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Geoffrey Chaucer Introduction

What Geoffrey Chaucer did... and why you should care

When English poet and civil servant Geoffrey Chaucer died in 1400, he was given a burial plot in Westminster Abbey. He received the honor not because he was the author of the famous Canterbury Tales, but because he had served in the office of Clerk of the King's Works. Though history remembers him for his poetry, Chaucer spent most of his life leveraging his many connections in order to get jobs in the royal court. He served as a valet to King Edward III and fought for England in the Hundred Years' War. Only in his later years, with his career and royal pension secured, did he turn to poetry. He produced epic poems like Troilus and Criseyde and The Legend of Good Women. His best-known work, however, was The Canterbury Tales, the account of a storytelling contest between pilgrims en route to Thomas Becket's shrine at Canterbury Cathedral. The tales are a milestone of English literature, as well as a fascinating record of life in medieval England.

Look, we've been in your shoes. The unfamiliar cadence of Middle English can be jarring and difficult. Chaucer may be irreverent and bawdy, but it's hard to get the joke when you're still trying to figure out what the heck shoures are. Still, there's a reason they call him the Father of English Literature. Thanks to Chaucer, it finally became okay for an Englishman to write in his own language, instead of having to show off his prestige by writing in French. Love him or hate him, Geoffrey Chaucer is at the head of a long line that leads straight down to Stephenie Meyer and J.K. Rowling. Get out those Middle English glossaries and start reading.

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