Geoffrey Chaucer Poetry: British Analysis
When reading Geoffrey Chaucer’s works, one is struck by a sense of great variety. His poetry reflects numerous sources—Latin, French, and Italian—ranging from ancient authorities to contemporary poets and including folktales, sermons, rhetorical textbooks, philosophical meditations, and ribald jokes. Equally varied are Chaucer’s poetic forms and genres: short conventional lyrics, long romances, exempla, fabliaux, allegorical dream visions, confessions, saints’ legends, and beast fables. The characters he creates, from personified abstractions, regal birds, and ancient goddesses to the odd collection of the Canterbury pilgrims and the naïve persona who narrates the poems, are similarly varied. Finally, the poems present a wide variety of outlooks on an unusual number of topics. Like the Gothic cathedrals, Chaucer’s poetry seems all-inclusive. Not surprisingly, also like the Gothic cathedrals, his poems were often left unfinished.
“Experience, though no authority,” the Wife of Bath states in the prologue to her tale, “is good enough for me.” Unlike her fifth husband, Jankin the clerk, the Wife is not interested in what “olde Romayn gestes” teach, what Saint Jerome, Tertullian, Solomon, and Ovid say about women and marriage. She knows “of the woe that is in marriage” by her own experience. This implied contrast between, on one hand, authority—the established positions concerning just about any topic set forth in the past by...
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