Geoffrey Chaucer and His Canterbury Tales

Geoffrey Chaucer. Ellesmere Manuscript. Out of copyright.
Geoffrey Chaucer. Ellesmere Manuscript. Out of copyright.

A Miscellany

This hub is something of a miscellany, concerning Chaucer, his life, family, influences, works, the language, etc.

It's not exactly a Geoffrey Chaucer biography, from birth to death, although there are elements of that.

It isn't a close study of all of his writings ~ not even all of the Canterbury Tales ~ but it will look at some ~ and there are even some quotes.

I'll allow Chaucer to introduce us to his Canterbury Tales.


Modern Chaucer Translation

A modern translation of this brief excerpt from:

http://www.librarius.com/canttran/gptrfs.htm

When in April the sweet showers fall
That pierce March's drought to the root and all
...................................................
Then folk do long to go on pilgrimage,
And palmers to go seeking out strange strands,
To distant shrines well known in distant lands.
And specially from every shire's end
Of England they to Canterbury went,
...............................................................
It happened that, in that season, on a day
In Southwark, at the Tabard, as I lay
Ready to go on pilgrimage and start
To Canterbury, full devout at heart,
There came at nightfall to that hostelry
Some nine and twenty in a company
Of sundry persons who had chanced to fall
In fellowship, and pilgrims were they all
That toward Canterbury town would ride.

An Introduction - from Geoffrey Chaucer

From the General Introduction to the Canterbury Tales:

Whan that Aprill, with his shoures soote
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote
...............................................
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages
And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes
To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes;
And specially from every shires ende
Of Engelond, to Caunterbury they wende,
....................................................

Bifil that in that seson, on a day,
In Southwerk at the Tabard as I lay
Redy to wenden on my pilgrymage
To Caunterbury with ful devout corage,
At nyght was come into that hostelrye
Wel nyne and twenty in a compaignye
Of sondry folk, by aventure yfalle
In felaweshipe, and pilgrimes were they alle,
That toward Caunterbury wolden ryde.

Geoffrey Chaucer

Geoffrey Chaucer was born in around 1343, in London, the son of John Chaucer, merchant and vintner, and his wife, Agnes Copton. Both John and Agnes benefitted from inherited property. Agnes from her uncle and John via his father, who inherited from his employer, a man called Chaucer. The family also took his name. The ‘Dynyngtons’ were originally from East Anglia. Chaucer’s home was always London ~ though he travelled a fair amount. He also knew Oxford and Cambridge quite well.

Geoffrey Chaucer was, self-evidently, well educated ~ at a time when this was not the norm ~ and his family appears to have been quite well-off. When he was in his early 20s, he married Philippa Roet, sister of Katherine Swinford / Swynford, who became the wife of John of Gaunt, son of Edward III; thus he was related, by marriage, to the royal family of England. The marriage might well have been an arranged union.

He is most famous for his writing ~ specifically the Canterbury Tales. These were written between 1387 and 1400. Each tale is supposedly told by a different pilgrim on the road to Canterbury, though, of course, while ideas may have come from the many people he met, every story is really being told by Chaucer himself ~ whether it be the gentle 'Nun's Priests Tale' or the bawdy 'Miller's Tale'. He was still working on this project at his death in 1400.

Chaucer is known as the father of English literature and, though his 'English' may be difficult to read today (Middle English), it was the vernacular of his time. This was quite revolutionary, since it was, then, unusual to write 'literature' in anything but French or Latin. Chaucer was the first of the 'poets' to be buried in Westminster Abbey's 'Poets' Corner'.

With his education, middle to upper class background, and links to the royal family, Chaucer was not just a writer. He is also known to have been a page to the Duchess of Ulster, in the household of Prince Lionel. He became a ‘squire ‘and entered the service of Lionel’s father, King Edward III, travelling as a diplomat to various European cities and courts. Some believe that he could have been a spy. His visits to Italy would have introduced him to the excellent arts and architecture of that country. It is possible that he may have actually met Petrarch and Boccaccio

In 1347 he began working for the Customs department, checking on wool exports and duties. In 1359 Chaucer went to fight in the ‘Hundred Years war’, was taken prisoner, but released after a ransom was paid. The king, himself, contributed to this ransom. In 1389, Chaucer became Clerk of the Kings Works, which involved overseeing building projects, including payments. He kept this post for only a few weeks and was robbed in the interim. He continued to receive payments and gifts from the royal court even after retiring. John of Gaunt granted him a pension for life. In 1386, he became a Justice of the Peace and was elected to parliament as Knight of the Shire on Kent.

