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Geoffrey Chaucer-A general Introduction:

Geoffrey Chaucer who is known as the Father of English literature, is widely considered the greatest
English poet of the Middle Ages. He is well known for his range and variety of art and his imagination
and sublimity of his poetic style is just next to John milton. Besides literature, he is interested in the
pseudo-science of his day, astronomy, the mysteries of alchemy, and he knew in detail the medieval
theory or dreams. And, through out his poetry we find evidence of the philosopher--sometimes serious,
sometimes delightfully ironical. Hence, he is known to be the grave and serious poet. His contemporary
aptly referred to him as the Noble philosophical poet in English.

He saw military service, twice he made journey to Italy and he got opportunity to talk to all sorts of
people of all social hierarchy and status. He is equally familiar with the world of books like he was with
people. It is said that he possesses a library of some sixty volumes, which was an imposing collection in
fourteenth century England. He was a voracious reader and a very good diplomat. He had not only read
or looked into the Latin classics, but he was also intimately acquainted with the courtly poets of France,
and his knowledge of Italian opened for him the great pages of Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio

Introduction to influences of Chaucer's poetry

The question of how other writers' work has affected the production of a particular writer and his sense
of the nature and value of accumulated literary tradition is probably the most difficult issue that literary
historians and critics have to face. One writer may borrow heavily from a readily identifiable source, but
reshape the material so completely that the stylistic quality of the resultant work has nearly nothing in
common with the source.Such questions are relevant to the study of Chaucer's work, both in the sense
that its relations with that of other poets help us understand how his was made and how it functions,
and in the sense that all through his poems he comments frequently about such matters, perhaps
nowhere more gracefully and directly than in the "G" Prologue to the Legend of Good Women:

Thanne mote we to bokes that we fynde,

Thourgh whiche that olde thynges ben in mynde,



And am ful glad if I may fynde an ere

Of any goodly word that they han left.

It is fair to say that one of the major themes in Chaucer's poetry is his relationship to other poets, both
ancient and modern. It is obvious that he was more familiar with that literature and comfortable with it
than most of us will ever be. The masterpiece of thirteenth-century French, Le roman de la rose, was a
century old in Chaucer's day, already a "classic" and so important to the naturally bilingual Chaucer that
he made his own English translation. And--this is especially important--a new group of young French
poets, Chaucer's contemporaries Machaut, Froissart, and Deschamps, was creating a "new wave" of
poetry derived from their thirteenth-century masters. Chaucer, always in touch with the innovators of his
age, knew their work from his youth and probably knew them, at least Deschamps, personally as well.
Finally, two or three generations before other English writers had begun to take any significant interest in
their work, Chaucer had familiarized himself with the writings of the three giants of Italian poetry, Dante,
Boccaccio, and Petrarch

Chaucer's Literary Influences

Like all great writers, Geoffrey Chaucer was a voracious and omnivorous reader, and he was well-versed
in the classical Latin literary tradition from Livy and Virgil to Augustine. Ovids works especially the
Heroides may have been particular favorites of Chaucers, and John Fyler has shown how much of
Chaucer's antifoundationalist stance may have been inspired by Ovid.

Overall, the Roman tradition pops up in small details throughout his works. Two late Roman texts,
however, stand out as more deeply influential upon Chaucer: Boethius Consolation of Philosophy (as
one sees especially in Troilus and Criseyde and The Knights Tale), and in a subtler way a short text by
the fifth-century writer Macrobius called the Commentarium super Somnium Scipionis, which discusses
the nature of dream, a topic which enthralled Chaucer. Other earlier medieval Latin writers whom
Chaucer absorbed include St. Augustine, Martianus Capella, Hugh of St. Victor, Alain de Lille, and Walter

Chaucers more obvious medieval influences are largely French and Italian. Indeed, some scholars divide
Chaucers early work (previous to 1385) into a French period and an Italian period. French writers of
particular interest to Chaucer include Guillaume Machaut, Jean Froissart, and the two authors of the
famous allegory "The Romance of the Rose" (Chaucer translated), Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de
Meun. The poet was also doubtless familiar with many Old French fabliaux and beast fables, though we
cannot pinpoint any specific ones.

