Geoffrey Chaucer


On this date Geoffrey Chaucer died (c. 1342-1400).

From Frye’s student paper, “A Reconsideration of Chaucer” (written and revised ca. 1936-1938):

We shall come to this question of Chaucer’s religious attitude again: all we are concerned with just now is the fact that the half-century between the Black Death and the death of Chaucer is a cultural unity as much as the baroque, rococo, or Victorian periods are.  The inner conflicts are intense, but they are a sign of vitality, and from one very significant point of view the resemblances are more profound and significant than the differences.  It is an error of fact to call Langland a Lollard or a sympathizer with John Ball; but it is not an error of interpretation to see underlying connections among all three.  Such a method of approach to any age in history is concerned above all to examine that age as far as humanly possible in terms of its own standards.  We have had enough, for example, of the critic who ascribes to Chaucer a sneaking sympathy with the ideas of Voltaire because the critic himself is revolting agains a Yahwistic mother.  Even more responsible criticism is apt to assume an impossible antithesis between “medieval” and “modern” attitudes, in which case it is not difficult to prove that Chaucer was “essentially” either.  Chaucer is not “essentially” anything but Chaucer, however, and Chaucer lived in the age of Wycliffe and Langland.  At the same time it is undoubtedly true that he is a uniquely cosmopolitan figure.  He drew both from the humanistic Italy of Petrarch and Boccaccio and from the still feudal and medieval France of Jean de Meung.  The cultural unity of fourteenth-century England is expressed very well by Langland and Wycliffe; but if we want to see this period in its relation to European culture as a whole we have to turn to Chaucer. (CW 3, 435)

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