Research Papers on Chaucer
Research papers on Geoffrey Chaucer (c.1343-1400) are largely written about his seminal work The Canterbury Tales, a collection of stories about a group of pilgrims traveling from London to Canterbury, England. Because the work is a major development of literature, Paper Masters notes in our research that Chaucer is sometimes called the Father of English Literature.
Life and Works of Geoffrey Chaucer
Chaucer, born in London, spent much of his life working as a public servant, leaving many details of his life available to historians, unlike many of his fellow contemporary writers. A significant portion of his career was spent in service to King Edward III, whom he served as a sort of diplomat. In 1373, Chaucer traveled to Italy for the king, where it is believed he came into contact with Petrarch and Boccaccio, great Italian poets of the early Renaissance.
Chaucer’s central position is due to the fact that he wrote in the Middle English vernacular, as opposed to Latin, which made his works accessible to the average Englishman. Chaucer’s first major literary work was The Book of the Duchess, an elegy for Blanche of Lancaster, which was commissioned by her husband, John of Gaunt. Between 1374 and 1386 he wrote most of his major works, including Troilus and Criseyde and The Canterbury Tales. With the publication of this later work, Chaucer largely created English literature, as the work contains both original characters and many bawdy jokes, using the speech mannerisms of his contemporaries in creating such memorable characters as:
- The Wife of Bath
- The Merchant
- The Nun’s Priest
Chaucer, as a writer, is somewhat opaque with respect to the depth of his moral convictions. Chaucer presents a relativistic ethic of the world. The Canterbury Tales is not a work of deep piety by medieval standards. There is a comfortable worldliness in its view of aberrations of religious practice. This is a position that could be maintained at this particular point in English history. It could not have been maintained two hundred years before; and it would have been problematic two hundred years later. Already Wycliff was sowing some of the seeds that would lead to the Reformation and to Puritanism. And there were other writers in England, Langland in particular, whose disgust with a religious institution that could permit a specimen like the Pardoner to prey upon the faithful was deep and visceral. The Pardoner tells us something about what religious disaffection was in England; it also tells us something about what it was not. What it was not, as yet, was an explosive force that would overturn the established order. DeBoullay makes the interesting point that for all the attention that has been focused on the supposed wide spread disgust with the mendicant orders, this disgust was mainly felt among other clergy rather than among laymen and that many lay persons continued to leave bequests to the friars.
The General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales contains a hint of something that is beginning to emerge in the England of the time, the sense of England as a nation. “And specially from every shires ende/ Of Engelond to Caunterbury they wend…(l.15-6)” . This passage exemplifies a new consciousness of nationality. This, of course is related to one of the most obvious things about Chaucer’s work, the fact that it is written in the vernacular. It should be noted that this consciousness of Englishness, of the English as a separate and distinct group, is not the same thing as the rise of the nation state. Political consolidation and solidification would have to await the Tudors; the Lancastrian and Yorkist reigns were centrifugal in terms of the devolution of political power. But the delayed political consolidation would not have occurred at all had there not been a growing sense of nationhood, the beginning of which we can see in Chaucer.
Chaucer's Poetry for Research Papers
In a discussion of Chaucer’s poetry in a research paper from Paper Masters, our writer makes two very important points.
- The first has to do with a distinctly medieval tendency of Chaucer’s. That is to load up his work with ornament. This tendency can be seen visually in the contemporaneous High Gothic churches of Western Europe which are loaded up with architectural ornament and statuary.
- The second point is that Chaucer is looking at a multiplicity of objects, the personalities of each one of his story tellers. They are such a diverse lot that one is at a loss as to how to reconcile all of the material and come to some definitive statement as to what the author, Chaucer, is saying.
Chaucer has a message to make, but it is a message that must be inferred. The two points made by the research paper account for one of the salient traits of Chaucer, the sheer degree of difficulty one encounters in reading him. The profusion of images, positions, statements, and situations described in the Canterbury Tales makes one long for a more ordered and explicitly didactic treatment. One is constantly asking the question, “What does Chaucer think about all of this?”.
Part of the answer to the question of what Chaucer was saying lies in Gardner’s two points. Chaucer lived in an era when new developments in technology, in art, in music, and in English politics were sweeping old certainties away. He discerned this and that his artistic response was to adopt a pose of transparency. Rather than write something of the nature of a scholastic tract that would explain the coming into being of this new world, Chaucer chose to simply present the new world. And since the world was, to a genius like Chaucer, a very rich and very complicated place, and since it was the tendency of the medieval mind to deal in a profusion of ornament and of images, Chaucer’s cultural background and his artistic gifts melded together very well indeed.