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English poet Geoffrey Chaucer wrote the unfinished work, The Canterbury Tales. It is considered one of the greatest poetic works in English.
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The precise dates of many of Chaucer’s written works are difficult to pin down with certainty, but one thing is clear, his major works have retained their relevancy even in the college classroom of today.
Chaucer’s body of best-known works includes the Parliament of Fouls, otherwise known as the Parlement of Foules, in the Middle English spelling. Some historians of Chaucer’s work assert that it was written in 1380,
during marriage negotiations between Richard and Anne of Bohemia. Critic J.A.W. Bennet interpreted the Parliament of Fouls as a study of Christian love. It had been identified as peppered with Neo-Platonic ideas inspired by the likes of poets Cicero and Jean De Meun, among others. The poem uses allegory, and incorporates elements of irony and satire as it points to the inauthentic quality of courtly love. Chaucer was well acquainted with the theme firsthand—during his service to the court and his marriage of convenience to a woman whose social standing served to elevate his own.
Chaucer is believed to have written the poem Troilus and Criseyde sometime in the mid-1380s. Troilus and Criseyde is a narrative poem that retells the tragic love story of Troilus and Criseyde in the context of the Trojan War. Chaucer wrote the poem using rime royal, a technique he originated. Rime Royal involves rhyming stanzas consisting of seven lines a piece, usually with an iambic pentameter rhyme scheme. It is broadly considered one of Chaucer’s greatest works, and has a reputation for being more complete and self-contained than most of Chaucer’s writing, his famed The Canterbury Tales being no exception.
The period of time over which Chaucer penned The Legend of Good Women is uncertain although most scholars do agree that Chaucer seems to have abandoned it before its completion. The queen mentioned in the people is believed to be Richard II’s wife, Anne of Bohemia. Chaucer’s mention of the real-life royal palaces Eltham and Sheen serve to support this theory. In writing The Legend of Good Women, Chaucer played with another new and innovative format: The poem is comprised of a series of shorter narratives.
The Canterbury Tales is by far Chaucer’s best known and most acclaimed work. Initially Chaucer had planned for each of his characters to tell four stories a piece. The first two stories would be set as the character was on his/her way to Canterbury, and the second two were to take place as the character was heading home. Apparently, Chaucer’s goal of writing 120 stories was an overly ambitious one. In actuality, The Canterbury Tales is made up of only 24 tales and rather abruptly ends before its characters even make it to Canterbury. The tales are fragmented and varied in order. Scholars continue to debate as to whether the tales were published in their correct order. Despite its erratic qualities, The Canterbury Tales continues to be acknowledged for the beautiful rhythm of Chaucer’s language, and his characteristic use of clever, satirical wit.
A Treatise on the Astrolabe is one of Chaucer’s non-fiction works.
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