We have a lot to be grateful to Geoffrey Chaucer for. If it wasn’t for his amazing works we might all still be reading in French and Latin. While I love French, I really do enjoy my home language of English and love all the wonderful literature heritage that hails from England. I really can’t comment on Latin as my only slight brushings with this language occurred during the Catholic Church Services I attended while I was at school.
Who was Geoffrey Chaucer?
Chaucer was born in approximately 1343 in London. In 1357 he became a public servant to Countess Elizabeth of Ulster and continued in that capacity with the British court for the rest of his life. Chaucer died on 25 October 1400 in London, England and was the first person to be buried in Westminster Abbey’s Poet’s Corner.
Why is he relevant to us, 600 years later?
Chaucer was the first great writer and poet to write using the medium of English. By choosing to write in English, Chaucer showed the world that his vernacular English, which had survived 300 years of Norman rule, could be used in literature just as well as either French or Latin. His language choice also made his poetry accessible to all. The huge popularity of Chaucer’s works, written in Middle English, is said to have given rise to this dialect becoming increasingly widespread and its eventual status as modern English’s predecessor.
Chaucer also translated many important Continental works, for example Boccacio’s The Decameron and Boethius’s Consolidation of Philosophy into English.
Chaucer is best know in our modern world for his unfinished poem, the Canterbury Tales. Chaucer’s work took him on many journeys and introduced him to many people from all sorts of professions and walks of life and he drew on these experiences in his writing. In the 24 tales which constitute The Canterbury Tales, Chaucer introduced characters from all sectors of humanity including the learned, the religious, the romantic, the practical, the idealist and the irreverent from the middle classes as well as royalty. This was very unusual at that time when all stories dealt with heroes, kings and queens. His characterisation was ground-breaking and lead the way for future writers including Shakespeare. It is a testament to his abilities and talent that the art of story telling has remained virtually unchanged for all these years.
About The Canterbury Tales
The Canterbury Tales is one of my favourite books. It tells a story of a group of people, form a wide variety of backgrounds and with a number of different professions and skills, who set off on a religious pilgrimage from London to visit the shrine of Saint Thomas in Canterbury Cathedral. The pilgrims agree to entertain themselves along the journey by telling each other stories. Chaucer died before he could finish the tales but they are considered to be “outrageous, comic and thought-provoking”. The tales provide a lot of entertaining insight into life, love and bantering in medieval England.
The Canterbury Tales for children
Our children are very fortunate as they live in a society where all sorts of amazing classic books are available to them as either an abridged story or are retold in modern English. The Canterbury Tales is available as a “Usborne Classics Retold” version and the original verse in which it was written has been changed to modern prose with limited verse to make it easier for young modern readers. I would recommend introducing your children to this wonderful book so that they can enjoy and appreciate the works of “The Father of Modern English?”
University of Oxford – Great Writers Inspire
Braugh, C.B., and Cable, T. (2002) A History of the English Language. 5th edn. London: Routledge
Cummings Study Guide – The Canterbury Tales
Usborne Classics Retold The Canterbury Tales
Follow Robbie Cheadle on: