Discuss the social picture of the age of Chaucer.

Discuss the social picture of the age of Chaucer.
Or,
Give a pen picture of the age of Chaucer.
Or,
Attempt an appreciation of Chaucer as a representative poet of his age.
And
Comment on Chaucer’s use of wit and humor in his poetry.
Write a Note on Chaucer’s wit and humor.

Chaucer AgeAnswer-1: Geoffrey Chaucer has been called the father of English poetry because he was the first English poet to write in such a language and metrical romance, showing variety and vitality that we recognize even today. The age of Chaucer was essentially an age of transition and unrest. Different factors, social, political and religious worked on the age. Chaucer is the first poet to give a poetic picture of his age. His uses of language, metrical romance, character portrayal, are most vivid. His great works like “Canterbury Tales” have ample illustration to his greatness as a poet of the age.

The age of Chaucer is an age of transition from the medievalism to the modern time. Many factors during this age contributed to the flourishing of Elizabethan Era. Consequently, it ushered in the modern era. A spirit of criticism, an interest in human affairs became the established order of the literature of Chaucer’s time. The social order, the customs and practices were reflected in the literary works of the age. The church was the first to be attacked. The tradition of moral and intellectual culture declined and the church has shown signs of decadence and weakness. The lordship of Pope was repudiated by the English king Edward III. The ground was ready for the separation of the English church from the Roman which, later on was completed by Henry VIII. The preaching of Wyclif contributed to the weakening of the church. Langland’s “Pier’s the Plowman” is an important work of social protest. It was a bitter satire on the abuses of church. The old social order gradually lost its hold on the people of the society. There was a Peasants’’ Revolt which was the first democratic and agrarian revolution in England. In this respect, the age of Chaucer was an age of change. There was no sign of clear reconstruction. Hence, the age of Chaucer remains medieval. However, medievalism was dying and the new modern age was to be born.

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Chaucer lived and wrote during this transitional age. He stood between the old and the new and pointed towards the future. He represents age as completely as Tennyson does the Victorian age. He was not a dreamer and reformer like Tennyson. He painted the contemporary life vividly, faithfully and realistically. The age he lived in is reflected in the pages of “Canterbury Tales”. He was essential, a man of the world who had genuine sympathy for all classes of people, his observation of the man and woman of his time was deep, accurate and clear sighted. Knights, squares, merchants, sailors, scholars, doctors, monks, laborers and even rogues – all classes of people are presented in his picture gallery of Prologue to “Canterbury Tales”.  In portraying these pictures Chaucer adopted the function of a dramatist. He does comment on them. The characters reveal themselves through their actions, deeds and the stories they tell. The stories are adapted to the characters of the tellers – the knight tells a tale of chivalry, the monk a story from the Bible etc. The author always remains in the background. The poet shows the experience of the pilgrims on the way to Canterbury.  Chaucer portrays e pictures of Canterbury life. The stories he tells are stories of everyday life. Dryden says “There is God’s plenty in Canterbury Tales”. However, Chaucer’s presentation of the 14th centenary life and society is witty and humorous. His humour is rich, profound and gentle. Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales” is a panorama of 14th century English life. In his presentation of character’s life, their manners and morals he lacks seriousness. “Nun’s Priest’s Tale” is another work of Chaucer where we also find a humorous presentation of the chronicles of 14th century society. Chaucer used variety in telling stories and in the use of humour. The imageries he used are taken from natural phenomenon. He hardly used metaphors or other figures of speech. The diction he used is simple and spontaneous. The rhyme and rhythm of his verse also draw the attention of the readers. The liquidity of his language and diction and the spontaneity of his rhythm make him favorite with the modern readers.

Chaucer’s contribution to English poetry is immense. He is rightly regarded the father of English poetry for his immense contribution. The greatness of his prologue alone makes him significant. His use of humour is tolerant and catholic. He is a cheerful spectator of life. Chaucer’s position is unique in the history of English poetry. He was the first poet with no competitor for hundred years to challenge his position.

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We may summarize Chaucer’s achievement by saying that he is the earliest of the great moderns. In comparison with the poets of his time and with those of the succeeding century, the advance he makes is amazing. In fact, the Chaucerian feature helped to create a modern atmosphere. His humanity, his humorous observation, his skillful use of metre, his criticism of life and society and above all his fresh formative spirit turned dross into gold. Chaucer is indeed a genius. He stands alone and for nearly two hundred years none dare claim equality with him.

Comment on Chaucer’s use of wit and humor in his poetry.
Or. Write a Note on Chaucer’s wit and humor.

Ans-2: Chaucer is not merely a great narrative poet—a story teller in verse—but also a great humorist of high order. He came in a serious world in which medieval chivalry and religious austerity silenced the natural instinct of man. The spontaneous zest for life is found missing in the most poets who flourished in his age. Chaucer presents in plenty, what other poets all lacked his gifts of wit and humour. Truly speaking, Chaucer’s genius is found expressed in his wonderful sense of humour, with which the rare flash of wit is well mingled. So while analyzing Chaucer’s exuberant humour, we should remember that the partition between humour and wit and that between both satire and irony are often thin. They often merge into one another.

Chaucer: The First Great English Humourist
Chaucer was a born humourist. He was the master of humour and irony. He was the first true humorist in English literature and it is by humour and wit, Chaucer has won a permanent place in the hearts of readers. Humour was the stuff and substance of his entire mental constitution and the essence of his art. It was the color of humour that gave the lively touch to his poetry and made it a fountain of liveliness and joy. It was his humour that fortified him against all misfortunes. He belongs to the great humorists of English literature. He is in the company of Cervantes, Rabelais, Moliere, Fielding and Dickens.

