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Chaucer’s Contribution to English Language & Literature

Updated on May 5, 2015
Chaucer's Contribution to English Language & Literature
Chaucer's Contribution to English Language & Literature | Source

Introduction

It was Rev. John Dart, who called Chaucer as the father of poetry in the history of English literature due to his unforgettable contributions to the English language and literature. There is something in the literary works of Chaucer that John Dart was compelled to compose a very lengthy poem in his praise. He praises Chaucer in the following lines:

To Chaucer's Name eternal Trophies raise.
And load the antique Stone with wreaths of Bays.
Father of Verse! who in immortal Song,
First taught the Muse to speak the English Tongue.

(Westminster Abbey by Rev. John Dart)

Similarly, Mathew Arnold has gone to the extent by saying that “With him is born our real poetry.” Chaucer has been regarded as the pioneer in poetry, drama, novel, characterization, versification, realism, and humour. Now let’s explore how he contributed to various fields of literature:

Chaucer’s Contribution to Language

One of the most important contributions that Chaucer made is his contribution to the English language. It was all due to his treatment of English language in his poetry that English secured a prominent position amongst the languages of the world not only today but in that time as well. It was Chaucer, who preferred English language over Latin and French. It was a fashion and vogue of the time to use Latin and French languages in church, courts and in any literary work, but Chaucer refused to adopt these languages for his poetry. Though, the English language was in raw form, yet he ventured upon using the English Language for his poetry. It was not as polished and full of vocabulary as Latin and French. Lowell says in this regard:

“Chaucer found his English a dialect and left it a language.”

He transformed the East Midland dialect into a full-fledged language of England. Chaucer knew that Latin and French, due to its complex grammar, would lag behind English language. He was pretty sure about the bright future of English language. That is why; he adopted English language in his poetry. Sir Walter Raleigh remarks that “he purified the English of his time from its dross! He shaped it into a fit instrument for his use.”

The Canterbury Tales
The Canterbury Tales | Source

Geoffrey Chaucer

Chaucer’s Contribution to Poetry

Chaucer’s second and prominent contribution to the English language & literature is his contribution to the English poetry. In the age of Chaucer, most of the poets used to compose allegorical poetry. It was a poetry, which had no relationship with the reality of the time. In the beginning, Chaucer also followed his predecessor and wrote poetry in their manner. But later on, he came to know that any piece of literature must deal with real life. That is why; The Canterbury Tales is the product of this change. It deals directly with life as it was in his age. He describes every character in its true colours. He does not exaggerate or underrate any character. Rather, he paints every character in words as it was before him. Grierson and Smith are of the opinion that Chaucer’s pilgrims “are all with today, though some of them have changed their names. The king now commands a line regiment, the squire is in the guards, the shipman was a rum-runner, while prohibition lasted and is active now in the black market, the friar is a jolly sporting publican, the pardoner vends quack medicines or holds séances, and the prioress is the headmistress of a fashionable girl’s school.”

The Canterbury Tales
The Canterbury Tales | Source

Chaucer’s Contribution to Versification

In the field of versification, the English poets owe much to Chaucer. He was the first poet, who tried his hands on English poetry. During his time, poetry was in its raw shape. He made several experiments in versification and gave it a new shape. His contemporaries were sued to too much alliteration in their poetry. Chaucer could not withstand with it and brought about drastic changes in alliteration. In the old fashioned alliteration, the number of syllables was irregular. Chaucer discarded this method of alliteration and introduced a new one, which had regular number of syllables, end rhyme and absence of frequent repetition.

In Chaucer’s poetry, we also find that he has used lines of ten syllables and the lines are in couplets. Every line in a couplet rhyme with each other. Chaucer is also famous for his new form of stanza, which is called Chaucerian stanza. He was the first poet, who introduced it into the English literature. It is a stanza of seven lines having octosyllabic meter. Its rhyme scheme is aba bb cc. Chaucer used this type of stanza in The Books of the Duchesse. Chaucer is also regarded as the originator of heroic couplet. Heroic couplet is widely used in The Canterbury Tales by Chaucer and later on by his successors like Pope and Dryden. Pope and Dryden perfected the Heroic Couplet to a great extent.

Chaucer’s Contribution to Drama

Chaucer’s another contribution that resulted in the birth of secular drama was his contribution to the drama. His poetry had something that contributed to the development of drama. Characterization in The Canterbury Tales is said to be the first element of drama that gave rise to drama. Drama is a collection of dialogues through the mouths of living characters. Characters in The Canterbury Tales are free to talk about everything and the author has very little intervention in their dialogues. This sort of feature is certainly an important element of drama. In drama, the author does not intervene in the dialogues of characters. A critic asserts in this regard:

“A dramatist in all but the fact if the drama had been known in Chaucer’s time as a branch of living literature, he might have attained as highly an excellence in comedy as any English Continental writer.”

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Chaucer’s Contribution to Novel

Though, there were no signs of novel in the age of Chaucer, yet he was the first poet who augured the era of novel. His poetry is replete with such elements as characterization, plot construction, narration, realism, humour and pictorial qualities that fit into the genera of modern novel. G.K Chesterton asserts in this regard:

“If Chaucer is the father of English poetry, he is certainly the grandfather of the English novel.”

Like a modern novelist, his description, narration and ways of storytelling are aligned with any novelist. He does not lag behind them at any stage. That is why; The Canterbury Tales is regarded as the prologue to modern fiction. It has almost all the characteristics that we find in any novel. It has vivid characterization, point of view, humour, realism, pictorial quality and much more that may fit into the genera of novel. Chaucer’s Troilus and Cryseyde is considered a novel in verse. It has everything that we associate with novel. It has characterization, plot construction, action, conflict, physiological analysis and setting, which we normally find in any novel. S.D Neill has the opinion that:

“ Had Chaucer written in prose, it is possible that his Troilus and Cryseyde and not Richardson’s Pamela would be celebrated as the first English Novel.”

