Geoffrey Chaucer’s Failure in Portraying The Life of Contemporary People

About this sample

About this sample


Words: 2467 |

Pages: 5|

13 min read

Published: Feb 8, 2022

Words: 2467|Pages: 5|13 min read

Published: Feb 8, 2022

Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Discussion
  3. Chaucer’s Contemporary Writers’ Contribution in English Literature
  4. Conclusion
  5. Works Cited


The name ‘Chaucer’ is closely related to English literature. If one considers English Literature as the body, then Chaucer is the soul without whom English literature would be a corpse. Chaucer’s literary career only has fifty years but these fifty years have given English literature the gift of lifetime. Being a man of 14th century, he alone developed the English literature for all the next centuries. Chaucer is considered to be one of the most musical poets of all time. There is melody in almost each and every one of his writings. He is a man who mastered in French, Italian and English too. He wrote in all three languages and incorporated people from all of these three speaking language. His language can be understood easily if one appreciates his poetry, his humour, his good stories, his kind heart. He is thought to be a cosmopolitan as in his writing he included people from many class. He is also famous for his presentation style and excellent characterization which is a unique quality and can only be found in famous authors like Tagore, Shakespeare, Dante, Kafka, Amitabh Ghosh and some others. But nobody could match the quality like Chaucer did. Although Chaucer is the man who formed the English literature and known as the father of English literature, still the question arises whether or not Chaucer really was able to portray the lives of contemporary people of 14th century. This paper aims to investigate on this topic and find out if Chaucer was truly able to portray the real image of the people of his time.

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To achieve the objective, the paper is sub categorized into five different parts to analyze the raised question logically. The first part discusses on the political life of Geoffrey Chaucer so that his works can be related with it. The second part briefly discusses about the major works of Chaucer from all the three periods of his literary career. The following part portrays socio political events of the 14th century and how people lived in that time. The next part shows the contribution of some other contemporary writers of Chaucer so that a logical comparison is created. The last and most significant part of this paper describes how Chaucer failed to portray the life of contemporary people of his time in his writings.

Chaucer was not only a poet in his 60 years of life (approximately from 1340 to 1400). He was also a bureaucrat, philosopher, courtier, astronomer and diplomat. His political career began in 1357 when through his father’s connection he became the household accounts of Elizabeth de Burgh, the Countess of Ulster.  The countess was married to the son of Edward III under whom, Chaucer worked as a diplomat, civil servant, as well as Clerk of the King's Works from 1389 to 1391.

Chaucer and Edward III had a good relationship which is proven more than once in Chaucer’s later years. When he went in the ‘Hundred years of War’ in 1360 he was sent to jail for his ransom. Edward III bailed him paying a huge sum of money to the authority. Edward III did not hesitate to pay such a huge amount of money (16 pounds) for once. This shows how they had a strong bond among themselves.

In the year 1367 he became a member of the royal court of Edward III as a yeoman, or esquire. When Chaucer formally begin to write, he is thought to be highly appreciated by Edward III as he was granted “a gallon of wine daily for the rest of his life'. But nobody still knows for which job he was granted so grandly. He got this liquid stipend until Richard II came. Richard II made it a monetary sanction in 1378. Again this unexpected, costly grant magnifies their bond. Another controversy about Chaucer’s life after the ransom incident is found that he was involved in the seizure of Cecilia Chaumpaigne. But even though it was proved to be true, it did not leave a stain in Chaucer’s career. Maybe again the royalist made sure that Chaucer had no difficulty in his way.

Chaucer is thought to start his writing for ‘The Canterbury Tales’ in 1380 before he became a member of the parliament for Kent. Previously he wrote in French and Italian but suddenly he started writing in English. The hidden reason behind it can be because he was a member of parliament then and he strongly needed the support of the common people more than he needed the royalists.

Chaucer’s literary life can be divided into three different parts as he wrote in three different languages. In all these periods he produced marvelous works which are still set as examples for today’s and future authors.

