty pounds by Richard II in

  • 1394. It is believed that Chaucer stopped work on the Canterbury Tales sometime towards

  • the end of this decade. Not long after the overthrow of his patron,

  • Richard II, in 1399, Chaucer's name fades from the historical record. The last few records

  • of his life show his pension renewed by the new king, and his taking of a lease on a residence

  • within the close of Westminster Abbey on 24 December 1399. Although Henry IV renewed the

  • grants assigned to Chaucer by Richard, Chaucer's own The Complaint of Chaucer to his Purse

  • hints that the grants might not have been paid. The last mention of Chaucer is on 5

  • June 1400, when some monies owed to him were paid.

  • He is believed to have died of unknown causes on 25 October 1400, but there is no firm evidence

  • for this date, as it comes from the engraving on his tomb, erected more than one hundred

  • years after his death. There is some speculationmost recently in Terry Jones' book Who Murdered

  • Chaucer?: A Medieval Mysterythat he was murdered by enemies of Richard II or even

  • on the orders of his successor Henry IV, but the case is entirely circumstantial. Chaucer

  • was buried in Westminster Abbey in London, as was his right owing to his status as a

  • tenant of the Abbey's close. In 1556, his remains were transferred to a more ornate

  • tomb, making Chaucer the first writer interred in the area now known as Poets' Corner.

  • Works Chaucer's first major work, The Book of the

  • Duchess, was an elegy for Blanche of Lancaster (who died in 1369). It is possible that this

  • work was commissioned by her husband John of Gaunt, as he granted Chaucer a £10 annuity

  • on 13 June 1374. This would seem to place the writing of The Book of the Duchess between

  • the years 1369 and 1374. Two other early works by Chaucer were Anelida and Arcite and The

  • House of Fame. Chaucer wrote many of his major works in a prolific period when he held the

  • job of customs comptroller for London (1374 to 1386). His Parlement of Foules, The Legend

  • of Good Women and Troilus and Criseyde all date from this time. Also it is believed that

  • he started work on The Canterbury Tales in the early 1380s. Chaucer is best known as

  • the writer of The Canterbury Tales, which is a collection of stories told by fictional

  • pilgrims on the road to the cathedral at Canterbury; these tales would help to shape English literature.

  • The Canterbury Tales contrasts with other literature of the period in the naturalism

  • of its narrative, the variety of stories the pilgrims tell and the varied characters who

  • are engaged in the pilgrimage. Many of the stories narrated by the pilgrims seem to fit

  • their individual characters and social standing, although some of the stories seem ill-fitting

  • to their narrators, perhaps as a result of the incomplete state of the work. Chaucer

  • drew on real life for his cast of pilgrims: the innkeeper shares the name of a contemporary

  • keeper of an inn in Southwark, and real-life identities for the Wife of Bath, the Merchant,

  • the Man of Law and the Student have been suggested. The many jobs that Chaucer held in medieval

  • societypage, soldier, messenger, valet, bureaucrat, foreman and administratorprobably

  • exposed him to many of the types of people he depicted in the Tales. He was able to shape

  • their speech and satirise their manners in what was to become popular literature among

  • people of the same types. Chaucer's works are sometimes grouped into

  • first a French period, then an Italian period and finally an English period, with Chaucer

  • being influenced by those countries' literatures in turn. Certainly Troilus and Criseyde is

  • a middle period work with its reliance on the forms of Italian poetry, little known

  • in England at the time, but to which Chaucer was probably exposed during his frequent trips

  • abroad on court business. In addition, its use of a classical subject and its elaborate,

  • courtly language sets it apart as one of his most complete and well-formed works. In Troilus

  • and Criseyde Chaucer draws heavily on his source, Boccaccio, and on the late Latin philosopher

  • Boethius. However, it is The Canterbury Tales, wherein he focuses on English subjects, with

  • bawdy jokes and respected figures often being undercut with humour, that has cemented his

  • reputation. Chaucer also translated such important works

  • as Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy and The Romance of the Rose by Guillaume de Lorris

  • (extended by Jean de Meun). However, while many scholars maintain that Chaucer did indeed

  • translate part of the text of Roman de la Rose as The Romaunt of the Rose, others claim

  • that this has been effectively disproved. Many of his other works were very loose translations

  • of, or simply based on, works from continental Europe. It is in this role that Chaucer receives

  • some of his earliest critical praise. Eustache Deschamps wrote a ballade on the great translator

  • and called himself a "nettle in Chaucer's garden of poetry". In 1385 Thomas Usk made

  • glowing mention of Chaucer, and John Gower, Chaucer's main poetic rival of the time, also

  • lauded him. This reference was later edited out of Gower's Confessio Amantis and it has

  • been suggested by some that this was because of ill feeling between them, but it is likely

  • due simply to stylistic concerns. One other significant work of Chaucer's is

  • his Treatise on the Astrolabe, possibly for his own son, that describes the form and use

  • of that instrument in detail and is sometimes cited as the first example of technical writing

  • in the English language. Although much of the text may have come from other sources,

  • the treatise indicates that Chaucer was versed in science in addition to his literary talents.

