The period between 1343 and 1450 is known as the age of Chaucer. It marked the firstsignificant literary age in English literature. It heralded a new era of learning.Chaucer’s age also witnessed many social, political, and religious challenges.
There wasa nationalistic fervor. There was a strong dislike for the Papal or Church’s interference,which had previously been the citadel of moral authority, social prestige but nowsuffered from corruption, turpitude and superstitions.There were strong nationalistic passions due to the 100 Years’ War between Englandand France. There was also the charged atmosphere due to the Peasant upheavals inEngland. The middle class also emerged as strong social stratum.
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All of this represented a transition form a feudal social setup toward a free society wheremen and women could exercise their individual whims and fancies without fear ofreprimand. A transition form age of Medievalism to Modernism. Geoffrey Chaucer wasthe night star of the former and the morning sun of the latter.Another significant even of the age was the Black Death occurred or plague that affecteda third of country’s population.
This affected various social dynamics like limiting laborand employable bodies.Here are the main characteristics of the period:1-Language:The age saw the emergence of the standard English language. This was the single biggestdevelopment of the age as English had previously been heavily curbed by the influenceof French and Latin. The East Midland dialect became the accepted form ofstandardized English.The language saw great achievement and expression in the masterpieces of Chaucer.
French and Latin see a waning influence on the language of the day. Chaucer’s use oflanguage to describe man and his place are embellished with beauty, simplicity andhumour. The common examples from the daily life account details of blooming gardensin spring to unique human characteristics.The language glorified themes of beauty, vitality and the secular sentiment.2-Curiosity and criticism:The age is known for its scathing criticism of the established order and religion.Church’s control over temporal affairs of common men was challenged during thisperiod.There was a renewed interest in the common man’s affairs. There is a theme of derisionof romance especially by Chaucer.
Drama takes the prominent stage. The dominance ofhistorical fables and romance of Medieval age was eschewed for more humanisticthemes,It was a period of great social and intellectual movements as well as poverty, unrest, andrevolt. It had the plague called the Black Death as well as the growth of the scientifictemper and inquiry. It had great criticisms of the Church as well celebration of thecommoners. It is often regarded as the precursor to the Renaissance movement of theElizabethan age.3-Prose:The English prose had its beginning in this age. Due to ripening of the language theprose could now be experimented with. The Biblical translation of John Wycliffe is anexample of it.
The prose writing is both original and individual. There are experimental works like thatof Thomas Mallory (King Arthur) etc. and also a desire to shed the grip of Latin as seenin demand for an English Bible. The formation of allegory was refined in this period.There was a return of alliteration which had been replaced with rhymes in the middleages.The prominent prose writers of Chaucer’s age were Chaucer, John of Trevisa and JohnWycliffeThere is also great influence of Scottish works like Barbour.
4-Poetry:The middle age saw the birth of English poetry. In Chaucer’s age poetry continued toflourish and assumed an unparalleled position. The most noted poets of this age wereChaucer, John Gower and William Langland. Spencer became the father of poeticdiction as there was no poetic diction before this age.The poetry saw the amalgamation of religion, humanism and secular passions.
Therewere new forms of poetry like narrative and descriptive poetry that were enhanced inthis time period.Chaucer himself was known for his trenchant observations. He was sociable and lovedmingling with people from diverse backgrounds as evidenced in his work; ‘TheCanterbury Tales’. In it he has been able to pen minute peculiarities and complexities ofhuman nature. Chaucer uses seven lined stanza ABABBCC, known as the Chaucerianrhyme meter.
There is liberal use of humor. There is insistence on human sentiment like in ‘TheLegend of good women’.Normally the Chaucerian poems are divided into three stages- Italian (The Parliament ofFowls etc), French (The Romaunt etc.), and English (The Parson’s Tale etc.
) However, there is also some criticism for the inordinate length of some speeches andpreachy discourse on ethics etc.5-Age of germination:Even thought there were no novels or drama at his age, Chaucer’s work did pkant theseeds for its development in the succeeding Elizabethan age. If ‘The Canterbury Tales’had been in prose and divided into scenes and acts, it would have been the language’sfirst drama.