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Theme 2: The Literature of the 14th and 15th Centuries.

Geoffrey Chaucer.


1. The preparation for the Renaissance. William Langland a priest/poet.

2. Geoffrey Chaucer his life and three periods of his creative work.

3. Chaucer's masterpiece 'Canterbury Tales'.

The preparation for the Renaissance

A single manuscript of that time preserves four poems written in the North Western dialect. 'Sir Gawain and the Green Knight' is the most subtle verse romance in English medieval literature. The romances miss human life and character. 'Gawain' supplies the description of hunting and the scenes of Gawain's temptation.

Compared with the romances, the life of the medieval lyric has been strong and enduring.

Outstanding is 'The Vision of Pier the Plowman', by William Langland. The poem begins with a Vision, which the poet had on the Malvern Hills, of a 'field full of folk'. In a strong and complicated succession of scenes he portrays almost every side of fourteenth century life. He sees the corruption of wealth inadequacies of government. To him the only salvation lies in honest labor and in the service of Christ. If he were not a mystic he would be a revolutionary poet. He has written the greatest poem in English devoted to the Christian way of life.



In the 14th century the English language came into its own again. In 1362 it was decided that all the pleadings in law courts should be in English, and Parliament was first opened with an English speech. By the end of the century the poet Chaucer had fixed English as the literary language of the century by writing his 'Canterbury Tales' in his own tongue.

Whereas Langland expressed the thoughts of the peasants, Chaucer was the writer of the new class, the bourgeoisie. He was not however the preacher of bourgeois ideology. He was simply a writer of the world. Chaucer was the first who broke away from medieval forms and cleared the way for realism.

He was born in 1340 in London; his father was a wine merchant. Yet Chaucer's parents were far from wealthy. He received, however, what education his parents were able to give him in that city.

Chaucer's writings are divided into 3 periods:

1. The French period. Chaucer's earliest poems were written in imitation of the French romances.

2. The second period of Chaucer's writings was that of the Italian influence. He is justly called the last writer of the Middle Ages and the first of the Renaissance.

3. The third period of Chaucer's creative work begins from the year (1384) when he left behind the Italian influence and became entirely English.

It is for the 'Canterbury Tales' that Chaucer is best remembered, the unfinished collection of stories told by the pilgrims on their journey to Canterbury, with the Prologue, the clearest picture of late medieval life existent anywhere. His quick, sure strokes portray the pilgrims at once as types and individuals true of their own age and, still more, representatives of humanity in general. He keeps the whole poem alive by interspersing the tales themselves with the talk, the quarrels, and the opinions of the pilgrims. The 'Canterbury Tales' sum up all the types of stories that existed in the Middle Ages. Some of these stories were known only in Norman-French before Chaucer. Chaucer also used the writings of his near contemporaries as well as the works of the writers of ancient times and distant lands. Various ranks of society pass by Chaucer and he observes them without indignation.

Much in his work shows his taste for medieval literature. He delighted in allegory, and in the sentiments of the courtly lover.

Three works set him apart as a great poet in the history of poetry in general. These three works are: 'Troilus and Criseyde' 1385-87, 'The Legend of Good Women' 1385 and the unfinished 'Canterbury Tales'. Of these, the most ambitious as a complete work is 'Troilus and Criseyde'.

Chaucer was in learning a man of the Middle Ages, but his attitude towards mankind was so universal that his work is timeless. Chaucer doesn't teach his readers what is good or bad by moralizing; he was not a preacher. He merely called attention to the people around him; he drew his characters from life, he saw man

not only as 'rich' or 'poor' but as belonging to a certain rank of society. Chaucer described the individual features of his characters 'according to profession and degree', so they instantly became typical of their class. When assembled, they form one people, the English people.

The poets of the century after Chaucer were involved further in the changing nature of the language.


Theme 2: The review of the most important events that this or that way influenced the literary process in the mentioned period. The importance of Geoffrey Chaucer's creative work for the development of English literature. Chaucer's masterpiece 'Canterbury Tales' and its place in the world literature. The first traces of Renaissance.


1. What do you know about William Langland's best poem?

2. How many periods can be distinguished in G. Chaucer's literary work?

3. Why is Chaucer's famous 'The Canterbury Tales' still of great value to the world literature?

4. In what do you see Chaucer's contribution to literature?

Date: 2015-01-02; view: 3388

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