Chaucer probably became familiar with Italian literature in the 1360s and 1370s during his diplomatic
missions to Italy, and he seems quite conversant with the works of the great triumvirate of fourteenth-
century Italian writers, Dante Alighieri (1265-1321), Francesco Petrarca (1304-1374), whom he may well
have met, and Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375).
Chaucer's relationship to Dante is more complicated and far more interesting. Often Chaucer will
translate lines more or less directly from The Divine Comedy (in The Prioress's Tale, for instance), or
"borrow" similes or other imagery from the great Italian poet. At other times, Chaucer seems almost to
mock Dante's work, as in The Hous of Fame, where a rather ridiculous eagle spirits the narrator Geffrei
away to the heavens, a wry allusion to both Dante's dream in the Valley of the Kings in Purgatorio and to
the celestial Eagle the pilgrim encounters in the Sphere of Jupiter in Paradiso.

He certainly knew enough Middle English metrical romances to parody them in The Tale of Sir Thopas
and in The Squires Tale, but his opinion of them may not have been very high . He must also have been
familiar with the popular English alliterative revival poetry, but he never makes direct reference,
however, to Englands greatest contemporary alliterative poet, William Langland's famous poem Piers
Plowman was too politically incendiary in the wake of the Peasant Revolt of 1381, touching too close to
social realities that Chaucer preferred to ironize or downplay.

We also know that Chaucer was a good friend of one of fourteenth-century Englands other great poets,
John Gower (Shakespeare's "moral Gower" in Pericles). Gowers Confessio Amantis is, like The
Canterbury Tales, a frame-narrative that collects numerous other stories within it. Aside from Chaucers
The Man of Laws Tale, however, it is difficult to detect any direct lines of influence from Gower.

Influence of Boethius On the Consolation of Philosophy

The Consolation of Philosophy was the most important and influential philosophical treatise of the
Middle Ages. A great scholar, Boethius (c.480-524) wrote the De Consolatione Philosophiae while in
custody (Later he is executed). In it, the allegorical figure Philosophia converses with Boethius, leading
him from self pity to an enlightened, rational view of the human condition. Chaucer translated the work
in his Boece, and it also pervades both The Knights Tale and Troilus and Criseyde, enriching them with a
philosophical gravity.

In this manuscript, each of the five books of the Consolation is introduced by a beautifully floreated and
gilt initial. The initial C of Book I, shown to the left, incorporates a scene of Boethius instructing his
students; below is a depiction of the author in his prison at Pavia. The volume was written for one
Gregorius of Genoa. The scribe, Brother Amadeus, signs the work in two places; while modestly claiming
to be the least of all scribes

ego enim sum minimus omnium scriptorum frater Amadeus

he has produced a book of surpassing beauty.

Stories from the classics were well known and loved in the medieval period, even though their overt
paganism often resulted in Christianised retellings by mythographers. Chaucer evidently knew the Latin
writings of Ovid, Cicero, Virgil, Macrobius, and Boethius.

The House of Fame is one example of a poem in which stories from Virgil and Ovid are alluded to and
adapted, along with a host of other classical and medieval writers. This writing is so imbued with
references to the classics and its mythology that it could be assumed that Chaucer read the original texts
widely. However, it is more likely that much of his knowledge came from compilations and anthologies of
choice excerpts from the classical authors, as well as via translations. That Chaucer aimed to emulate the
great poets of the past in his vernacular writings is quite clear from his line at the end of Troilus and
Criseyde where he consciously places himself in the grand line of Virgile, Ovide, Omer, Lucan and Stace.

Influence of Italian humanism on Chaucer

Contact between Geoffrey Chaucer and the Italian humanists Petrarch or Boccaccio has been proposed
by scholars for centuries.[1] More recent scholarship tends to discount these earlier speculations
because of lack of evidence. As Leonard Koff remarks, the story of their meeting is "a 'tydying' worthy of
Chaucer himself."

[2]One of the reasons for the belief that Chaucer came in contact with Petrarch or Boccaccio is because
of Chaucer's many trips to mainland Europe from England. Chaucer happened to be in the same areas at
the same time as Petrarch and Boccaccio. Another reason is the influence of Petrarch's and Boccaccio's
works on Chaucer's later literary works.

a. Chaucer's trips to mainland Europe[edit]

Chaucer had made several trips to the mainland from England between 1367 and 1378 on the King's
business as Esquire of the King. During at least one of these trips it is possible that he met Petrarch or
Boccaccio or possibly both in Italy.

