Geoffrey Chaucer




...I think some of Chaucer belongs to his time and that much of
that time is dead, extinct, and never to be made alive again.
What was alive in it, lives through him..._

--John Masefield

Geoffrey Chaucer存 world was the Europe of the fourteenth
century. It was neither rich or poor, happy nor sad. Rather, it
was the intermingling of these, a mixture of splendor and
poverty, displaying both worldly desire and spiritual purity.
Chaucer存 travels through it, mostly on 宇he King存 business,_ or
civil service, shaped his writing, offering the readers of today
a brief glimpse into the world in which he lived.
Chaucer lived from approximately AD 1340 to 1400. The world in
which he lived was not one of peace or stability. Born the son
of a London vintner, he remained a Londoner for most of the rest
of his life, leaving the city only on 宇he King存 business_.
The city of London was thus Chaucer存 environment for most of
his life. Aside from brief visits into other countries or areas
of England, he remained in the city, and it存 affects on his
writing was immense.
London of that time was not the London of today. It was a
walled city, guarded against invasion, but long enough time had
passed since such a threat had approached that the defenses had
loosened. Houses perched upon the walls, and Chaucer in fact,
lived for a time in a house built over Aldgate, (one of the gates
of the city).
London was a city less than three-quarters of a square mile in
size: It ran east and west along the Thames less than one and a
half miles, and extended northwards less than half a mile. Over
20,000 people were packed into this small area; the diversity of
the inhabitants was overwhelming. Londoners ranged from wealthy
to impoverished, from small to large, from shoemaker to
blacksmith to minstrel to priest. The city was thus fairly
close. Stone building mingled with tile, wood, and thatch.
While the major streets were fairly wide, small shops and stands
often spread out into the road, effectively narrowing it by up to
half it存 width. London Bridge (the only bridge in the city) was
home to a multitude of homes and shops, perched on top of the
span to conserve space.
Waste was disposed of simply. It was emptied out the windows
into the alley or street and slaughtering was done in he streets
as well, with scraps being tossed underfoot. Hogs were often
used to keep the streets clean, but were assisted by wild dogs
and scavenger birds. Open sewers ran through the streets and into
the Thames.
Most of the rest of Chaucer存 life was open at the courts of the
king of England. Here a startling change was apparent. The
filth of the streets disappeared, to be replaced by the splendor
so often associated with royalty.
The royal court of England was home to many in Chaucer存 time.
Courtiers, pages, knights, nobles, princes, and of course the
King and Queen. Chaucer rose through the ranks of the king存
men, experiencing all aspects of court life. He was a page,
squire, court-bard, counselor and finally courtier to various
monarchs.
Many kings rose an fell in his lifetime. Chaucer began his life
in the king存 service in the reign of Edward III, and performed
his service a long while. He was important enough to Edward that
he was personally ransomed after being captured by the French in
the war between Edward and Charles, an honor usually reserved for
nobles. By 1378 Edward III had died, and Chaucer was the man of
Richard II. The country was caught up in a political battle
between the nobles of Gloucester and Lancaster. The actions of
these two nobles sent Chaucer reeling , his world constantly
changing about him.
The only stable item in Chaucer存 world was religion. The
institution of religion, the church, was quite prominent and
visible. Cathedrals dotted the cities of the world, and even the
smallest town had a church.
The glory of the Church may even have outshone that of the royal
court. Cathedrals were brilliant with magnificent carvings,
statues of precious metals murals, holy artifacts, and many