- Chaucer, Geoffrey
- (ca. 1340-1400)The greatest poet of medieval English literature, and the first widely influential poet since Anglo-Saxon times to write mainly in English rather than French. He is enduringly famous as the author of the Canterbury Tales, a collection of verse narratives supposedly told by a band of pilgrims on their way to visit the shrine of St. Thomas à Becket at Canterbury. The poem is remarkable for the socially diverse collection of characters portrayed, for its subtle portrayal of human character, and for its skill-ful and original treatment of stories that were often traditional folk tales and sometimes were borrowed from earlier authors. The poem is also notable for the anticlerical satire that reflects popular criticism of the clergy, a theme found in much late-medieval literature.Although Chaucer is usually defined as a medieval author, his great poem shows familiarity with writers of the early Italian Renaissance such as Giovanni Boccaccio. Also important is the role of his writings in establishing the East Midlands dialect of Middle English as the dominant form of the English language. Yet Chaucer knew French language and literature well and was influenced by medieval French literature. One of his early works was an adaptation of the famous French poem The Romance of the Rose. He was also influenced by late medieval and early Renaissance Italian literature—his Troilus and Criseyde, for example, was adapted from a work of Boccaccio.Chaucer was born into a prosperous London mercantile family (his father was a vintner) and as a boy became a page at the royal court. He made several journeys abroad, sometimes in military service and sometimes on diplomatic missions. One of these missions took him to Italy, where he may have met Boccaccio and Petrarch. He secured a lucrative governmental appointment as a royal customs officer, served as a member of Parliament, and advanced his family in social rank from prosperous middle-class to the outer fringes of the aristocracy.
Historical Dictionary of Renaissance. Charles G. Nauert. 2004.