When he died, presumably in 1400, he was widower. His later writings talk of the sadness of growing old. It would seem that he was actually less than 60 years old. Some consider that his death is cloaked in mystery, and Terry Jones has written a book suggesting that he was murdered.

More on courtly love:

More information on 'courtly love' can be found here:

  • http://www.gloriana.nu/prioress.html
  • http://www.gloriana.nu/miller.html

Chaucer's Works

As well as the Canterbury Tales, his other known works include:

Love ballads

‘Translation’ of Le Romaint de la Rose

Boece (‘Translation’ of Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy’)

The Book of the Duchess

The ABC of the Virgin

The Parlement of Fowles

The House of Fame

The Legend of Good Women

Treatise on the Astrolabe

Troilus and Criseyde

Book of the Duchess

The Book of the Duchess appears to have been written by Chaucer for his benefactor, John of Gaunt, after the Death of Gaunt's beloved wife, the Duchess Blanche. Blanche of Lancaster died of plague in 1369, while her husband was away. This poem seems to be, at least in parts, an elegy for 'the White Lady' ~ 'Blanche' meaning 'white' ~ but possibly, also, an attempt to encourage Gaunt to leave behind the excesses of his grief.


Extract from Book of the Duchesse - by Geoffrey Chaucer. (Lines 475-490)

 `I have of sorwe so grete woon,
That Ioye gete I never noon,
Now that I see my lady bright,
Which I have loved with al my might,
Is fro me dedd, and is a-goon.
And thus in sorwe lefte me alone.
`Allas, o deeth! what ayleth thee,
That thou noldest have taken me,
`Whan that thou toke my lady swete?
That was so fayr, so fresh, so free,
So good, that men may wel y-see
`Of al goodnesse she had no mete!' --
Whan he had mad thus his complaynte,
His sorowful herte gan faste faynte,
And his spirites wexen dede;
The blood was fled, for pure drede,



The Canterbury Tales .

'The Canterbury Tales', as the name suggests, is an anthology of stories. Each story is, apparently, told by a different individual ~ a pilgrim ~ travelling to the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket, at Canterbury in Kent.

This story-telling 'contest' had been set up by the host of the Tabard Inn, whence the party of pilgrims had set off on the journey.

People Making the Journey to Canterbury:

Chaucer

The Host / Tavern keeper

The Knight

The Miller

The Reeve

The Cook

The Man of Law

The Wife of Bath

The Friar

The Summoner

The Clerk

The Merchant

The Squire

The Franklin

The Physician

The Pardoner

The Shipman

The Prioress

The Monk

The Nun's Priest

The Second Nun

The Canon's Yeoman

The Manciple

The Parson

Chaucer's English

Chaucer wrote in what has come to be known as 'Middle English' ~ specifically that type of English spoken in the London area. It is now referred to as 'Chancery Standard'. Middle English was spoken from between the late 11th century and around the mid to late 15th century.

Since the Norman Conquest, in 1066, the languages of authority in England tended to be Latin and Norman French. 'English' had been the language of the Anglo-Saxon elite, but, since their downfall, it had become mainly the language of the lesser orders. However, to this day, English may have three words for use on many occasions ~ one from Old English, one from Norman French and one from Latin.

To compare Middle English with Shakespearean English, it is worth looking at some phrases from the Bible:

Wyclif's translation of John 14:1-4 (1380) ~
“ Be not youre herte affraied, ne drede it. Ye bileuen in god, and bileue ye in me. In the hous of my fadir ben many dwellyngis: if ony thing lasse I hadde seid to you, for I go to make redi to you a place. And if I go and make redi to you a place, eftsone I come and I schal take you to my silf, that where I am, ye be. And whidir I go ye witen: and ye witen the wey." (John 14:1-4)

[Notes: 'Y' = 'Th'. 'u' = 'v']
Ref: wikipedia.org

The King James Bible; John 14:1-4 ~
"1Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. 2In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. 4And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know."

Biblegateway.com

Rhyme and Rhythm


There are 'units of rhythm' within poetry ~ this is described as 'meter'. The smallest 'unit of rhythm' is the 'foot'. A foot has a minimum of two syllables. If a two-syllable metrical foot has the stress on the second syllable, then this is called an 'iamb'. If the stress is on the first of the two syllables, then it is called a trochee. The stressed syllable will be longer than the unstressed syllable.

