Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Geoffrey Chaucer: A Representative of His Age


Well does Compton Rickett observe:

'Chaucer symbolizes, as no other writer does, the Middle Ages. He stands in much the same relation to the life of his time as Pope does to the earlier phases to the Eighteenth century; and Tennyson to the Victorian era; and his place in English literature is even more important than theirs...'

The social groups of thirty pilgrims cover the entire range of fourteenth century English society, leaving only royalty on one hand, and the lowest on the other.

Medieval Chivalry

Chaucer's knight is a true representative of the spirit of the medieval chivalry which was a blend of love, religion, and bravery. He has been a champion of not fewer than fifteen battles in the defense of Christianity. Being the embodiment of chivalric ideals, Chaucer's knight observes utmost courtesy. He was not only worthy in politeness but also wise in decisiveness.

We must, however, point out that the spirit of true chivalry was breathing its last in the age of Chaucer. The Knight, in fact, is a representative of an order which was losing its ground. The true representative of the new order is his young son. The Squire, who has as much a taste for revelry as for chivalry. He is a lover and a lusty bachelor.

So hoote he lovede that by nyghtertale
He slept namoore than dooth a nyghtyngale

Trade, Commerce And Art

The Merchant is a typical representative of his class. The countrymen and merchants have always made the two most common objects of humour and satire. But Chaucer lets the Merchant go without much of satire, perhaps in recognition of the importance that his class had gained in his age.


The knowledge of Astronomy rather Astrology was a must for a physician as all the physical ailments were supposed to be the consequences of the peculiar configuration of the stars and planets. That is why the Doctor of Physic, too, was grounded in Astronomy. Chaucer has a sly dig at the Doctor in his reference to his gold-loving nature.

The Church

The Church had become a hotbed of profligacy, corruption and rank materialism. The Monk is a fat, sprouting fellow averse to study and penance. The Friar is a jolly beggar who employs his tongue to carve out his living. The Prioress bothers more about modish etiquettes than austerity. The Pardoner is a despicable parasite in trading in letters of pardon with the sinners who could ensure a seat in heaven by paying hard cash. The summoner is likewise a depraved fellow.

The only exception is the poor Parson apparently a follower of Wycliffe who revolted against the corruption of the Church.

The New Learning

The Clerk of Oxford represents the new intellectual culture. He is an austere scholar who prefers twenty books of Aristotle's philosophy to gay clothes and musical instruments. And

Of studie took he moost cure and moost heede
Noght a word spak he moore than was neede

Thus, The Prologue is a comprehensive representation of the fourteenth century society which consisted of three main classes-that of the knights representing medieval chivalry, that of the clergy representing the Church, and that of the workers. These three classes constituted the main social structure and we can reconstruct the life of the fourteenth century through it.