But since the government records that show Chaucer was absent from England visiting Genoa and
Florence from December 1372 until the middle of 1373 scholars say it is likely that sometime in 1373
Chaucer made contact with Petrarch or Boccaccio.

a. Visit to Milan (1368) for the wedding of the Duke of Clarence and Violante Visconti[edit]

Chaucer became a member of the royal court of King Edward III as a valet or esquire in June 1367.
Among his many jobs in this position he travelled to mainland Europe many times. On one of these trips
in 1368 Chaucer may have attended the wedding which took place in Milan on 28 May or 5 June
between Edward's son Prince Lionel of Antwerp and Violante, daughter of Galeazzo II Visconti, Lord of
Milan. The scholars write that he was likely introduced to Petrarch at this wedding. Jean Froissart was
also in attendance and perhaps Boccaccio.[16] They believe it plausible that Chaucer not only met
Petrarch at this wedding but also Boccaccio. This view today, however, is far from universally accepted.
Biographers suggest that Chaucer very well could have met Petrarch personally, not only at the wedding
of Violante in 1367, but also in Padua sometime in 13721373.

Influence of Petrarch's and Boccaccio's works[edit]

Chaucer produced works with much Italian influence after his Italian trip of 1372, whereas works written
before his travel demonstrate French influence. Chaucer's stories imitate, among others, his Italian
contemporaries Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio. For example, Boccaccio first put out his stories of The
Decameron; then Chaucer imitated many of these stories for his Canterbury Tales.


The last tale of Boccaccio's Decameron became Petrarch's "De Patientia Griseldis," which later became
Chaucer's Clerk's Tale.

Petrarch was so pleased with the story of Griselda that he put it to memory. wanted to repeat the
virtuous story to his friends, perhaps including Chaucer. He eventually translated it into Latin, a common
poetic language of the time. Many passages of The Clerk's Tale are nearly word for word of Petrarch's
Latin version of Griselda.

In the prologue to The Clerk's Tale, the narrator suggests that he met Petrarch:

"The which that I Learn'd at Padova of a worthy clerk, As proved by his wordes and his work. He is now
dead, and nailed in his chest, I pray to God to give his soul good rest. Francis Petrarc', the laureate poete,
Highte this clerk, whose rhetoric so sweet Illumin'd all Itaile of poetry... But forth to tellen of this worthy
man, That taughte me this tale, as I began".

According to Skeat, evidence shows that Petrarch told Chaucer the story of Griselda from memory . Since
both knew Italian and French, they might have communicated in either language or a combination of
both these languages. It is evident that Chaucer obtained a copy of Petrarch's version written in Latin
shortly after the meeting in Padua.

Chaucer translates the story of Griselda into English where it became part of The Canterbury Tales as The
Clerk's Tale. Scholars speculate that he wrote the main part of the Clerk's Tale in the later part of 1373 or
the early part of 1374, shortly after his first trip to Italy in 137273. Chaucer gives much praise to
Petrarch and his writings. The "Originals and Analogues of some of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales",
reprinted and published for the Chaucer Society in 1875, assert that Chaucer personally met Petrarch.
Many quotations are properly marked in the margins of the pages of the versions in the Ellesmere and
Hengwrt manuscripts with each in the correct places. Scholars conclude that it is quite clear that
Petrarch personally gave Chaucer a version of Griselda at Padua in 1373.

The Clerks Prologue (l. 26-33)

by Leny Roovers Middle English:

"I wol yow telle a tale which that I


Enlumyned al Ytaille of poetrie"


I will tell you a tale that I learned at Padua from a scholar, and a very worthy one, as is shown by his
words and deeds. Francis Petrarch, the laureate poet, is the name of this scholar, whose sweet rhetoric
illumined all Italy with poetry Caterwaul: to quarrel like cats

The Monk's Tale

Chaucer's Monk's Tale may also be based on Boccaccio's De Casibus Virorum Illustrium. This was a
classical tradition of historiography dealing with famous men, which began with Plutarch's Parallel Lives.
Chaucer's incipit reads:

"Heer bigynneth the Monkes Tale De Casibus Virorum Illustrium." (Here begins the Monk's Tale "De
Casibus Virorum Illustrium" "On the Fates of Illustrious Men").

