Geoffrey Chaucer – English Essay, Research Paper
Why is Geoffrey Chaucer an important figure in the development in the English language?
Geoffrey Chaucer once wrote
And for ther is so gret diversite,
In English and in writyng of oure tonge,
So prey I God that non myswrite the,
Ne the mysmetre for defaute of tonge
Which translated into Modern English means
And because there is such great diversity
In England and in writing tongue,
So I pray God that none wrongly copy thee
Nor get thy meter wrong because of a failure of tongue
What that means is that Chaucer wished that people would recite his poems, as he had intended them to be recited. But, he had to pray because, his poetry was up against the great diversity that was the English language.
Chaucer was born around 1340; and was the son of a wealthy merchant. At 14, he became a page in the household of the daughter-in-law of King Edward III. At 17, he had served for the king s army and had been captured and held for ransom. When his ransom was paid, he returned to England and spent the rest of his life as a royal courtier. He also had a few other administrative posts. He served as a member of parliament. And he spoke Latin, French, Italian and English. He was in contact with many powerful figures, and has an extremely interesting life.
But, the world does not remember him for any of those things, the world remembers him for his wonderful ability for poetry. He has earned himself the title The Father of English poetry , and scholars say he is by far one of the, if not, greatest poets of all time.
What separates him from other poets of his time, is the fact that he wrote all his poems in English, the language of the common people. French was the language of the courtly poetry.
Chaucer most likely started off writing his poems in French, and then translated them into English. But as he developed his talent, he found English to have special qualities, which he incorporated into his poetry. He introduced French rhyming patterns to English poetry. And incorporated this into his storytelling poems. His listeners in the royal household sought storytelling. They respected and rewarded gifted performers.
And of course, there is no doubt that Chaucer was gifted. He achieved more recognition than any other poet did in his time, and his poetry is still read today.
His most well recognized piece of work is the famous, The Canterbury Tales . He worked on these tales for over 14 years. When he died, these tales were still not complete! Each chapter was narrated by a member of a large group of pilgrims traveling from London to the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket. This route was a popular route in the middle ages. The actual plot and idea was borrowed from many sources, which was a common practice in his time. Despite this, the work was very original. Firstly, it was written in a language not considered literacy. And the English was a mixture of lofty speech from the Knight, to the vulgar language of the drunken Millar. From 24 tales, each was told in a different English-speaking voice. He captured a variety of forms of English, but more importantly captured the variety of the people.
Middle English is clearly much closer to Modern English, yet is still vastly different. Writers of the era simply picked a spelling that approximated the sounds of a word! The same word could be spelt differently by different writers. Dr. Johnson hadn t invented the dictionary, so, there was none to consult! What also makes the passages hard to read are the changing of word meanings. Thirdly the structures of Chaucer s sentences can be hard to put together. But one of the main problems people had with his passages, is the change of pronunciation.
As changes in the English language occurred, the poem started to loose its rhyme, and its rhythm which changed. No wonder Chaucer s later readers were perplexed by his rhymes!
Geoffrey Chaucer was a very important figure in the development in the English language because of the way he brought structure to the language used by the lower class. He brought more interest to the language, and if it was not for him, English may not be as we know it today.
Geoffrey Chaucer is undoubtedly one of the most influential writers of all time, not only did he influence the people, he influenced the language.