A Conversation for A Brief Introduction to the Life and Works of Geoffrey Chaucer
~ jwf ~ scribblo ergo sum Started conversation Jun 2, 2003
And here I thought I knew something about Chaucer and had read almost everything he wrote. Now you tell me most of his stuff was unfinished and there's little chance anyone will ever find the missing pages.
You have hinted at two aspects of his life which are seldom mentioned in most reviews, which I consider vital to understanding and appreciating the man. I'd like to expand upon these slightly for curious readers who may pass by.
1. While he was an 'ambassador' of the court (sent on dangerous trading expeditions), his principal function AT the English court was as a 'storyteller', where he recited classical and original works. It has been suggested that what remains of his writing were just 'notes' for his orations. The 'publishing' industry did not exist and extended copying of written works by living authors was not common, especially non-religious texts by 'commoners'. Remember that even 200 years later Shakespeare never wrote anything down, being still about a quarter century early for the advent of publishing.
2. Chaucer's travels as an Ambassador took him to countries where he was exposed to several pre-Renaissance factors. He saw recent translations of Arabic texts (corrected and complete) of the great Latin writers. He experienced the courtly love tradition in the moody Mediterranean climes where they evolved. He saw ethnic and religious tolerance of a kind that was unknown in Norman-conquered-England and incorporated this theme into his vision of chivalry which he held up as a model of civilised behavior for his 'audience', the Norman overlords. He also created many characters who were common folk and showed them to be 'human' and not merely chattel.
There is some question just how antipathetic his attitude toward the Norman court would have been. In spite of 200 years of occupation the 'class distinction' was quite clear and those who married into the establishment or bettered themselves with 'middle class' entrepeneureal ventures would still have been treated as 'Saxon' inferiors.
His recitations at court were highly praised and valued but such things were considered just a notch above the traditional court jester. He played the clown or fool for the court even as he subverted them with bawdy tales of intrigue and encouraged them to obey the code of courtly behavior and ease up on their oppression of the native British populations.
He may not have used the old AngloSaxon forms but he was, in the great pagan British tradition, an oral historian and teller of tales who used his art to change the world around him by offering models of behavior to affect the common good.
You may have gathered I consider him a hero.
anhaga Posted Jun 2, 2003
Key: Complain about this post