  • Another scientific work discovered in 1952, Equatorie of the Planetis, has similar language

  • and handwriting compared to some considered to be Chaucer's and it continues many of the

  • ideas from the Astrolabe. Furthermore, it contains an example of early European encryption.

  • The attribution of this work to Chaucer is still uncertain.

  • Influence Linguistic

  • Chaucer wrote in continental accentual-syllabic meter, a style which had developed since around

  • the 12th century as an alternative to the alliterative Anglo-Saxon metre. Chaucer is

  • known for metrical innovation, inventing the rhyme royal, and he was one of the first English

  • poets to use the five-stress line, a decasyllabic cousin to the iambic pentameter, in his work,

  • with only a few anonymous short works using it before him. The arrangement of these five-stress

  • lines into rhyming couplets, first seen in his The Legend of Good Women, was used in

  • much of his later work and became one of the standard poetic forms in English. His early

  • influence as a satirist is also important, with the common humorous device, the funny

  • accent of a regional dialect, apparently making its first appearance in The Reeve's Tale.

  • The poetry of Chaucer, along with other writers of the era, is credited with helping to standardise

  • the London Dialect of the Middle English language from a combination of the Kentish and Midlands

  • dialects. This is probably overstated; the influence of the court, chancery and bureaucracyof

  • which Chaucer was a partremains a more probable influence on the development of Standard

  • English. Modern English is somewhat distanced from the language of Chaucer's poems owing

  • to the effect of the Great Vowel Shift some time after his death. This change in the pronunciation

  • of English, still not fully understood, makes the reading of Chaucer difficult for the modern

  • audience. The status of the final -e in Chaucer's verse is uncertain: it seems likely that during

  • the period of Chaucer's writing the final -e was dropping out of colloquial English

  • and that its use was somewhat irregular. Chaucer's versification suggests that the final -e is

  • sometimes to be vocalised, and sometimes to be silent; however, this remains a point on

  • which there is disagreement. When it is vocalised, most scholars pronounce it as a schwa. Apart

  • from the irregular spelling, much of the vocabulary is recognisable to the modern reader. Chaucer

  • is also recorded in the Oxford English Dictionary as the first author to use many common English

  • words in his writings. These words were probably frequently used in the language at the time

  • but Chaucer, with his ear for common speech, is the earliest manuscript source. Acceptable,

  • alkali, altercation, amble, angrily, annex, annoyance, approaching, arbitration, armless,

  • army, arrogant, arsenic, arc, artillery and aspect are just some of the many English words

  • first attested in Chaucer. Literary

  • Widespread knowledge of Chaucer's works is attested by the many poets who imitated or

  • responded to his writing. John Lydgate was one of the earliest poets to write continuations

  • of Chaucer's unfinished Tales while Robert Henryson's Testament of Cresseid completes

  • the story of Cressida left unfinished in his Troilus and Criseyde. Many of the manuscripts

  • of Chaucer's works contain material from these poets and later appreciations by the romantic

  • era poets were shaped by their failure to distinguish the later "additions" from original

  • Chaucer. Writers or the 17th and 18th centuries, such as John Dryden, admired Chaucer for his

  • stories, but not for his rhythm and rhyme, as few critics could then read Middle English

  • and the text had been butchered by printers, leaving a somewhat unadmirable mess. It was

  • not until the late 19th century that the official Chaucerian canon, accepted today, was decided

  • upon, largely as a result of Walter William Skeat's work. Roughly seventy-five years after

  • Chaucer's death, The Canterbury Tales was selected by William Caxton to be one of the

  • first books to be printed in England. English

  • Chaucer is sometimes considered the source of the English vernacular tradition. His achievement

  • for the language can be seen as part of a general historical trend towards the creation

  • of a vernacular literature, after the example of Dante, in many parts of Europe. A parallel

  • trend in Chaucer's own lifetime was underway in Scotland through the work of his slightly

  • earlier contemporary, John Barbour, and was likely to have been even more general, as

  • is evidenced by the example of the Pearl Poet in the north of England.

  • Although Chaucer's language is much closer to Modern English than the text of Beowulf,