Chaucer is a versatile genius and in his life he has acquired variety of experiences as a page, Yeoman, soldier, esquire, diplomat, courtier, official, Member of Parliament and so on. For his diplomatic mission he has to go to Italy France where the literary works of Guillaume de Machaut, Jean Clopinct, Guillaume de Lorris, Dachaut, Dante, Boccaccio, and Petrarch inspired him greatly. Chaucer successfully transmitted all his experiences and knowledge into his writings so beautifully that they remain ever readable.
Chaucer’s poems are generally divided into three stages- the French, the Italian and the English.
The French Period:-
The notable works of this period are:
The Romaunt of the Rose:
* It is a poem of 8000 lines, though the first 1700 lines are believed to be Chaucer’s own work.
* The poem is based upon ‘Le Romaunt de la Rose’ of Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meung.
(At first Guillaume after writing 4067 lines left the poem unfinished about 1230. After 50 years Meung took up this fragment and completed it adding nearly 18000 lines.)
* It is written in octosyllabic couplet.
* It is “a graceful but extremely tiresome allegory of the whole course of love. The Rose growing in its mystic garden is typical of the lady Beauty. Gathering the Rose represents the lover’s attempt to win his lady’s favour; and the different feelings aroused-Love,Hate,Envy,Jealousy,Idleness,sweet looks-are the allegorical persons of the poet’s drama”.(J.Long)
The book of the Duchess:
* It is written about 1369 to console his patron John of Gaunt at the death of his first wife Blanche (14th March 1369).
* This short elegy, written in octo-syllabic couplet, follows the dream-convention of ‘Romaunt De la Rose’.
* The poet in his dream finds a man dressed in black in a wood. He tells the poet of his courtship with a fair and graceful lady. She is dead now and he is now mourning for her death.
* This dream allegory serves the purpose of both elegy and the eulogy.
Ø AN A.B.C.
* It is a prayer to Virgin Mary. It is translated from the French of a Cistercian monk.
Other poems of this period are-‘The Compleynt unto Pite’ and ‘The Compleynt of Mars’.
· The Italian Period:
The chief works of this period are –
· The Hous of Fame:
* This unfinished poem was written about 1384 in octo-syllabic couplet.
* The poem is written in the dream vision technique and in this regard owes much to Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy’.
* It is divided into three books.
a) Book-I: The poet dreams that he is in the temple of Venus where he reads the story of Dido and Aenas. After reading the story he comes out and sees a golden eagle flying in the sky.
b) Book-II: At the order of Jupiter the eagle carries the poet to the Hous of Fame where the poet learns of love affairs, jealousies, fears and hypocrisies of men.
c) Book-III: The poet finds the difficulty to ascent to the Hous of Fame. The eagle then takes him up to a window. The poem at this point breaks off.
To Albert—:”Though the story is rather drawn-out, and the allegorical significance obscure, it is of special interest because, in the verve and raciness of the eagle, it shows gleams of the genuine Chaucerian humour”
· The Parliament of Fowls:
* This short poem is written about 1380 to celebrate the marriage of Richard-II to Anne of Bohemia.
* The poem is written in rime-royal (a seven line stanza rhyming ababbcc).
* It follows the dream-convention method. (The poet falls asleep while reading Cicero’s denunciation of passionate love and dreams of Venus.)
* The poem describes the gathering of birds on St. Valentine’s Day to choose their mates. Here the three noble eagles are seen to woo a graceful female egale.
v Troilus and Criseyde:
* It is a poem of 8000 lines written probably in the middle of 1380’s.
* It is written in stanzas of rime-royal.
* The poem is partly adopted and partly translated from Boccaccio’s ‘II Filostrats’.
* It is divided into four books.
* The first three books describe the love of Troilus, a Trojan prince with Criseyde with the help of Pandarous, uncle of Criseyde. Three years they live the life of mutual love.
* In the fourth book due to the exchange of prisoners Criseyde has to go to the Greek camp and eventually there she falls in love with Diomede. Troilus waits and waits and finally comes to know the truth. Finally in the war he is slain by Achilles.
“The complex characters of Criseyde and Pandarous reveal a new subtlety of psychological development……………………the story is touched upon with deep feeling”.
v The Legend of good women:
* ”The poem is the first known attempt in English to use the heroic couplet” (Albert).
* It is basically a collection of legends of some celebrated and virtuous women of antiquity.
* Chaucer projects to relate the stories of nineteen (19) virtuous women Who have been martyrs of love. But the projection remains unfinished after completing only eight and the nine only begins. Among them there are the stories of Cleopatra, Medea, Lucrece, Ariandne, Philomela and Dido.
* The work can be divided into the Prologue and the Tales.
* The Prologue is allegorical and based on the dream convention. In his dream cupid, the god of love appears asks him to write the histories of the faithful ladies as the penance of writing heresies against women especially of Criseyde.
v The English period:
The notable work of this period is ‘Canterbury Tales’.
¨ Canterbury Tales:
* Probably for writing this Chaucer was inspired by Boccaecios’s ‘Decameron’, but in every fiber the work is purely English.
* The work is divided into The Prologue and the Tales.
* In the Prologue it is described that twenty-nine (29) pilgrims including the poet are assembled at Tabard Inn to have the pilgrimage to the shrine of Thomas Becket in Canterbury. ‘The 29 are carefully chosen types, of both sexes, and of all ranks’ (Albert) Among them there are knight, Friar, Monk, Priest, Pardoner, Parson, Franklin, Merchant, Miller, Wife of Both, Prioress, Sergeant at Law, Doctor, Cook and so on. In order to relieve the tedium of the journey the host of the Inn suggests that each of the pilgrims is to tale two tales on the onward journey and two on the return.
* The total project of the poet was to write one hundred twenty (120) tales, but we have got only twenty (20) in finished condition and four (4) are partly finished and the work remains unfinished.
* The separate tales are linked with their individual prologues, and with dialogues and scrapes of narrative.
* ”Even in its in complete state the work is a small literature in itself, an almost unmeasured abundance and variety of humour and pathos, of narrative and description, and of dialogue and digression. There are two prose tales, Chaucer’s own Tale of Melibeus and The Parson’s Tale; and nearly all the others are composed in a powerful and versatile species of the decasyllabic or heroic couplet”.