If a poem has ten beats to each line, divided into five iambs, then this is called iambic pentmer.

A pair of rhyming lines ~ ie. lines ending in the same or a similar sound ~ written in iambic pentameter, is called a 'heroic couplet'. Shakespeare wrote a lot of his work in iambic pentameter and ended many of his scenes with a 'heroic' rhyming couplet.

According to AskOxford.com, the 'iamb' (or 'iambus') is from the Greek 'iambos', meaning 'lampoon’, apparently because iambic meter was first used by Greek satirists.

Here are some excerpts from The Canterbury Tales (written between around 1387 and some time before 1400). The first is from 'The Miller's Tale'. The second is from 'The Nun's Priest's Tale': I have clarified some of the final rhymes.

MT
This carpenter had wedded new a wife,
Which that he loved more than his life:
Of eighteen year, I guess, she was of age.
Jealous he was, and held her narr'w in cage,
For she was wild and young, and he was old,
And deemed himself belike a cuckold.
He knew not Cato, for his wit was rude,
That bade a man wed his similitude.
Men shoulde wedden after their estate,
For youth and eld are often at debate.
But since that he was fallen in the snare,
He must endure (as other folk) his care.

NPT
No wine drank she, neither white nor red:
Her board was served most with white and black,
Milk and brown bread, in which she found no lack,
Seind bacon, and sometimes an egg or tway;
For she was as it were a manner dey.
A yard she had, enclosed all about
With stickes, and a drye ditch without,
In which she had a cock, hight Chanticleer;
In all the land of crowing n'as his peer.
His voice was merrier than the merry orgon,
On masse days that in the churches gon.
Well sickerer was his crowing in his lodge,
Than is a clock, or an abbay horloge.


As we can see, Chaucer's tales are written in rhyming couplets, with ten 'beats' to each line. The stress is on the second of each two syllables, so this is iambic pentameter.

Some of the iambs:

This car/penter/ had wed/ded new/ a wife/,
Which that/ he lo/ved mor/e than/ his life/:

Her board/ was ser/ved most/ with white/ and black/,
Milk and/ brown bread/, in which/ she found/ no lack/,

We can also recognise some alliteration:

This carpenter had wedded new a wife

Thomas Becket's Murder

The Murder of Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral
The Murder of Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral

Why Canterbury? - The story of Saint Thomas

"Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?"

Thomas Becket, also known as 'Saint Thomas a Becket,' was murdered, in Canterbury Cathedral, in 1170. He was ~ or had been ~ a close friend of Henry II, yet the murderers believed that they were carrying out the king's wishes. Becket was about 50 at the time of his death.

Becket had first come to Henry II's notice shortly after he attained the throne (1154), when he asked his Archbishop of Canterbury for advice on who to appoint to certain offices. Archbishop Theobald recommended Thomas, the well-educated merchant's son, who had worked well for him on missions to Rome.

Thomas Becket became Henry II's chancellor, advisor and friend. When Theobald died in 1161, he also became his Archbishop of Canterbury. This was not a popular decision in the Church.

The friendship then came under strain, as Becket felt that he had to put his loyalty to the church before his loyalty to his friend. There was a major debate and a huge disagreement on who should be allowed the privilege of a trial in a church court, as opposed to a royal court. Both men were proud and aware of the importance of their office; both believed that they were in the right; both felt betrayed.

By 1164 the rift between the two men had grown. The king ordered his archbishop to appear at one of his courts over a land dispute. Becket refused. The king accused him of treason. Becket fled to France. While in exile, Becket, supported by the Pope and the King of France, organised a campaign against Henry II which left the king wondering if he was to be excommunicated.

Becket must have felt able, or willing, or obliged, to return to England, because he did so in 1170. Henry II was in Normandy, but some of his supporters, including the Archbishop of York, were, indeed, excommunicated. When Henry heard of this he is said to have uttered the famous words: "Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?" Four of Henry's knights, who had apparently heard this 'request', returned to England to demand that the Archbishop of York, and others, should be re-instated. When Becket refused, they murdered him.

Henry had been angry with Becket, but he claimed neither to have ordered, nor wished for, his old friend's death. He was whipped as a consequence of his actions.

Becket was made a saint, and his shrine at Canterbury became the most important place of pilgrimage in England.



