Goeffrey Chaucer - Microcosm and Macrocosm



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Geoffrey Chaucer
Chaucer were a busy middle class-man. Little is recorded about him as a man and a poet. He was born around 1343, the son of a London wine merchant. He led a vary busy life: he served three kings, Edward III, Richard II and Henry IV. He grew up in close contact with the royal family of the Plantagenets. He supported the religious views of John Wycliffe and Lollardy. He died in 1400 and was the first poet to be buried in Westminster Abbey, in what was to become the Poets’ Corner. Chaucer is regarded as the father oh English literature and as the first major secular poet. His language, the dialect of his native London, gradually became standard English, thus becoming the basis of Modern English. During the decade between 1368 and 1378, Chaucer’s journeys brought him also to Italy where he became interested in Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio. His works are usually divided into three period. The French period is so called because it includes poems modelled on French romance styles and subject such as: The Broke of the Duchesse, The Romaunt of the Rose. The Italian period shows a greater maturity of perception and skill in the manipulation of the metres. The following belong to this period: The Parlament of Foules, The House of Fame, The Legende of Good Women, Troylus and Criseyde. The English period is marked by greater realism and includes Chaucer’s masterpiece: Canterbury Tales.
Canterbury Tales (1387)
The plot
It is spring and thirty people, all belonging to different social classes and including Chaucer himself, are going on a pilgrimage to Thomas Becket’s shrine in Canterbury. They gather at the Tabard Inn in London. The host of the inn suggests that every pilgrim should tell two stories while going to Canterbury, and two coming back. He says that there will be a prize for the best story as well as a penalty for anyone who gives up. All the pilgrim and set off.
The structure
The work consists of a General Prologue, where the pilgrims are usually preceded by a prologue, which introduces the theme of the tale, and sometimes followed by an epilogue. The point of departure, the inn, is linked to worldly pleasures while the destination is holy. Canterbury is the symbol of the celestial city itself, the end of life, and the journey of pilgrims becomes work remained unfinished, and Canterbury is not reached by the pilgrims.
Realism and allegory
Realism is the most distinctive feature of the work. The pilgrimage is also a key metaphor for life from the religious sphere. We are all pilgrims on the way to the heavenly city.
Chaucer narrator
The tales are narrated by the different pilgrims but the reporting pilgrim is Chaucer himself. He tells us directly or sometimes ironically what he sees and what he thinks about it.
Microcosm and Macrocosm
The English Renaissance
The English Renaissance covers the historical period from 1509 to 1660. The English Renaissance developed later than its European equivalents and distinguished itself as an original, typically English movement. Its main feature was its strong Protestant, and in some aspects, Puritan basis, influenced by the Reformation under the reign of Henry VIII, who broke with Rome and declared that the king was the head of the English Church. The English literature of the period lacked the pagan serenity of the Italian Renaissance and was less linked to the visual arts.
New Learning
There was also the training in classical imitation of a number of humanist scholars and translators. The ‘New Learning’, as Humanism was also called. It encouraged confidence in the power of human reason to interpret Man and Nature, in the value of literature as an instrument of reason and in the dignity of modern English as a literary medium.
Universal order
The world picture of this period is based on a general conception of order. The Renaissance man pictured the universal order under the forms of a chain and a cosmic dance.
The chain of being
The chain stretched from God to the lowest of inanimate. First there is the inanimate class: the elements, liquids and metals. Then there is the vegetative class, Then there is the animal class learning up to man, two has not only existence, life and feeling, but also understanding. Finally there are the angels. The position of man was extremely interesting. Given his double nature of matter and spirit, he had the unique function of linking together all creation.
The cosmic dance
The created universe was itself in a state of music, of perpetual dance. The whole universe was governed by divine will; Nature was God’s instrument. It followed that order and unity were the natural rules for the state, which should be subject to a single head. So the Sovereign became the symbol of stability and unity.
New discoveries
In 16th century there were new geographical discoveries and the new wealth linked to the expansion of markets abroad, by political upheaval and religious wars. The old order of ideas was weakened by the theories of Nicolaus Copernicus who created a new model of the Solar System, in which the Sun was at the centre, with the Earth and other planets moving in a combination of circular movements around it. The invention of the telescope by Galileo Galilei, proved it. Moreover the Italian astronomer established the scientific method, that is, the study of the physical world by sensory observation, experiment and by mathematical measurement.
The Royal Society
The modern science in English gained impetus from the foundation of the Royal Society in 1662. The society’s aim was “to overcome the mysteries of all the works of nature” and to apply that knowledge “for the benefit of human life”.
The development of the English character
The Puritanism contributed to the development of the English character. The political events connected with the Civil War of the 17th century led to the settlement of Parliament as a guarantee that Royal absolutism should never be established in England; the heard-working attitude of the Puritans was to be of great value in the future development of a industrial nation The new scientific attitude encouraged a belief in human progress and the development of a materialistic and practical mind.