Because Geoffrey Chaucer lived from 1343–1400 and had a lasting influence on English literature, the mid- to late 14th century is often called the Age of Chaucer. This era of the Middle Ages also brought the initial stirrings of the Renaissance. One significant feature, which can be noted in The Canterbury Tales, is a growing dissatisfaction with the strong control that the Catholic Church exerted on English society. With the strengthening of mercantilism, individual wealth increased—and with it political power to challenge the established hierarchy of inherited wealth and privilege.
The ongoing crisis of the Hundred Years War sharpened the rivalry between England and France, strengthening national pride. England also faced a serious health crisis with the epidemic Black Death; its high mortality rate caused a sharp population decline and efforts to escape the epidemic uprooted people to an unprecedented degree. This created the paradox that the peasantry, although decimated, became more conscious of their own value because of the labor shortage. They were empowered to resist the control of the feudal lords.
Although unique in producing a masterwork of humor and social commentary, Chaucer was not the only prolific writer. The years also brought a flowering of fine arts and music as well as literature. The English language took on more of it standardized, modern characteristics as it moved away from French influences. Both poetry and prose, while still dominated by religious themes, showed an increase in secular concerns.