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Introduction and background to the age of Chaucer


Born in London around 1343, Geoffrey Chaucer is considered to be one of the greatest English poets of the Middle Ages. His most famous work, The Canterbury Tales, is a collection of stories told by a diverse group of pilgrims on their journey to the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket in Canterbury. This work is often viewed as a crucial piece of English literature as it is one of the first works written in Middle English, the language that would eventually evolve into modern English. The era in which Chaucer lived and wrote, known as the age of Chaucer, was a time of significant change and development in England. The period spanned from the 14th to the early 15th century and is often seen as a transition between the medieval and modern periods. One of the most significant events that took place during this time was the Black Death, which first arrived in England in 1348 and had a profound impact on both the population and the economy. The disease, which was carried by fleas on rats, spread quickly and devastatingly, killing around one-third of the population. This had a major impact on the feudal system, in which peasants worked the land for the nobility in exchange for protection, as many lords struggled to find enough workers for their manors. The Black Death also had a significant impact on the English language. With a large proportion of the population dying, there was a shortage of skilled workers and a need for labor. This led to an increase in immigration, particularly from France, bringing with it influences on the English language. Many French words were incorporated into the English vocabulary, leading to the development of Middle English. The Hundred Years' War (1337-1453) also took place during the age of Chaucer. This was a series of conflicts between England and France, initially caused by disputes over land and inheritance, but eventually becoming a struggle for power and dominance. The war had a significant impact on both countries, causing destruction and economic difficulties. However, it also had a more positive effect on England, leading to an increase in national pride and a strengthening of the English language. During this time, the role of the Church was also changing. In the early 14th century, the Pope moved from Rome to Avignon, France, due to political tensions in Italy. This led to a weakened influence of the Church in England, and people began to question the power and practices of the Church. This ultimately led to the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, which drastically changed the religious landscape of England. Another important aspect of the age of Chaucer was the rise of the middle class. The Black Death and the Hundred Years' War had disrupted the traditional social hierarchy, creating new opportunities for individuals to rise in status and wealth. The middle class began to emerge, made up of wealthy merchants, skilled craftsmen, and professionals, and they played an increasingly important role in society. Geoffrey Chaucer himself was a member of the middle class, which is reflected in his writing. Unlike many of his literary predecessors who were members of the aristocracy, Chaucer wrote about everyday people and their experiences, giving a voice to the common man. Overall, the age of Chaucer was a time of great change and development in England, marked by significant events such as the Black Death, the Hundred Years' War, and the rise of the middle class. It was also a time of cultural and artistic flourishing, as seen through the works of Chaucer and other writers and artists of the period. Update (2024-04-01): The age of Chaucer, also known as the Middle English period, began in the 14th century and lasted until the end of the 15th century. It is named after the illustrious poet, Geoffrey Chaucer, who is widely considered to be one of the greatest English poets of all time. This era was a time of significant cultural, social, and political changes in England, and Chaucer's works provide valuable insights into the society of the time. The 14th century was a period of transition in England, as the Norman feudal system was gradually replaced by the emerging merchant class and the power of the monarchy began to decline. This period saw the emergence of a middle class, which consisted of merchants, traders, and professionals who were becoming increasingly wealthy and gaining more influence in society. The Black Death, a devastating pandemic that swept through Europe in the mid-14th century, also had a significant impact on England during this era. The widespread mortality caused a shortage of labor and led to social and economic upheavals, including the Peasants' Revolt of 1381, in which peasants rebelled against the oppressive feudal system. Religion played a crucial role in the Middle English period, with the dominant Church exerting a powerful influence over society. However, this influence was challenged by the emergence of the Lollard movement, a religious reform movement that criticized the excesses and corruption of the clergy and called for a return to a simpler form of Christianity. In the literary world, the Middle English period saw a shift from the dominance of French and Latin to the use of English as a literary language. The works of Chaucer and other poets such as William Langland, the author of Piers Plowman, helped to establish English as a respectable language for literature. The age of Chaucer also saw significant developments in the English language itself. Old English, the language spoken in England before the Norman Conquest, had evolved into Middle English, which was heavily influenced by French and Latin. During this period, English began to develop into a more complex and nuanced language, laying the foundation for the Modern English language that we know today. In conclusion, the age of Chaucer was a time of great social, cultural, and linguistic change in England. It laid the groundwork for the Renaissance and the emergence of the English language as a literary force, making it a crucial era in the history of English literature.