The Familiar Enemy: Chaucer, Language, and Nation in the Hundred Years War

100 Years War

The Hundred Years War was actually a series of wars, waged between England and France, between 1337 and 1453. The battles were over land and power in 'France'.

When Williiam the Conqueror became King of England, in 1066, he was also Duke of Normandy. Subsequent Anglo French royal marriages resulted in England's kings also being kings of other parts of 'France'. 'French' lands were gained and lost. There was Anglo-French friction. Then, when Charles IV, the king of France died, without an obvious male heir, in 1328, Edward III of England believed that he had a claim to the throne. This was through his mother, Isabelle sister of Charles. In the event, Charles's cousin, Philippe, became King of France. Once Edward III felt that he was in a position to wage war, the battles commenced.

Two famous battles of this lengthy war were those of Crecy and Agincourt.

The 100 Years War is also remembered for the part played by Jeanne d'Arc (Joan of Arc).

English kings and princes involved in the war:

Edward III ~ reigned 1327-1377
Prince Edward ~ 'Black Prince' 1330-1376 Son of Edward III
Richard II ~ reigned 1377-1399
Henry IV ~ reigned 1399-1413
Henry V ~ reigned 1413-1422
Henry VI ~ reigned 1422-1461

French and allied Royals involved in the war:

King Philip VI ~ reigned 1328-1350
King John II ~ reigned 1350-1364
King Charles V ~ reigned 1364-1380
King Charles VI~ reigned  1380-1422
Louis I of Anjou 1380-1382 Regent for Charles VI
King Charles VII ~ reigned  1422-1461
Philip III, Duke of Burgundy

*

Chaucer went to war in 1359, was soon taken prisoner near Rheims, but was ransomed in 1360, for £16, to which King Edward III contributed. (£16 was then a lot of money.)

Geoffrey + Philippa - Any Children?

Thomas Chaucer appears to have been Chaucer's son. Apparently, he was the Godson of John of Gaunt. I have even read the suggestion that he was actually John of Gaunt's son. He was a landowner and held important offices. His daughter, Alice, became Duchess of Suffolk. He leased Chaucer's home at Westmonster.

The Treatise on the Astrolabe' was dedicated to little son Lowis, so one might assume that Lewis was Chaucer's own son.

An Agnes Chaucer was lady-in-waiting at the coronation of Henry IV and an Elizabeth Chaucy was a nun at Barking Abbey. These could have been daughters of Geoffrey and Philippa Chaucer.

Chaucer and the Royals

Payne or Gilles de Roet was, apparently, a member of Queen Phillippa's household, who accompanied her from Hainault, in Flanders, to England, when she married King Edward III.

Roet's daughters, Philippa and Katherine, became Ladies in Waiting at the English Royal Court.

Geoffrey Chaucer and Philippa Roet may have worked in the household of the Duke of Clarence and his wife at the same time. Chaucer was page to the Duke's wife, Elizabeth de Burgh.The marriage of Geoffrey and Philippa may have been arranged by their royal employers.

Lionel, Duke of Clarence, was the second son of Edward III and Phillippa of Hainault. Their third son was John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster and Aquitaine, whose mistress and third wife was Philippa Roet's sister, Katherine, widow of Hugh Swynford.

John of Gaunt became Chaucer's long-term patron and benefactor.

Chaucer's great grandson, John de la Pole, married, first, John of Gaunt's granddaughter, Margaret Beaufort. This marriage was annulled and Margaret went on to marry Edmund Tudor and to become the mother of Henry VII. John de la Pole next married John of Gaunt's great granddaughter, Elizabeth of York, sister of Edward IV and Richard III.

John de la Pole was the son of William de la Pole and Alice Chaucer. Alice was the daughter of Chaucer's son, Thomas. Thomas was the God-son of John of Gaunt.

Chaucer and The Royal Family Chart

Who Murdered Geoffrety Chaucer? Who Murdered Chaucer? Terry Jones. amazon.com
Who Murdered Geoffrety Chaucer? Who Murdered Chaucer? Terry Jones. amazon.com

Was Chaucer Murdered?

