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Monday, October 22, 2012

Chaucer's Life Experiences

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Chaucer’s Life Experiences


A person’s life experience can have a great effect on his or her life. Personal experiences tend to have more of an effect on writers and storytellers than an average person. The average person will often tell and share a life experience to others. A writer, on the other hand, may make it very interesting and use it as an inspiration for one of his or her works. Take one of the greatest writers, Geoffrey Chaucer, for example. His life is known primarily through records pertaining to his career as a courtier and civil servant under the English kings Edward III and Richard II (David, Internet). Chaucer wrote The Canterbury Tales, because he was in adversity and under emotional stress. He began the work as an escape from the outward and inward pressures of his life. (David, Internet) Geoffrey Chaucer uses his life experiences as content for his works, “The Miller’s Tale,” “The Clerk’s Tale,” and “The Second Nun’s Tale.”


“The Miller’s Tale” relates to Chaucer’s life in a very distant way. Chaucers “Millers Tale” is one of the earliest sources we have that refers to the great medieval cycle plays--the civic drama performed in a number of cities. “The Millers Tale” deals with a man who has been exposed as a cuckold since he ignores his young wifes infidelities (Benson, Internet). In popular culture cuckolds were sometimes subjected to the ritual of ridicule known as the charivari, in which a group visits rough music or some other strong form of mockery on a chosen victim (Benson, Internet). In Chaucer’s “The Miller’s Tale,” there is a great amount of humor because he feels that he is not the ‘best’ when it comes to the topic of love, therefore he chooses to ridicule it (Howard 104). In Geoffrey’s time, sex and marriage belonged to everyone, but ‘love’ only belonged to the upper class (Howard 10). In “The Miller’s Tale” Chaucer tells that Absolon falls in love with a girl named Alisoun, thus proving that he was from an upper class, and she does not fall back in love with him. Alisoun tells Absolon that she is in love with her husband, Nicholas. Absolon “apes courtly conventions of song and poetry


and upper class mannerisms of ‘dalliance and fair language’ is uppity and affected. Alisoun was more a barnyard beauty than a courtly lady. (Benson, Internet) However, if she was a courtly lady she would have loved him back because that is how many women were in Chaucer’s age. (Howard 106) These ways of flirting are ridiculous because “he misuses courtly language in hilarious malapropisms” (Howard 10). Chaucer refers to himself as an outsider to love; this may be a part of the humor he uses.


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Chaucer did not seem to be a great fan of marriage even though he was a married man. There are many bitter stories of marriage in Chaucer’s tales, but they are stock comedy. In “The Clerk’s Tale” “there is patient Griselda bearing the yoke of her marriage to a sadistic husband- sympathetic aplenty to the woman’s side of marital woes, and not a


funny story, but one of immense pathos that could move readers, male readers, to tears.” (Howard 104) Many records of Chaucer’s marriage to his wife, Philippa, show that he was unhappy with it, and that he never really knew what true love was (Howard, 446). Chaucer wrote this to his friend Bukton, who was about to get married in his forties, “God grante you your life freely to leade / In freedom- for full hard it is to be bonde.” (Howard, 10) This may prove why, in many of Chaucer’s tales, marriage is being mocked or portrayed as terrible. Chaucer married well, and the marriage brought him advantages of status, connections, and annuities, but he was still unhappy (Howard, 5). Chaucer’s unhappy marriage makes him think that all marriages are bad, therefore he makes his stories to tell that they are (Harvard, Internet).


Chaucer was such a strong believer in heaven and God. Therefore, Chaucer put a few tales about nuns and other Godlike things in his famous works, The Canterbury Tales. “The Second Nun’s Tale’s” motivations come not from within, but from above (Howard 44). Chaucer based the story and life of St. Cecilia (from “Second Nun’s Tale”) on the Legenda aurea -- The Golden Legend -- by Jacobus de Voragine, one of the most widely read works, among both religious and laity, in the later Middle Ages (Kline, Internet). In this tale Chaucer inserts one moment that diverges from the strict Christian propaganda that this story represents, allowing moments of legitimate discussion of the Trinity (Ross, Internet). “The Second Nun’s Tale” stresses virginity and good works, like


in Chaucer’s time when virginity was a protected thing. Chaucer was a great author and because he used his life as content, his works really stand out due to his experiences.


Geoffrey Chaucer’s life plays a tremendous role in many of his works. The obvious works in which his life has effected are, “The Miller’s Tale”, “The Clerk’s Tale”, and “The Second Nun’s Tale”. Chaucer’s tales are much easier to read now, rather than having to break them down, like one had to do in the fifteenth century. In these three works, The Miller’s, Clerk’s, and Second Nun’s Tales all have something in common; their stories came from a story of Chaucer. Many people did not like Chaucer’s writing style because it was different and like nothing they had seen before. Many people were used to the usual Shakespeare-like stories and poems, the ones that were true and not very unusual. Chaucer characterized the world of story as a world unto itself that knows no bounds of language or of nation (Howard 448). In the end at his death Geoffrey Chaucer was unappreciated, and denied by the public, only later to be considered one of the greatest writers of all time (E.P. Dutton)





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