Geoffrey Chaucer: Iconic Literary Man
It’s widely accepted and understood that Shakespeare is probably the Holy Grail in terms of the literary canon as we know it (putting all arguments aside about whether he did or didn’t write his plays and sonnets – that’s a whole other issue for another article!) While we’re of course right to celebrate the greatness of Shakespeare and everything he stood for, we often overlook and forget about the other Iconic Literary Man who was writing centuries earlier and should parry for our attention just as much if not more.
Born around about 1343 in London, England into a family of Vintners, little is known about his early life, until around the year 1357 when he entered life as a public servant in the house of Lionel, Duke of Clarence to whom he became Page. Thereafter we are told he worked as a courtier, as a diplomat and in various other important roles within the noble households he served.
Chaucer’s great achievement all told was to establish English as a major literary language. Little before had been written in our tongue as scribes mostly worked in Latin or French. These were also the two languages used mostly at court; though English was spoken it was very rarely written. Unfortunately, nothing of his handwriting survives in any manuscripts (much like Shakespeare – we only have a few examples of his signature remaining and they are all different…)
His Definitive Work
He is probably most well known for his work “The Canterbury Tales” which is a series of stories woven together by a group of pilgrims (such as The Miller, The Knight, The Wife of Bath) who are making their from Southwark to worship at the Shrine of Saint Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral. The tales are a rumbustious mixture of themes, ideas and cultures and are a wonderful insight into the period it was written in. They feature a motley crew of characters, diverse and of their time yet still very much relate to today. In a time of much piety with significance put upon religion and worshipping – Chaucer’s writing is incredibly bawdy – and compared with much other writing of the day a refreshing change.
Of course, it was written in what was christened “Middle English” a language that IS decipherable as the English we speak today, but has more than a passing resemblance to other European languages such as German. Here is an excerpt from the General prologue to the Tales, spoken as it would have been when it was originally written: General Prologue Excerpt
What if Chaucer was writing today? What would he write about?
Well, here is an imagined example of the sort of themes Chaucer might hit upon if he was around and writing today. He’d probably pick up on the nature of our fast paced lifestyles, the fact that technology seeps into our every move, is in our every pore. Ergo, he might have written something like this – an homage to mobile phone users everywhere:
Ye Textyng Lady’s Tale.
In th’olde dayes before ye ffone
Whann Kyng Arthur wasse ypon ye thronne
All wasse her tyme taken wyth ye thoughttes
Off how to sowest herre wilde oattes.
No technologycal ynventyonnes yette
Couldde helpe her wyth her soulle requestte
And monny a mann slypesst through her fyngers
Becosse her wrytten vellum yn ye postte boxxe lyngered.
Thenn alle offe a sudden there arryved a myssyve fyne
Yn herre copy of ‘Ye Ladyyes Tymes’
A newe fangled contraptyon wasse to be releassed
Thatt woulde helppe herre dwyndlyng lovve lyfe yncreasse
Howw wasse thys ynterestyng ynventyon too be knowne?
Yt woullde be callede ‘ye mobylle ffone’.
Ffore dayes and months our ladyye off thys tayle dydst save
Fforgoing lypstyck and wyne – sacryfyces so brave.
Tyll alle at once she foundd herself at Ye Ffone shoppe
Wythyn her moyst palms a credit card thereoffe.
To goodlye purchayse swych delgyts of SIM Card and contractte
Ffone, chargere and bluetootthhe yntacte.
Hurryedlyye she leffte ye shoppe and satte on ye busse
Wyth herre bagge fulle to brymmethe wyth Androyd goodes.
Couldst she not wayt to chargeth to herre home
To try outte herre brand neww technologycal ffonne.
Wyth tremblyng handes and shakyng lymbs
She prayed to Godde, she sangge somme hymnes
That ye ffonne when plugged yn would workke
And she woulld notte looke a right twerppe
She plugged yt yn and tooke her tyme
She redde ye ynstructyons lyne by lyne
She wayted patyently forre the thyng to chargge
And then she snatched yt from yts carryage
Who coulde she ryng, who could she textte?
Wouldde she use ye Facebookke or Twytter nexte?
Oh ye gloryous machyne with keypad dyvyne
Wyth ye three ynch screen forre easyer browsyng onlyne
Sette herre heart on ye fyre
Wyth such swych unbrydled desyre
And her loyns camme merryly alyve
Wyth the possybylty offe flyrtyng wyth menne lythe.
She messagede herre elderly Motther
Thenne realysed she should notte haf botheredde
For herre Mother dyd not have ye ffone
Wyth whych to texxte backe, ye wyly olde crone.
She putte a message up on ye Olde Facebookke
“Ynboxx me yf you woullde lyke an old style poke”
Not one reply dydst she evere gette
Forre Facebookke had crashedde and herre message notte sent
Yn dysmay she rangge her ex-boyfreynd
And askedde hym “Amme Y rounnde ye bennde?..
Thys ffonne wylle notte calls or messages sennde”
He replyed “Oh mayden fayrre…
…you arre a card, ye shouldst beware…
Thyss ffone wyll be the bane off your lyfe
Yt wyll causse ye nothyng but ye trouble and ye stryfe
Ye wyll have pycture messages fromme ye creepy men
Who wantte to send ye naked pycs tyme and tyme agayn”
“Oh my” Our heroyne sanguynely replyed
“Y hadde notte forseene thys seemyer syde…
Y shalle send yt backke ryght to ye shoppe
Y shall notte botherre, Y shall gyve yt uppe”
And so she dyd as so she saydd
She tooketh yt back to the shoppe ynstead
And whenne she gotte back to her homme
Her ex-boyfryend showed herre some naked pycs of hys ownne.
Janet Arlan is a professional writer from England who specialises in finance and having recently completed a long series of reviews for 0% balance transfer credit cards was delighted to switch tack and talk about her love of Chaucer.