Geoffrey Chaucer: Father of English Literature

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Geoffrey Chaucer (1343-1400)

Figure in the 14th century, 'father of English literature' because he went against the norm and wrote in the language of the people. Life experiences: wine merchant, royal household, spoke French, Latin, and Italian. Soldier and diplomat. Member of Parliament. Wrote the tales around 1385, wrote about all classes in the Canterbury Tales to show English society at the time. Went against tradition because he wrote in Middle English rather than French.


  • Nobility (knight and squire)
  • Clergy (monk, friar, parson, pardoner)
  • Middle class (merchant, doctor, student, wife of bath)
  • Peasants (miller, plowman, skipper)

Code of Chivalry:

A knight must be: true to his god, defender of the faith, loyal to his lord and king, true to his lady, humble and modest in daily act, brave and fierce in war.

Code of Clergy:

Chaste and pure, devoted to God, obey the biblical law, take vows of poverty, achieve heavenly reward.

Seven Deadly Sins:

Gluttony, avarice, sloth, lust, vanity, pride, anger.

Moral Virtues:

Moderation, generosity, diligence, love, modesty, humility, forgiveness.

Chaucer's Canterbury Tales: representatives of English society, pilgrims (speech & tale) representing all social classes.


30 pilgrims are on their way to Canterbury to pay homage, each agrees to tell 2 tales, the winner will receive a supper paid by all.

Geoffrey Chaucer: Born in London, parents were well-off, owned several buildings in London. Dad (John Chaucer) a wealthy wine merchant. Nice education (Latin, Greek, classics). 1357: Became a page to Elizabeth, Countess of Ulster, joined English army's invasion France during the 100 Years' War. 1366: Married Philips de Roet. 1367: Received life pension from king. Had 4 kids with Philipa (Thomas, Elizabeth, Agnes, Lewis). Began writing poems in 1370. Jobs: page, courtier, member of Parliament, collector of scrap metal, justice peace, clerk. 1372-1378: Sent on diplomatic missions to France & Genoa. 1378: Wrote the Canterbury Tales. Death: October 25, 1400. Legacy: Father of English poetry. 1st poet to be buried in the Poet's Corner. Pioneered the regular use of iambic pentameter.

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