In the first period of Chaucer’s life he wrote in French. This period lasted for 30 years. The best known poem of the first period of Chaucer’s life is ‘Romaunt of the Rose’ which is a translation of the French ‘Roman de la Rose’. This allegorical poem deals with Chivalry and courtly love. Here ‘rose’ is used as a symbol of love which the narrator cannot get in the first part. In the second part he can kiss the rose but then ‘jealousy’ creates a fortress between them. The poem satirizes the mores of the time. Chaucer also wrote the ‘Boke of the Duchess’ in this period. It is written for the late wife of his patron John of Gout who died in the plague of 1369. But he did not focus on the plague in the poem even allegorically. Just like Chaucer’s other poems, this too shows his musical and melodious characteristics with refined humour and a good story but he did not focus on the background or the socio political events of that time.

In the second period of Chaucer’s life he wrote all his literary pieces in Italian. This period lasted for 15 years. The chief work of this period is ‘Troilus and Cressida’ which is a poem of eighty thousand lines. This poem deals with love and betrayal. This was inspired by Homer’s ‘Iliad’ as it deals with Troy and Trojan prince’s love affair.  Another famous poem of this age is the ‘Legende of Goode Wimmen’. It is a dream vision. Chaucer describes ten stories of ‘good women’ in nine sections.

In Chaucer’s last fifteen years of literary life Chaucer wrote in English. The famous ‘The Canterbury Tales’ was written in this age. Although it was left unfinished as Chaucer died but his plan was to have 30 characters going on a pilgrimage each telling two stories on their journey. With those stories, he wanted to show the reflection of English people to the rest of the world.  Why Chaucer suddenly started to write in English is still an unresolved mystery. English was just a dialect then and was only spoken by the middle class and lower middle class people. As Chaucer was accustomed to be with the monarchs and royalists, this incident can make anyone surprised. Before writing ‘The Canterbury Tales’ he became a member of the parliament and as a member of parliament he must needed the support of the common people. And maybe for this reason he started to write in a dialect and made that the base for today’s English language.

‘The Hundred Years’ war between France and England started in 1338. Whenever a war starts people of all the involved countries suffer. Same thing happened in this war. Killing civilians, burning buildings, and crops and stealing whatever riches one finds were common scenario. Areas became depleted, populations fled or were massacred, the economy was damaged and disrupted, and ever greater expenditure was sucked into the army, raising taxes. Royal revenues fell greatly over war but some people made money by taking advantages of the ongoing situation and became rich.

In the year 1348, England saw its first plague which is known as ‘Black Death’. Originating in China, it made it’s way to England successfully and killed 20 percent of the total population. By autumn, the plague had reached London, and by summer 1349 it covered the entire country. The English government handled the crisis well. There seem to have been very few victims of the Black Death at higher levels of society. The plague and ‘The Hundred Years War’ led England to the peasant Revolt by Wat Tyler in 1381. The revolt had several causes, one of them is the socio-economic and political tensions which came with the Black Death. Another reason can be the high taxes resulting from the conflict with France during the Hundred Years' War and instability within the local leadership of London.

All these incidents occurring in the 14th century were enough to keep the people of that time tensed and anxious. People were getting killed randomly. When the killer people were stopped, then nature became the killer. When both of the killing were stopped, the built up suppression, anger made people rebellion and again put the whole England in pressure.

Chaucer’s Contemporary Writers’ Contribution in English Literature

Although the years 1350- 1400 is known as ‘The Age of Chaucer’, there were four more prominent writers in that age.

William Langland

William Langland was a very visionary writer. He believed farmers are the symbol of equality. His literature is preaching the equality of men and the dignity of labour.

John Wyclif

John Wyclif is thought to be ‘the father of English prose’. He was a reformer. He translated the bible.

John Gower

John Gower was a romantic writer. He wrote in English, Italian and French. He used to criticize the vigorious life and its consequences.


Mandeville loved travel. That is why he wrote many travelogues. His literature shows wonderment about other lands on the earth.