Monty Python Comedian, writer and historian, Terry Jones, thinks that he may well have been and a book on the subject was published in 2006:

'Who Murdered Chaucer?: A Medieval Mystery' by Terry Jones, Robert Yeager, Alan Fletcher, Juliette Dor, Terry Dolan

The 'Product Description' from Amazon.com calls the research and conclusions of Jones & his co-writers a 'spectacular work of historical speculation', where Terry Jones wonders how this famous writer, with royal connections, could simply disappear from the records. As it says: 'there is no official confirmation of his death and no chronicle mentions it; no notice of his funeral or burial. He left no will and there's nothing to tell us what happened to his estate. He didn't even leave any manuscripts' and finally it asks the question that Jones tries to answer in his book: 'How could this be?'

This is from one review:

" .. the last thing Arundel wanted, Jones argues, was more descriptions of rip-off churchmen. And yet here's Chaucer, using his final masterwork to make everyone laugh at the pardoner who sells fake indulgences ...at the summoner (....who is probably the pardoner's significant other) demanding bribes ....; at the monk spending all his time hunting; and at the friar, who should be penniless but is clearly a pampered, ... social climber. In fact, it's arguable that the entirety of the Tales... - is an assault on the "church commercial" ...." [Jonathan Myerson]

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2003/nov/15/classics.highereducation

And this is from another:

"In Jones’s view, Chaucer’s association with Richard II and his depictions of the clergy in The Canterbury Tales would have made him an enemy of the bloodthirsty Arundel."

http://www.finebooksmagazine.com/reviews/Who_Murdered_Chaucer_-Terry_Jones_Robert_Yeager_Terry_Dolan_Alan_Fletcher_and_Juliette_Dor

Boccaccio

The writer Giovanni Boccaccio was born in 1313, probably in Tuscany, though some say Paris, the illegitimate son of a Certaldo merchant. He met Petrarch and was influenced by Dante. He was also influenced by other popular contemporary stories and by fabliaux. His 'Teseide' is 'translated' by Chaucer to become 'The Knight's Tale'. Boccaccio died in 1375.

The works of Boccaccio and Chaucer have often been compared. The Decameron, by Giovanni Boccaccio, is, like It is possible that the two men met while Chauce was in Italy. The Canterbury Tales, a series of short stories, supposedly told to each other, by a group of people, as entertainment. Boccaccio's 'Decameron' has ten storytellers, each telling a story per day for ten days. His people are aristocrats ~ spending time in the Tuscan countryside in order to escape the plague in Florence. Chaucer's people are not aristocratic. There are professionals, trades people, religious people. There is Chaucer himself, of course, he ~ or a version of him ~ is on this journey. He certainly had aristocratic connections.

Fabliaux and France

Fabliau

'Fabliau' is a French term, which refers to a kind of tale told by travelling entertainers to amuse their audiences ~ of various ranks. These tales were, in essence, little more than extended 'dirty jokes', using vulgarity, ribald language and awkward situations to cause shock and amusement. They were very popular in medieval France. Both Chaucer and Boccaccio use this style for some of their stories, but they developed the tales, so that they were not as simplistic as the originals might have been. One of Boccaccio's is 'The story of Pinuccio and Adriano'. Examples of Chaucer's fabliaux include 'The Millers Tale', 'The Reeve's Tale' and 'The Merchant's Tale'. Fabliaux usually concerned adultery, trickery, gullibility, etc.

The Miller's Tale is in direct contrast to the popular courtly tales of the time, which described romantic love, in a delicate manner. Chaucer includes one of these 'courtly tales' in his collection, as well ~ 'The Knights Tales' ~ it is juxtaposed with 'The Miller's Tale' for contrast and effect. He has his host request a tale from the monk, after the knight, but the miller will have none of it and forces his own story onto the group.

'The Knight's Tale', however, still has two men desiring one woman. The 'love' of the courtly tales could be as 'adulterous' as the love of the fabliaux ~ but the tales were not vulgar. 'The Knight’s Tale' was borrowed from Boccaccio. Perhaps Chaucer discovered it whilst working on the king's business in Italy.

The Miller's Tale is a farce, whereby an older husband is cuckolded by his young wife and her lover. But it is also much more than that. It uses this fabliau form to amuse the listeners, whilst it also acts as a more serious social commentary. For example, it uses comedy to be quite critical of the church.

It is possible that Chaucer learned about 'fabliau' style while he was in France, during the 'Hundred Years War'. He may also have discovered the style of 'Amour Courtois' at the same time. Perhaps that inspired him to translate the 13th century poem, 'Le Roman de la Rose'.

