Geoffrey Chaucer was born in 1343, the son of a rich wine merchant in London. As a young courtier, he followed Edward III in France, but he was imprisoned and then ransomed. He stayed in contact with royal family and travelled to various missions for the king. He interested in Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio. He was appointed to some offices and he became then a prosperous bourgeois with the marriage to a lady, so he had a high income and he became a member of parliament. In 1386 he was dismissed to his offices and in this period wrote the Canterbury Tales. Then he was appointed Clerk of the King's works at West Minster and the king doubled his pension. He died at Westminster, where he was buried.
Chaucer is the father of English literature and his language became the standard English. Their dates are not certain. His life is divided in 3 periods:
- French period, modelled on french romance styles: the Romance of the rose which introduces the reader into medieval court; the Book of the Duchess, an elegy of a knight for the death of his wife.
- Italian period shows a greater maturity: the Parliament of fowls introduces the medieval literature; the House of fame is a masterpieces of comic fantasy; the Legend of good women speaks of the love sufferencese of women; Troylus and Criseyde is a long poem adapted from Boccaccio.
- English period: Canterbury Tales.
There are thirty people, belonging in the clergy and not, that are going in Kent for pilgrimage. They gather at the Tabard inn in London and the most suggest that every pilgrim tells a story. The best story will be a prize. All agree.
The structure hasn't a logical order o events. The 24 tales are introduced by a prologue, and followed by an epilogue. Canterbury is the celestial city. The end of life and the journey of the pilgrims symbolises the course of human life. The work remaned unfinished, but Chaucer wanted write another cycle of tales.
The general prologue: a double wiew
It is spring in the work, symbol of rebirth, an event in the calendar of nature that returnes after the winter.
Chaucer portrays the feudal representatives, members of the clergy and the middle classes. The aristocracy isn't portrayed because it doesn't mix with the commoners and the peasants can't travel for the expansive cost of trip. Men and women are mixed to underline the new importance of the women. The individualisation is more important (pilgrims clothes, tools, personal qualities, thoughts are described). The names is conditioned by the work.
Realism and Allegory
Chaucer uses all the main genres of medieval narrative. Realism is the most distinctive feature of the work, but in a medieval sense; with exaggeration caricature and grotesque. The pilgrimage is a metaphor: we are all pilgrims on the way to the heavenly.
Chaucer tells us what he sees and what he thinks: he also is a pilgrim. The tales are narrated by the other pilgrims.
He writes in verse (lambic pentameters with unstressed and stressed syllables with ten line).