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Chaucer v. Langland: The Fathers of English Texts

Updated on March 18, 2014

Chaucer v. Langland

Chaucer v. Langland:

The Fathers of English Texts

It seems an interesting prospect to attempt to parallel Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales with that of William Langland’s Piers Plowman. Both texts were written for a supposed purpose, despite the fact that some of the repercussions may have been unintentional. However, these two manuscripts are so different that this parallel may be less of a comparison and more of a contrast between the two. For ages Chaucer’s work has been used as the benchmark for a revolutionary artisan almost eons before his time, but why do historians dictate such laudation unto one work and as such demean the latter? On the other hand, Piers Plowman had become the plebeians cause; as a result, this supposed literary inferior had galvanized the commoners into revolt and ushered in the demand for an age of change. However, the dichotomy between these literary masterpieces is striking to behold, but perhaps the works were more of a manifestation of their said authors. In order to fully understand the distinction between these medieval transcripts dissection is necessary in order to understand the audience, literary conventions, allegorical contexts, and overall purpose for each transcription. Therefore, a determination of the actuality of the historical importance of each author will reveal which author was more influential in their time period, Chaucer or Langland.

To begin with, Chaucer was a man ages before his time who used his literary works in order to poke at the soft underbelly. Chaucer’s characters are often at odds, using haughty language and literary machinations to demean those who took advantage of their position. For instance, “the Reeve’s Tale” is a rebuttal unto that of “the Miller’s Tale” because the derogatory tale of an aged carpenter yields provocation on the part of

the Reeve who also practices carpentry. Her go, Chaucer uses his cognizance to waft detriment unto himself by enticing conflict amongst his fictitious cast. Whereas

Langland’s literary work is, more or less, overt and leaves much to the imagination. Therefore, it is no wonder why the unfortunates chose this rudimentary tale to empathize with their fiefdom. Honestly, which work was truly more intrinsically important in the development of society at the time? Sir Hunger is a powerful allegorical manifestation which attempted to usurp the societal norms of the day, but more of this will be examined later.

In retrospect, one cannot imagine having a single piece of their literature catalyze such a massive protrusion in the fabric of established society. In fact, Langland may have also been rather surprised himself because he actually modified his document three times. The first of his works was the “A-text” which established the basic storyline of Piers Plowman and his struggle for an answer. For instance, “And all that men did wrong, I became man to amend,”(493) sums up its Catholic tone. However, the evolution of this text into the “B” took on a more striking moral upheaval because it caused an apathetic community to empathize with each other through societal and Christian tones. This galvanization took the form of the “Rising of 1381” whose sole classical work was Langland’s spoken masterpiece. Clearly Will had chosen his audience and written so poignantly about their moral, yet tangible, dilemma that the retort was so vast and determined that it may have even vexed and startled himself. In response, Langland resorted to adaptation in fear of having a proletariat response. This “C-Text” is a lucid, but yet, strained attempt to convey the storyline amidst the provocation that had occurred

in the past. Will’s response was obviously transparent in light of the changing times, but Chaucer took a more direct approach in offending the class system, despite his obvious change in audience.

Chaucer’s work The Canterbury Tales was constructed in the basic dimensions of the time. That is, this work was intended for the absorption of less virgin ears in the realm of higher authority. As has always seemingly been understood, those in power were eons more literate than the curs subsisting at the last rung of the societal ladder. Therefore, this work was essentially Greek to the unfortunates. For example, Chaucer’s intentional flowery language represents his surprising intellectual advantage, such as, “Whan that April with his showers soote,” (318). Chaucer’s work was also an estates satire written in verbose language with a liberal perspective unchallenged in his day and age. Chaucer maintained a steady, yet methodical, scheme in which he presented the darker side of every profession and individual. For instance, Chaucer even goes as far as to critique his contemporary Petrarch, as well as having the Wife of Bath tells a story demoralizing men by having a knight be saved by a woman. In essence, Chaucer’s comedic stance is purely satirical in such a way that he produces characters within other characters to prove that humanity is only as such as they choose to be; whereas, Will’s work represents them as being unfortunate because of laziness or listless compliance with their situation. Surely a revolutionary tone could not be accommodated by the allegorical context in Piers Plowman?