Geoffrey Chaucer is mostly known for his portrayal of the society, the human as nobody ever tried before. His unfinished ‘The Canterbury Tales’ is still celebrated in the world of English literature. It is true that Chaucer’s writing style is still thought to be unmatchable by anyone rather than Shakespeare. He invented the technique ‘frame story’ which is telling a story inside another story to make the first one more realistic. ‘The Canterbury Tales’ is written in this technique too. But though he succeeded introducing new techniques to the English literature, he failed to portray the real image of 14th century people through his writings. From a very young age Chaucer had have a good relationship with monarchs. In fact, in his lifetime, he worked under three different monarchs. They patronized him and Chaucer worked for them. But Chaucer might though that just working is not that enough so he dedicated his written poetries to his patrons. When someone writes for the monarchs it is obviously going to be somehow praising their qualities in a direct way or indirect one. Chaucer had done the same thing in the first period of his literary life, when he used to write in French, he wrote ‘Boke of the Duchess’ to please Abtahee 8 his patron John of Gout. He wanted to portray to the people that how John of Gout loved his wife through his poem. But he did not even allegorically mention that his wife died because of the plague or ‘Black Death’ of 1348. He mentioned the two most important events happened in the 14th century, the peasant revolt and Lollardy (a movement by John Wyclif, advocating that the Church should help people to live a life of evangelical poverty and imitate Christ) in only one of his stories in ‘The Canterbury Tales’. His love for the royalists can be understood easily with the events between him and Edward III. But he had the habit to obsequy everyone he worked for. This can be the reason why he wrote all the things which were in support of the royalists. Those literary pieces made his patrons happy and earned him ‘a barrel of wine’ every day or bailing from jail with 16 pounds! His short poetry ‘Fortune’ is written to make own fortune better by praising Lancaster, another patron of Chaucer.  Perhaps this is why Chaucer’s poetries were not affected by the ongoing situation of the country as the upper-class were not affected by it.

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Geoffrey Chaucer is thought to be the real starting point of English literature. Although this ‘morning star of renaissance’ introduced many new techniques to English literature but failed to portray the real image of the people of 14th century. It is true that he wrote for the middle class in English in the last part of his literary life but it might be only because of his own political gain as he always had a very close relationship with the royalties, monarchs and other powerful people who truly helped him when he needed. To compensate the favours done for him, he wrote poetries the way they would feel better. Literature is thought to be the reflection of life. But Chaucer’s literature was not the mirror for the whole society but for the royalists; so the mirror of his literature portrayed life of 14th century’s people from the perspective of the monarchs and this is how the father of the English literature failed to portray the life of the people of 14th century through his writing.

Works Cited

  1. 'Chaucer’S Life By Walter Skeat - Online Library Of Liberty'. Oll.Libertyfund.Org, 2019, Accessed 1 Apr 2019.
  2. Rossignol, Rosalyn, and Rosalyn Rossignol. Critical Companion To Chaucer. Facts On File, 2007. 'Guide To The Chaucer Research Project Records 1886-1965'. Lib.Uchicago.Edu, 2019, Accessed 1 Apr 2019.
  3. McKee, John. '54. Chaucer’S Canterbury Tales, General Prologue'. The Explicator, vol 32, no. 7, 1974, pp. 109-111. Informa UK Limited, doi:10.1080/00144940.1974.11483247. Accessed 1 Apr 2019.
  4. 'Chaucer's Views Exposed In The Canterbury Tales Essay | Bartleby'. Bartleby.Com, 2019, P33MXWYTC. Accessed 1 Apr 2019.
  5.  'Geoffrey Chaucer'. Biography, 2019, 9245691. Accessed 2 Apr 2019.
  6. 'What Major Works Did Chaucer Write In Middle English'. Pediaa.Com, 2019, Accessed 2 Apr 2019.
  7. '14Th Century Timeline Of British History'. Intriguing History, 2019, https://www.intriguing- Accessed 2 Apr 2019.
  8. 'The Greatest Books: Written By Geoffrey Chaucer'. Thegreatestbooks.Org, 2019, Accessed 2 Jan 2019.
  9. 'Geoffrey Chaucer'. Biography, 2019, 9245691. Accessed 2 Apr 2019. Papers, Term, and Contact Form.
  10. 'Chaucers Life And Works , Sample Of Essays'. Educheer!, 2019, Accessed 3 Apr 2019.
  11. Chaucer, Geoffrey. 'Geoffrey Chaucer - Geoffrey Chaucer Biography - Poem Hunter'. Poemhunter.Com, 2019, Accessed 3 Jan 2019.
  12. 'The Complete Works Of Geoffrey Chaucer, Vol. 1 (Romaunt Of The Rose, Minor Poems) - Online Library Of Liberty'. Oll.Libertyfund.Org, 2019, Accessed 3 Apr 2019.
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Geoffrey Chaucer’s Failure In Portraying The Life Of Contemporary People. (2022, February 10). GradesFixer. Retrieved April 19, 2024, from
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