Many of the famous people that are in The Monk's Tale are also in Boccaccio's De Casibus Virorum
Illustrium: Adam, Samson, Hercules, Cenobia, Nero, Alexander the Great, Croesus. Some of these people
also appear in Petrarch's De Viris Illustribus.Chaucer, however, credits only Petrarch for this work:

Let him unto my master Petrarch go, Who wrote the whole of this, I undertake. (Modern English)

The Knight's Tale

Some of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales are based on Boccaccio's works.For example, Chaucer's first of these
tales, The Knight's Tale, is a condensed version of Boccaccio's Teseida. Chaucer tightens the structure and
deepens the philosophy of the original. Arcite calls himself "Philostrate," an allusion to the title of
Boccaccio's Filostrato. Chaucer thereby alludes to the fact that Filostrato and Teseida are from the same
author Boccaccio.

Other Canterbury Tales

Chaucer's Shipman's Tale has similar features to Boccaccio's Decameron part 8,1. In Chaucer's The
Merchant's Tale "January's" love-making can be attributed to Boccaccio's Comedia delle ninfe fiorentine.
Chaucer's The Franklin's Tale draws on Boccaccio's Filocolo IV.31-4. Chaucer imitates Boccaccio's De
casibus Virorum Illustrium 8,6 of the character Zenobia in The Monk's Tale. The character Zenobia (a.k.a.
Cenobia) Chaucer mistakenly credits to Petrarch (mentioned in his Triumph of Fame), whereas the
character originally came from Boccaccio in his 106 list On Famous Women.

Zenobia in Chaucer's Good Women and The Monk's Tale is taken directly from Boccaccio's De mulieribus

Other influences on his works

House of Fame

Chaucer's House of Fame was probably begun in 1374; considered one of his greatest works, it has much
Italian influence. Chaucer claims that "Lollius" was the source for the House of Fame, when in fact it
came straight from Boccaccio's Il Filostrato. There are also likenesses between this work of Chaucer's and
Boccaccio's Amorosa visione.[38]

Troilus and Criseyde

In Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde, Troilus's lament imitates Petrarch's sonnets, S'amor non-e, che
dunque e quel ch' i' sento? ("If this be not love?") adapted from the Filostrato. Here Troilus's mode of
thought is a Petrarchan combination of intelligent introspection, private emotion and scholastic logic. As
far as scholars know, this is the first known adaptation of a Petrarch sonnet in English. Some believe that
Troilus' later song (V.638-44) may imitate Petrarch's sonnet 189 ("My galley charged with forgetfulness").

Virgil Aeneid

In Chaucers The House of Fame, the dreaming poet sees the story of the Aeneid written on the walls of
the Temple of Venus. He paraphrases the famous beginning of Virgils poem as: I wol now synge, yif I
kan, / The armes and also the man / That first cam, thurgh his destinee.

Ovid Metamorphoses

This allegorised version of the work imbued the stories with Christian overtones. Chaucers poetry is
permeated by Ovidian allusions. Most famously, he adapts the story of Ceyx and Alcyone from Book Nine
of the Metamorphoses in The Book of the Duchess, written to commemorate the death of Blanche,
Duchess of Lancaster and wife of John of Gaunt.


Unfortunately, towards the end of sixteenth century, Chaucers position as the master poet was less
prominent. He was generally looked upon as the Elizabethan until Dryden modernized several of
Chaucers poems in his volume called the Fables ancient and modern towards the end of seventeenth
century. Chaucers own contemporaries were the first to recognize and pay tribute to his genius.

Even when following earlier writers Chaucer was always an innovator who introduced Italian literature to
England and he was the first to use many of the metres and stanza forms which have become standard in
English poetry. He was the first English poet to deal extensively with the contemporary scene, to draw
sharply individualized portraits and to analyze his characters psychologically because of his vast
diplomatic and literature exposure and even in his funeral he established a new innovation; I would
rather say tradition. He was the first poet to be buried in Poets' Corner of Westminster Abbey.