The Astrolabe

In around 1391, Chaucer wrote a 'Treatise on the Astrolabe', dedicated to his son 'Little Lowis'. The astrolable is also mentioned in the Miller's Tale.

This is how Chaucer introduces his treatise:

"Lyte Lowys my sone, I aperceyve wel by certeyne evydences thyn abilite to lerne sciences touching nombres and proporciouns; and as wel considre I thy besy praier in special to lerne the tretys of the Astrelabie."

Before he begins with; "Here begynneth the descripcioun of thin Astralabie", Chaucer summarises the points that he will make:

"Prima pars. -The firste partie of this tretys shal reherse the figures and the membres of thyn Astrelabie by cause that thou shalt have the gretter knowing of thyn owne instrument.

"Secunda pars. -The secunde partie shal techen the worken the verrey practik of the forseide conclusiouns ....

"Tertia pars. -The thirde partie shal contene diverse tables of longitudes and latitudes of sterres fixe for the Astrelabie, and tables of the declinacions of the sonne, and tables of longitudes of citees and townes .....

"Quarta pars. -The fourthe partie shal ben a theorike to declare the moevyng of the celestiall bodies with the causes The whiche fourthe partie in speciall shal shewen a table of the verrey moeving of the mone from houre to houre every day ......

"Quinta pars. -The fifthe partie shal be an introductorie, after the statutes of oure doctours, in which thou maist lerne a gret part of the generall rewles of theorik in astrologie. ........"

http://art-bin.com/art/oastro.html

Quote concerning the treatise:

'It shows a high level of astronomical knowledge for the time and received fairly wide distribution as the first technical manual published in English. The first European treatise on the use of the astrolabe in the vernacular was written in French by Pèlerin de Prusse in 1362, at the request of the Dauphin Charles, later Charles V ....'

http://www.astrolabes.org/links.htm

Chaucer was evidently a very highly educated and intelligent man ~ scientist, writer, linguist, etc. His ' Miller's Tale', which is set in the university town of Oxford, concerns a carpenter, his young wife and their lodger, a student. This student owns an astrolabe:

"A poor scholar was lodging with him there,
Who'd learned the arts, but all his phantasy
Was turned to study of astrology

...........................................
............................................

His astrolabe, belonging to his art,
His algorism stones - all laid apart
On shelves that ranged beside his lone bed's head"

The astrolabe, described by Chaucer, matches an instrument in the British Museum ~ the earliest dated in Europe,

http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/pe_mla/t/the_chaucer_astrolabe.aspx

According to the online Oxford dictionary, an astrolabe was used in astronomy and navigation, for 'making astronomical measurements' and for 'calculating latitude'.
AskOxford.com

From Institute and Museum of the History of Science:

'From the third century B.C.E. to the present, the term astrolabe (in Greek astrolábon, from astron + lambán ō = star-taking/star-carrying) has been used to describe often widely differing instruments.'

http://brunelleschi.imss.fi.it/museum/esim.asp?c=200201

There is an item on Chaucer and the astrolabe on the website of 'The 365 Days of Astronomy Podcast for the International Year of Astronomy'.

It is dated August 15, 2009 and is written by Dave Wilton who reminds us that in Medieval times tghere was not the divide btween science and the arts that there is in education today. As he notes, a good school or university would introduce its students to grammar, rhetoric and logic and 'Advanced students would go on to study the quadrivium of geometry, arithmetic, music, and astronomy'. He also reminds us that 'the average medieval person was probably more familiar with the night sky than most people of our own time. The sky was essential for the calendar and for timekeeping'.
In addition, Wilton provides information on Chaucer's sources for his treatise:

'Composition and Operation of the Astrolabe' ~ Masha’allah ibn Athari
Tractatus de Sphaera (Treatise on the Spheres) ~ Johannes de Sacrobosco

Wilton states that 'Masha’allah was a Persian Jewish astronomer from Basra who died in the year 815' and 'Sacrabosco was a thirteenth century English astronomer who taught at the University of Paris'. Appararently parts of Chaucer's treatise are 'direct translations from Latin copies of Masha’allah’s work'.

http://365daysofastronomy.org/2009/08/15/august-15th-chaucer%E2%80%99s-astronomy-treatise-on-the-astrolabe


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Comments 18 comments

ama83 profile image

ama83 6 years ago from San Jose, CA

I had studied Chaucer in my English literature courses through college, but not as well as you have studied him here. Interesting work.