Chaucer’s Contributions: Other Aspects

Chaucer’s major contributions also contain his lavish use of humour in his poetry. He may be regarded as the best and first humourist in the history of English literature. His Canterbury Tales reflect his tendency for humour to a great extent. In every characterization, he finds something humourous, which compels him to make fun of him. He makes fun of Fiar, Prioress and other characters in such a manner that the reader cannot help laughing. Aldous Huxley says in this regard:

“Where Langland’s cries aloud in anger threatening the world with hell fire, Chaucer looks on and smiles.”

Unlike his contemporary poets, Chaucer does not follow the way of didacticism. He wants to bring about smiles on the faces of his readers. That is why; he endeavours to refrain from didacticism in his poetry.

Thus, the above discussion reveals clearly Chaucer’s contribution to the English language and literature.

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© 2014 Muhammad Rafiq

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      Suneel 2 months ago

      thank you so much sir

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      Shifa 4 months ago

      This is very helpful,I was badly in need of chaucer's contribution on poetry.Your information is so good and easy to get along with. Thank you!

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      Muhammad Rafiq 6 months ago from Pakistan

      Thanks Rana Tariq for your comments.

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      Muhammad Rafiq 7 months ago from Pakistan

      Thanks Maria Khan for your comments. I am glad it helped you.

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      Mariya khan 7 months ago

      Fantastic.......it help me a lot...thanks

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      Muhammad Rafiq 7 months ago from Pakistan

      Thanks Qamar Abbas for your comments. I am glad it helped you.

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      Rai Qamar Abbas 7 months ago

      WOW Amazing Sir Really i was worried about my Test but now i am very Happy to read that which is so Nice Great Sir

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      Muhammad Rafiq 8 months ago from Pakistan

      Thank You....

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      Muhammad Rafiq 8 months ago from Pakistan

      Thanks Sheryar for your comments.

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      shaharyar 8 months ago

      Very good answer .this material is prvovide in very simple nd easy language

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      Muhammad Rafiq 11 months ago from Pakistan

      Thanks Umar for your comments.

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      Muhammad Rafiq 12 months ago from Pakistan

      You are welcome, Monika!

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      Monika Rathod 12 months ago

      Thanks alot it will add more to my knowledge about Choucer.

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      Muhammad Rafiq 12 months ago from Pakistan

      Thanks for your comments. I am glad it helped you.

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      tanu 12 months ago

      Thanx a lot i think it will helpful for my studies but i need more knowledge about chaucer's contribution in english lit.....

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      Muhammad Rafiq 12 months ago from Pakistan

      Thanks for your comments.

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      Manivendra Aaryan 12 months ago

      Good one buddy. Just a tinge of reference to his Canterbury Tales would have proliferated the ingenuity of your research.

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      Muhammad Rafiq 13 months ago from Pakistan

      Thanks Shifa for your comments.

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      Muhammad Rafiq 13 months ago from Pakistan

      You are welcome Farjana. I'm glad it helped you.

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      Muhammad Rafiq 14 months ago from Pakistan

      You are welcome. I am glad it helped you.

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      AKSHAYA 14 months ago

      Thank you so much it helped a lot for my studies.

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      Muhammad Rafiq 14 months ago from Pakistan

      Thanks for commenting. I will try to add more stuff to this article.

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      Muhammad Rafiq 15 months ago from Pakistan

      Thanks for commenting. I am glad it helped you.

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      neha 15 months ago

      this is very helpful to me thank you

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      Muhammad Rafiq 16 months ago from Pakistan

      Thanks for commenting. I'm glad it helped you.

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      yasra ch 16 months ago

      this is very help ful

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      Muhammad Rafiq 20 months ago from Pakistan

      Thanks Souvik for your comments. I'm glad it helped you.

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      souvik 20 months ago

      this article was very helpful .thanks :)

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      Muhammad Rafiq 21 months ago from Pakistan

      Thanks Malik Obaid for your comments.

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      Malik obaid 21 months ago

      INFINITE THANKS ....Especially TO AUTHOR

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      Muhammad Rafiq 24 months ago from Pakistan

      Thanks Zaryab for your comments.

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      zaryab 24 months ago

      nyc but need more data

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      Muhammad Rafiq 2 years ago from Pakistan

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Nandini! Have a nice time.

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      nandini 2 years ago

      Thanks for every details of Chaucer

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      Muhammad Rafiq 2 years ago from Pakistan

      Thanks Nasir Khan for your comments and suggestions. I will try my best to add more contents to this article.

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      Nasir khan 2 years ago

      overall its commendable very informative and knowledgeable but sir kindly stretch it a little more if Possible at least two to three headings.

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      Muhammad Rafiq 2 years ago from Pakistan

      Thanks Nayana for your encouraging comments! I am glad it helped you.

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      nayana 2 years ago

      Its really very very helpul.. I have got enough knowledge about chaucers contributions.. Thank you very much

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      Muhammad Rafiq 2 years ago from Pakistan

      Thanks Justice for your comments! I am pleased it helped you.

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      Justice 2 years ago

      This has really helped me in preparing for my exams. I now have enough points to explain Chaucer's contributions to English literature. Thanks

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      Revathy 2 years ago

      VERY useful information

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      Muhammad Rafiq 2 years ago from Pakistan

      Thanks Pritha for your comments!

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      Pritha Chakraborty 2 years ago

      It appears to be quite helpful............ but plz provide more points to Chaucer's contribution to novel

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      Muhammad Rafiq 2 years ago from Pakistan

      Thanks for commenting! I'll try my best.

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      Sadaf 2 years ago

      plz give more detail otherwise good work