The Effects of Geoffrey Chaucer’s Education on the Canterbury Tales

The Medieval period was one of transformation. The great religious pilgrimages that occurred effected the course of history. Social set-ups were believed to be ordained by God and were not to be changed (www. aol/barrons 1). Thus, Geoffrey Chaucer introduces each of the characters in the prologue of The Canterbury Tales and establishes their role in society. The church hierarchy was thought to be of equal importance (http://www. virginia. edu/literature/ chaucer/defense 2).

The church in some cases fulfilled the function of an educational system (http://virginia. u/literature/chaucer 2). Both of these rankings generally dictated the opportunities available to people. Therefore, education was not always readily available. Instead, people relied on life experiences and common sense to guide them. This was no exception with writer and poet Geoffrey Chaucer. Though he lacked a formal education (http://www. virginia. edu/literature/chaucer /defense 2), Chaucer rose to a prominent government position (Anderson 84). In addition, his literary works show that he was extremely well read (Williams 1).

The effects of Chaucer’s education can be seen through his ability to write work that would appeal to its readers, his utilization of various writing techniques, and his vast knowledge of the society in which he lived. By the end of the Middle Ages, a new confidence in the English language was apparent. Thus, with this confidence came a higher status for English literature. This was illustrated in 1399 when Henry IV laid claim to the British throne (Williams 4). He did not perform the ceremony in French, as had been done in the past, but in English.

Geoffrey Chaucer played a major role in establishing the English language as a medium capable of the utmost artistic expression (Williams 4). Chaucer wrote in a style which appealed to his audience. Often called the Father of English poetry (Anderson 84), Chaucer draws on his own experiences in the Tales (www. aol/barrons 1). These experiences often colored his work (http://www. virginia. edu/literature/chaucer/defense 3). In addition, his use of class structure (http://www. virginia. edu/ literature/chaucer 2) coupled with his clear and concise comments make the Tales more readable (Anderson 85).

Chaucer also occasionally touched his work with nuance (Anderson 85). Chaucer was influenced in several ways throughout his life. Geoffrey Chaucer was born in the early 1340’s, approximately 1343, to John Chaucer, a prosperous wine merchant (Williams ix). He was a member of the middle class and learned about human nature while serving as a royal page (www. aol/barrons 1). Chaucer draws on all of these experiences throughout The Canterbury Tales. He also dealt with issues important to society (Anderson 84). While making the unheard of rise from middle class to government official, Chaucer dealt with many problems in the

British government. In addition, he traveled all over the continent on diplomatic missions for the king (Williams 1). Chaucer’s ability to write on such a broad base of topics and characters is derived from his vast work experience. The many “Chaucers”: the soldier, the courtier, the man-of-the-world, the diplomat, all assist in his acute understanding of human personality and nature. All of these influences can be seen throughout his writings (Williams 2). Literary influences on Chaucer include the work of Virgil, Cicero, and Ovid, which were among his favorites, and many of which he read in their original languages.

He also translated many major texts from Latin and French into English (Williams 1). An avid traveler, Chaucer visited Italy in 1373 and 1378. Here he discovered the poetry of Dante and Petrach (Anderson 85). He was very impressed by the work of these two poets and studied them intensively. The Canterbury Tales utilize several writing techniques and styles throughout. His work is strewn with allusions and metaphors drawn from medicine, music, law, astrology and biblical exegesis (Williams 1). Geoffrey Chaucer wrote in a time period where it was not particularly fashionable to write serious or dramatic work (Anderson 84).

But, Chaucer was not one to follow a standard, but to set one. His use of archaic language and lack of standard spelling quickly caught on and became known as Middle English. Also, due in part to Chaucer’s writing, the use of iambic pentameter became very popular in British literature (Anderson 85). A dominant meter of ten syllables and various metrical forms as well as prose can also be found throughout the Tales (Anderson 85). Geoffrey Chaucer’s education reached far beyond a traditional classroom. His numerous life experiences formed his education.

He worked both as a diplomat as well as an artist. It is these two separate environments that, when combined, form Chaucer’s extensive background and knowledge of his society. As a page in a royal court, Chaucer learned much about the social system first hand (Anderson 84). From an early age, he held various positions in a royal household (Williams 1). While on a royal assignment in France, he was captured by the French army and ransomed by the king. Though his work took precedence over his writing, Chaucer’s education in a social setting transcended into his writings (Williams 1).

One might begin to think that Chaucer was, as said in modern terms, a work-a-holic. But it was common in the Middle Ages for authors and poets to work both as artists and hold a position in the marketplace. It was not common to specialize as it is today (Williams 1). On the contrary, writing and poetry were only a part of the larger picture of sciences. This larger picture helped man with his true perception of reality, and this was the point of Chaucer’s poetry: :”philosophy as the foundation of his art” (Williams 2).

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