Geoffrey Chaucer was born in London between 1340 and 1345 from a wine merchant who had connections with the Court of Edward III. From the age of 26, Chaucer was frequently employed on important diplomatic missions, both at home and abroad. In 1372 he was sent to Italy, where he probably met Petrarca and became familiar with the work of Boccaccio and Dante. In 1374 Chaucer worked as a customs official in the port of London, a job that he didn’t like much and later complained about in the satirical poem The House of Fame. From 1386 Chaucer represented the country of Kent in parliament and was appointed Clerk of Works. During the last ten years of his life, he worked on his masterpiece, The Canterbury Tales. He died in 1400.
Chaucer’s works are commonly divided in three different periods: the French period (his early works are highly influenced by the French models), the Italian period (Chaucer expanded his stylistic range following the examples of Dante and Boccaccio), the English period (he was mainly occupied with the writing of The Canterbury Tales).
The Canterbury Tales (collection of stories)
The Canterbury Tales are a series of interlinked stories, which are told by a group of pilgrims journeying to Canterbury to visit the shrine of Thomas Becket. The whole cycle is prefaced by a General Prologue, in which the narrator gives us a brief description of each of the pilgrims. In the same way, each tale is preceded by a prologue in which the pilgrim tells us something about him/herself. The tale-telling competition is a way of passing the time on the journey: every pilgrim have to tell two stories on the way to Canterbury and two stories on the way back; three are the prize for the best tale. The route the pilgrims take as the peculiarities of each one (they come from different social classes, except the aristocracy and the poorest ranks) are highly significant. They begin at a tavern in London, which is linked with pleasure and conviviality of the period, and travel towards Canterbury Cathedral, a symbol of the holy, celestial city. Their tales cover a wide range of themes, from love, corruption, hypocrisy and chivalry. Many tales are ordered to give another point of view to the ideas proposed in the previous story, so they permit open dialogue between people from different levels of society.