Anyway, Piers Plowman was a work which unintentionally led to revolt which was quelled by King Richard and led to much execution. No wonder Langland expressed

a surmise revised document without contempt. However, this is the end of the laudation of Will’s work and henceforth Chaucer’s Tales become much of how they are understood today. As such, the mostly interpretational work produced by the former author slipped away from mind in the shadow of said Tales. However, the main representation that made the story of the plowman so diverse and caustic was the dream-visions eloping throughout the tale. These visions envelop the character Will in a shroud questing for the meaning of a truly Christian life. In this way Langland’s work is truly the antithesis of the direct Tales mentioned previously and as such are mostly an obtuse interpretational text with numerous lessons strewn about it allegorical contents. A concise interpretation of Piers Plowman proves problematic in the way in which the work is taken into context because the vicissitudes and religiousness of the individuals at the time is less tangible to the modern reader, spare an intrinsic paradox. As a result, the cacophony of the incomplete Tales, as well as that of Piers Plowman, had far reaching effects beyond the cognizance of these medieval practitioners.

In retrospect, the far lasting consequences of these two ancient texts may be as independent as the causes and audiences for which they were written. However, it is quite obvious from merely reading these literary works that Chaucer was essentially doing back flips whilst running to home plate. Chaucer used his literary devices and crude, but yet complex, logic to convey a story so intermittent with conflicting perspectives that it resembles a drunken genius at a spelling bee. In hindsight, perhaps the most influential and laconic adaptation reserved for these individual texts is the

transition their rhetoric catalyzed. Indeed, previous to these manuscripts, much of traditional textual works were composed in the Romance Languages, such as French and

Latin, however, henceforth Middle English followed suit. These two works appeared anachronistic in discovery because the bastion of intellectual culture fell under the Romance Languages notions of the past. In his shiny new red Porsche, which every person who spoke English understood, Chaucer did donuts meanwhile confusing and offending betwixt the lines. In contrast to Chaucer’s proletariat fixation William Langland addressed the bourgeoisie and commoners alike appealing to their symbolic tradition of self-reflection through Christian mission. Alas, these adjacent texts appear quite quintessentially opposed; however, their messages coincided and were not quite opaque. In other words, through empathy or caustic rendition the populous should become more aware of their position and quell their listless salutations to advantageous persons. In the words of Edwin Schlossberg, “the skill of writing is to create a context in which other people can think.” That, in its entirety, is the main focus of both of these works which present the darker side of life. May it be through Chaucer’s rendition of the corruption and chicanery of the clergy and the Church, or through Will’s search for Charity or St. Truth and the eventual discovery of Meed and the evil spurred as such?

Nonetheless, in the end, the similarities between these two works fail to encompass the shear impact that they had on textual evolution. Chaucer and Langland both assumed very different roles when they wrote; however, their contrasts are far too striking to ignore. The change in audience is clear between the two, as well as the literary conventions that were imposed in the process. Unlike the strongly allegorical

work of Langland, Chaucer’s straightforward satire represented a literary rebellion confined to his pen. In light of the dissimilarity’s that exist betwixt the two, they both account as some of the earliest Middle English transcripts. As such, they can both be appreciated as different works for their unique rhetoric, style, and impressive rendition. Whilst Chaucer mainly signifies the evolution of their modern literary compositions, Langland harps on the religious norms of the time and appeals to the uneducated populous’ symbolic nature. In this way, the works of Chaucer and Langland have endured as benchmarks, but yet relics, of the past which present modern readers with a perspective of the authors who have graced us with their literary works.

- Works Cited –

Terry, Joseph, ed. The Longman Anthology: British Literature. Vol 1. 3rd ed. New York: Pearson Education, 2006.


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