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The Age of Chaucer

Chaucer was the father of English Literature. The significant events during his time are:

The Hundred Year War
This war lasted a 100 years and broke down relations between England and France, leading to the breakdown of England in French traditions. Thus giving way to indigenous traditions. French ceased to be the official language and English took over and was introduced in the courts. Everything began to bear a particularly English trademark.

John Wyclliffe – The Lollards or Mumblers
He was the first to object to some of the evils that existed in the society. He preached the doctrine of the poverty of the clergy. He founded a new sect called Lollards or mumblers. The ruling tenet of this sect was the common ownership of wealth and goods. This was one of the things that began to strike the death knell of feudalism. It was the beginning of the end of feudalism.

Wat Tyler and the Peasant’s Revolt – 1381
This man refused to pay tax and the peasant’s rose in revolt against him. 100,000 men marched to complain to the King. Black death was a plague that affected the people, spreading across Europe killing the labour class. A shortage of labour emerged causing the death of feudalism. Labourers began to work for wages for the first time. They were free to trade and become craftsmen. They formed what were called guilds – associations which took care of the welfare of the craftsmen, merchants etc. There was a rise in the middle class (traders, merchants etc). There  was a new awareness for the need of social justice. There was a new awareness of their identity as Englishmen. There was a new consciousness of the rights of common man. All this began to be reflected in the literature of the time.
A modern note creeping into the literature of the time:

  1. Spirit of criticism
    The existing social order, traditions, break down of faith in the existing order was criticised.
  2. Early Romantic ideal – it was being replaced by the spirit of drama (no drama was written at the time).
  3. That element of anonymity was passing away. The writers began to write poems and took credit for their work. There was individualism.
  4. For the very first time in English literature a writer of outstanding literary importance becomes known and the whole age, the literary spirit of the age is credited to Geoffrey Chaucer (1340-1400) approx.

We know very little about his early life. From 1357 when he first entered courtly life as the page boy to the wife of Lionel, Duke of Clarence. As he grew to be a man he began to take part in more courtly affairs. He became a diplomat in the court of Edward III and Richard II. After the deposition of Richard II he lived in poverty and when Henry IV became King of England, Chaucer wrote a humourous poem called ‘The Compleynte to his Empty Purse’. Henry IV was impressed and doubled his pension. Chaucer died in 1400 and is buried in West Minster Abbey.

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