Chaucer possesses all the Characteristics of a great humorist. He has catholicity and tolerance of spirit to save it from slipping into satire. Secondly, Chaucer has the faculty of humour which is fed by keen and penetrating observation. Finally he has a healthy interest in this world and in life. He observes with interest and a smile the frailties and foibles in human society. The essential catholicity of his temper is borne out by the objectivity and detachment, which characterizes his realistic presentation of contemporary society.

Development of Humour in Chaucer’s works
There are four stages in the development of Chaucer’s humour.

The First Stage: In The Romance of the Rose Chaucer preferred to follow the style of Jearr de Meung. This first work of translation is a clear indication of Chaucer’s inborn genius as a humorist.

The Second Stage : In the second group of his allegorical poems such as The House of Fame, The Parlemint of Fowls and The Legend of Good Women, the humorous strain bursts forth so irresistibly that Chaucer, recognizing the discrepancy between the serious nature of the theme and his own inevitable satirical an humorous approach.

The Third Stage: In Troilus and Criseyde Chaucer’s humour has fully realized itself. There are found both the humour of situation and the humour of character. Pandarus has been recognized as a great humorous character in the ancestry of Shakespeare’s Sir John Falstaff. It is however to be noted that Chaucer does not distort his characters in order to produce a humorous effect. In this respect, he is in contrast with another great English humorist Charles Dickens.

The Fourth Stage: In The Canterbury Tales, we find the full flowering of Chaucer’s humorous genius. Chaucer’s humour developed with the maturity of his original powers. His humour found itself gradually, but reached its full vigor in the last and supreme work where a purely English subject gave his art ample scope for expression of English life and thought. The humour that is the distinction of The Canterbury Tales, is the flower of Chaucer’s self-realization as a national poet of England.

Chaucer’s Humour: Essentially English in Character
Chaucer’s humour is essentially English in character. Just as Chaucer’s personality was English, the ring of his humour is equally English. In the words of Lowell, “Chaucer’s is essentially an English humour. It is not the `wit’ of the French man. His humour is born of a strong common sense and a generous sympathy, and these are the qualities of the greatest English humorists like Shakespeare and Fielding. He showed the value of the comic point of view— the capacity to expose the incongruity which always lies half-hidden in men and things or in their relations with each other.”

Humour is connected chiefly with the people and happening of everyday life and it is this humour that Chaucer reveals in The Canterbury Tales we see it in its most original form in The Prologue.

Chaucer’s Humour: Sympathetic in The Prologue
Chaucer’s humour is always sympathetic and of the finest type; It bears a close similarity to Shakespeare’s humour. Like Shakespeare s humour, it is marked with a freshness of outlook, charity, tolerance and forgiveness. There is the tone of sympathy for its victim. Boccaccio’s humour hurts but Chaucer’s humour is always tinged with a sense of pity for the foibles of mankind. It The Canterbury Tales, the weaknesses of human life are presented merrily, but never with the lash of bantering satirist. Chaucer never lashes the vices of his fellowmen. There is honorable laughter resounding on the sides. The story tellers and the author enjoy the laugh in a hearty manner. There is not the laughter of disdain or malice but the subtle, silent laughter which is born out of recognition of human frailties, and the curious deviation which they cause in human life. Even the Pardoner and the Summoner and the Wife of Bath, inspite of their frailties, are treated in a genial and gentle manner. There is no moral indignation of Langland in viewing their lapses. Langland is a satirist and attacks the church with keen and telling thrusts; Chaucer on the other hand, who also exposes the corruption of the church, does so with a good humored laugh. Moreover, Chaucer makes fun more of the individual than of the institution. And even when he does mock, the mockery, either discreet or uproarious, never withered in him the gift of poetry.

Chaucer’s humour leads him to be the poet of man and humanity
Chaucer, the realist essentially the poet of man, intensely interested in man and his affairs. He had large humanity and good humored tolerance. He had no disdain for fools and no disgust for rascals. It brightens whatever it touches. His good and genial humour is all pervading and all pervasive. This geniality separates Chaucer from such later humorists like Addison and Jane Austen.

Chaucer’s human is spontaneous and all pervasive
Chaucer’s humour is natural and spontaneous. It is not the result of deliberate calculated efforts, but it is a spontaneous expression of his inner self. Chaucer’s humour is also all pervading and all pervasive. In the plays of Shakespeare, humour is not limited to comedy but equally well colors his tragedies. Chaucer’s humour is also found in his tragic expressions. His humour is the chief instrument of his literary expression. He knows the value of alternating diverse moods in his work.

Paradoxical Characteristic of Chaucer’s Humour
Chaucer’s humour is not only suggestive but often paradoxical. The suggestiveness of his humour becomes all the more striking and effective when it becomes paradoxical. He says something but suggests just the opposite. So Chaucer’s humour is absolutely simple and innocent. Along with the play of wit, there is a touch of irony in Chaucer’s humour. Of course, his irony has little of pungency and more of entertainment. He makes fun and provokes laughter, but does not lash savagely.

Conclusion: In conclusion, we may say that Chaucer’s gifts of humour and wit and the flash of his diverting irony have breathed into his poetry an atmosphere of liveliness, geniality and comical gaiety. He is truly the first great English humorist and original harbinger of the comic spirit in English literature. His interest lies in portraiture rather than in exposure. He is a humorist rather that a satirist. His humour issues in humanity. It is like Shakespeare’s humour, sympathetic and kindly laughter. Most of his humour is perfectly innocent fun. A roguish playful irony is one of his commonest weapons; but good humour is always in his right hand.

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