Trish_M profile image

Trish_M 6 years ago from The English Midlands Author

Thank you Ama.

I find that the more I read about him, the more interesting he becomes :)


gracenotes profile image

gracenotes 6 years ago from North Texas

I learned a lot from this hub. How well I remember being required to recite the prologue from the Canterbury Tales from memory in my high school English class. To this day, I can still recite it flawlessly.


Trish_M profile image

Trish_M 6 years ago from The English Midlands Author

Wow Grace! That is really very impressive!

Was that in Middle English!?


gracenotes profile image

gracenotes 6 years ago from North Texas

Yes, it was. My teacher had a recording of an expert speaker of Middle English, and we listened to him until we learned to mimic his accents and vowels.

I'll bet anything that public high schools no longer require this of their students, but I can tell you that my mother had to learn the prologue, years before I did. My mother and I were both English majors in college, by the way.


Trish_M profile image

Trish_M 6 years ago from The English Midlands Author

Well, I am impressed!

I doubt that many school pupils would learn that over here. They may study Chaucer, but would not have to learn it off by heart.

When I was at school, we learned various poems by heart ~ in various languages, but not Middle English, even though we studied the Nun's Priest's Tale.

I love language and languages, but, for 'Advanced Level' studies, I took French, German and History. Until then, we all took English Language and English Literature. I also did a bit of Italian.

I studied History for my university degree ~ with a bit of Spanish.

Recently, I decided to take Advanced Level English Literature ~ and I loved it. It included Shakespeare, Chaucer and some more modern poets and authors.


Trish_M profile image

Trish_M 6 years ago from The English Midlands Author

I don't know where this comment box came from :)


fastfreta profile image

fastfreta 6 years ago from Southern California

Oh how I remember Chaucer's Canterbury Tales from high school. I don't remember a thing except that it was so tedious to read. I'm glad though to learn something about him. Very interesting life. Very good hub.


Trish_M profile image

Trish_M 6 years ago from The English Midlands Author

Hello fastfreta :)

You didn't enjoy Chaucer?

That's sad, but no-one can enjoy all writers.

I have problems reading Dickens, in particular.

I'm glad that you got something out of the hub. :)


myownworld profile image

myownworld 6 years ago from uk

Such a detailed and in depth study into Chaucer's life and his works! I did my Master's in English Literature, and the first poet they started us off with was Chaucer and his Canterbury Tales. I loved the whole concept of medieval chivalry and all the amazing characters in it. (Wish I had read the modern translation you've attached here though!). Anyway, thank you for this... really enjoyed reading it!


Trish_M profile image

Trish_M 6 years ago from The English Midlands Author

Pleased that you enjoyed it, myownworld :)


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 6 years ago from Chicago

Outstanding research and writing! This is a first class presentation. You've done well. Thank you.


angela_michelle profile image

angela_michelle 6 years ago from United States

This is a really good study on Chaucer despite not being as in depth as you would have liked. I liked it so much I ended up linking it to one of my own writings. Great job!


Trish_M profile image

Trish_M 6 years ago from The English Midlands Author

Thank you James!

Thank you Angela.

I am glad that you enjoyed it. :) :)


Jarrod1240 profile image

Jarrod1240 6 years ago

Chaucer's life was much more lively than i had imagined! Last month I finished reading the Canturbury Tales and enjoyed them thoroughly! Through this article you have sparked an intense interest in Chaucer's life and writings. I am preparing to enter college and am going to be an English major; therefore, i found this article very interesting.


Trish_M profile image

Trish_M 6 years ago from The English Midlands Author

Hi Jarrod. :)

Thank you for your comment.

Yes, I think Chaucer's life was probably more interesting than we will ever know.

You have read all of the Canterbuty Tales?! ~ Very impressive!

Good luck with your courses!


charmike4 profile image

charmike4 4 years ago from Adelaide, South Australia

What a great comprehensive article on Chaucer. I would recommend anyone wanting to get a brief, yet comprehensive review of the person and his works to read this. I once tried to read Canterbury Tales, but found the language too hard, so thanks for the synopsis & thanks for sharing! Cheers Michael


Trish_M profile image

Trish_M 4 years ago from The English Midlands Author

Hi Michael :)

Thank you for your warm comments. Much appreciated!

I think that it is a case of practice, with Chaucer. I have studied his work for English courses, and that was a much better way of getting into the flow of it :)

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