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Geoffrey Chaucer and His Effect on the English Language

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Essay title: Geoffrey Chaucer and His Effect on the English Language

Geoffrey Chaucer and his effect on the English Language

Geoffrey Chaucer has been called the Father of the English language. He did for the English narrative what Shakespeare later did for drama. He was the first writer to use lines of poetry that had an appeal to those interested in nature and books. His writing was very modern for his time, even more modern than the writings of others after he died, but he stayed within the traditions of medieval poetry.

Chaucer was born in London, no one knows exactly what date but sometime between 1340 and 1344. Chaucer's father, John Chaucer, was a wine merchant although his last name from the French word chaussier indicates that his ancestors were shoemakers. He would sometimes hold positions in the royal administration and he was a significant member in the business community. Chaucer and his parents were lucky to escape the plague during the times of the Black Death, the epidemic that was spread to European lands from the Middle East. In June of 1348 it entered the coastal towns of England and within a few months two million out of five million inhabitants were dead. At this time, Chaucer was four to eight years old and very fortunate to not have been infected.

Any details concerning Geoffrey Chaucer's career in civil service come from contemporary documents. Records indicate that in 1357 Chaucer was serving as a page in the household of King Edward's son Prince Lionel and his wife Elizabeth. Because he held this position he was given rights that most Englishmen did not have, such as the right to bear arms and fight for the king. Along with those rights he was given the title of valettus. Chaucer took some time away from the royal family and went to school, whose name remains unknown. The next seven years of his life are very indefinite. He had many other jobs in government service. Over his lifetime he served King Edward III, The Countess of Ulster, King Richard II, and The Earl of Derby, who later became King Henry IV. He also fought from 1359 to 1360 in the Hundred Years War that took place between England and France. While he was in battle, he was captured by France, taken prisoner and ransomed for 16 pounds. In 1366 he married a woman named Philippa de Roet, a maid to Queen Philipa. They had two children, Thomas and Lewis. By 1367 Chaucer was known to be serving Edward III as a Valet and a new social rank of esquire.

No one knows at what point in his life Chaucer began writing. His first writings are believed to be the translations of Le Roman de la Rose, literature from thirteen century France. Chaucer never translated the whole thing, just pieces of it because a character in this poem, Chistine de Pisan, was originally portrayed as "dirty" in some parts. Chaucer liked this character, so he did not translate those parts. The Book of the Duchess was his first true work. It was a long poem that served as an elegy for John of Gaunt's wife, Blanche, who had died during the Bubonic Plague. He also wrote many short poems, but his longer ones turned out to be the most popular. Some of his short poems include The Treatise on the Astrolabe and The Complaint of Mars. Lack of Steadfastness and The Former Age were written to reflect his negative feelings towards Richard II.

Chaucer traveled, often to France and Italy on military related expeditions. Records show that he went Italy a few years after 1368, first Genoa, and then Florence. He was chosen for these expeditions because he had experience selling and buying wine, he had learned some Italian from being around his parents' wine business, and had been loyal to the royal court for many years. Here Chaucer was able to study some of Italy's best poets and writers. At this time, Italy was not a nation but an accumulation of city-states. These city-states were full of strong cultural activity with the early stages of the renaissance humanism movement in action. Petrarch had just finished the Canzoniere and Boccaccio was writing as well. During his three-month stay in Italy, he became accustomed with these writers as well as with Dante, the poet and author of the Divine Commedia, who soon becomes of Chaucer's biggest influences.

Chaucer was made controller of wool customs in London in 1374, which he soon realized was a difficult job. While serving this position he noticed that political tensions were forming between court and Parliament and he thought it would be best to move outside of London for a while. That same year he wrote The House of Fame, a 2,000-line poem about a man who dreams he is carried to heaven. It displayed the influence Dante had on him; for example, Chaucer based his eagle in this poem on the Divine Commedia. This work was and is still preserved, but only a few copies exist. But Chaucer had not gained his popularity yet.


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