A Brief Introduction to the Life and Works of Geoffrey Chaucer
Of al this world the large compas
Hit wol not in myn armes tweyne -
Whoso mochel wol embrace,
Litel therof he shal distreyne.1
- Attributed to Geoffrey Chaucer
Geoffrey Chaucer was the greatest English poet of the later Middle Ages. Working in the language now called Middle English, he was a contemporary of the anonymous author of 'Sir Gawain and the Green Knight' and a friend of the man behind 'Confessio Amantis', John Gower. Chaucer is generally considered to be second only to William Shakespeare in terms of his contribution to English Literature.
The year of Chaucer's birth is not known with any accuracy but is guessed to be sometime in the first half of the 1340s. The traditionally accepted date of his death - the date engraved on his tomb in Westminster Abbey - is 25 October, 1400. Information about his life has been gleaned from surviving legal records: lawsuits, wills, lease records, royal pension records and marriage records, for example. Between his birth and death, Chaucer rose from being the son of an obscure minor bureaucrat and wine merchant to being a court official and royal ambassador. Among his acquaintances were the greatest poets of the age and the originals of some characters from Shakespeare's History Plays2. From the records that have survived it seems that Chaucer achieved a state of semi-retirement in the last decade of his life. It was during this decade that he did most of his work on his unfinished masterpiece, The Canterbury Tales.
Chaucer is primarily remembered for the long and complicated collection of poems collectively known as The Canterbury Tales. Chaucer wrote some other works, including other, long, narrative poems and shorter lyrics, as well as a number of prose works.
Readers of The Canterbury Tales might be familiar with Chaucer's prose from 'The Parson's Tale'. Chaucer composed two other major prose...