Geoffrey Chaucer was born around 1343. He came of the urban middle class and his father was a wine merchant in London, as also his father had been before him. Chaucer grew up in close contact with the royal family and in 1357 was in the service of the Duke of Clarence, third son of Edward III. This association meant that Chaucer was connected to highest levels of society and thus to the new ideas of the time. Geoffrey followed the King’s son to war and was taken prisoner in France. In 1360 the king himself paid the ransom to have Chaucer come back to England. When the Duke and then the King died, the forth son of Edward III, John of Gaunt, virtually ruled the country towards the rising of the bourgeoisie. In this period Chaucer became a diplomatic agent of the crown and was travelling very often to and from the continent. When he went to Italy in 1372-73 he became interested in Dante, Petrarca e Boccaccio and began to read Virgilio in Latin. In 1374 he began to work in the office of Controller of the Customs and Subsidy of Wools, Skins and Leather at the Port of London and spent the following years as a bourgeois well rooted in politics. In 1377-78 he travelled for brief missions to Flanders and France. When Gaunt went to Spain in 1386, Chaucer lost his job and remained without a substantial income. After a few difficult years Gaunt returned to England after Richard II took the power in 1389, and Chaucer was appointed Clerk of the King’s Works and then member of the commission in charge of the restoration of the banks of the Thames. In 1399 Chaucer died at Westminster where he was living and was the first poet to be buried in the Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey.
Geoffrey Chaucer poems can be divided into three periods.
The French period includes poems that were developed following French features and style such as “The Boke of the Duchesse” and “The Romaunt of the Rose”.
The Italian period contains poems that reveal a greater sensibleness and better skills in the handling of the verses. For example, “The House of Fame”, “The legend of the Good Women” and “Troylus and Criseyde” belong to this period.
Chaucer’s masterpiece “Canterbury Tales” belongs to the final English period. It was written about 1387 but remained unfinished.