Thursday, March 18, 2010

Geoffrey Chaucer

Most agree that Geoffrey Chaucer was born in the early 1340’s, son of a well positioned wine merchant. He began his career young, serving as a page and valet in the household of the Countess of Ulster. Here he was able to attend school, learn Latin and French, courtly ways and how to bear arms for the King. He fought in the French Wars, and when captured in 1360, his ransom was paid by King Edward III. In 1366 Chaucer married Philippa de Roet, a useful connection since she served as a lady in waiting to the queen. In 1367 the King drafted Chaucer into service for the royal household and Chaucer was gifted an annual salary for life. As a king’s man Chaucer was responsible for many household functions including court functions and royal entertainment. Chaucer’s talent with words, while apparent from a young age, was never fully recognized. As a servant to the king, writing took back seat to his “real job.” Aged around sixty when he died, one can only wonder at what he may have produced had he been a full time writer during his most productive years.

Works include: The Book of the Duchess (approx 1370s), The House of Fame (approx 1380s), The Parliament of Fowls (approx 1380s), Troilus and Criseyde (approx. 1380s), Treatise on the Astrolabe (approx 1390s), Envoy to Scogan (approx 1390s), Envoy to Bukton (approx 1390s) and To His Empty Purse (approx 1390s). His most famous work, The Canterbury Tales, was begun around 1386. Chaucer died on October 25, 1400. It is unknown if he worked on the Tales until his death. He is buried in Westminster Abbey in what is now regarded as the Poet’s Corner. He is in good company with Shakespeare, Milton, Tennyson, Dickens and more. Chaucer is widely regarded as the first English poet, as his works proved that English was a suitable language to use for poetry.