Literature in the Middle Ages Canterbury Tales and Romance
Geoffrey Chaucer • Born 1345 (ish) - 1400 • Family was upper middle class • Had a wife and children • Well respected among peers and held in high esteem by the king • Little is known of his life beyond official duties and achievements
Positions held • Esquire of the royal court • Comptroller of customs at the port of London • Soldier in the Hundred Years’ War • Diplomat • Poet • Justice of the peace • Member of Parliament
The Canterbury Tales • Collection of narrative poems • Historical and social significance - provides a snap shot of Medieval England.
The pilgrimage • Was like a vacation • A place where people could be healed • Salvation • Significance of Canterbury
The importance of the Canterbury Tales • Made English language acceptable as a language of literature. • England was a nation of 3 languages:
The Characters • Characters are all types, named by profession • They are not so much individuals, but representatives of their social class or degree and profession. • Fall into three main degrees – • Those who worked • Those who prayed • Those who fought
The use of characterization • Perfected the art of characterization • Two basic methods: direct and indirect • Direct characterization: the writer makes explicit statements about a character • Indirect characterization: the writer reveals a character through his or her words, thoughts, and actions and through what other characters think and say about that character • For example, the description of the Knight, who was a “true and perfect knight” • Chaucer tells us exactly what he wants us to know
Methods of indirect characterization • Describing how character looks and his attire • Presenting character’s words and actions • Revealing character’s private thoughts • Showing how other characters respond to the character
Indirect characterization in the Canterbury Tales • Relies on physiognomy (fiz-ee-og-nuh-mee) • Belief that a person’s physical characteristics reveal his / her personality • Example: “A fine young squire…with locks as curly as if they had been pressed…He was embroidered like a meadow bright”
Physiognomy Gap-toothed Wife of Bath—the medieval audience knew this meant she was “well traveled.” The high forehead of the Prioress was a hint to the Medieval audience that she was very concerned with her social rank.
Medieval Literary Genres • Courtly Romance = stories of chivalry • Saints’ Legend = story told to educate listeners in the Catholic faith • Exemplum = story told to illustrate the main ideas of a sermon • Fabliau = story told by a common man involved in gross or indecent events • Fable = story told by animals who represent common human failings and ends with a moral
Drama of Middle Ages • Began in the church • Miracle plays = based on saints’ legend • Mystery plays = based on Biblical history • Morality plays = allegories where people represent individual vices and virtues • Taken over by guilds • Very popular and moved outside of church