Geoffrey Chaucer was one of the most notable figures of medieval English literature. Living in the 14th century England, Chaucer was an active civil servant while at the same time having scholarly pursuits in a wide range of sciences.
Although he wrote extensively on subjects related to philosophy, astronomy and many other scientific subjects, he primarily earned fame as one of the greatest English poets of the age. His work contributed to the solid foundations of the Middle English vernacular and he wrote at a time when the vernacular English literature was still in its nascent stage for which he is often called the Father of English literature.
Chaucer became associated with the court of English monarch, Edward III, early in his life. During the reign of Edward, he participated in the royal expedition in one of the military campaigns of the Hundred Years’ War with France.
Chaucer was captured by the French in 1360 and later ransomed by Edward. Initially serving as a messenger to the royal court, Chaucer subsequently studied law and gradually elevated his standing in the court. He traveled extensively in Europe and was given many notable civil posts during his later years, eventually becoming a member of the Kent Parliament in 1386.
He wrote some of his most reputed works of poetry during his years as a civil servant. In the reign of Henry IV, Chaucer’s influence at the court waned. He died in 1400.
Chaucer’s most prolific period in terms of literary output was between 1374 and 1386, a period during which he served as the customs comptroller for London. It was during this period that Chaucer penned down his famous works of poetry including The Legend of Good Women, Parlement of Foules and Troilus and Criseyde. Also during this period, he began working on what would become his magnum opus ‘The Canterbury Tales.
Although Chaucer attained fame as a poet on the basis of his overall literary output, The Canterbury Tales have been hailed as his most outstanding work. This work is notable for being both stylistically unique and naturalist in its theme.
The poem details the stories of various pilgrims going to the shrine at Canterbury and each pilgrim is an archetype character representing a specific medieval occupation. The Canterbury Tales became an immensely popular part of medieval English poetry and was seen as crucial in shaping the English literature for the subsequent centuries.
As a poet, Chaucer drew on the stylistic elements of the English poets before him as well as the poets in Continental Europe. He was the first English poet to make use of a five-stress line and used it in rhyming couplets, a feature which became widespread in English poetry after him.
Chaucer is also credited with using many English words for the first time in writing, bringing them from oral use to written language. For this reason, a wide range of English words are credited to him in the Oxford English Dictionary.