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Episode
181

Geoffrey Chaucer

Aug 3, 2021
Arts & Culture
-
24
minutes
English writing
Poetry
The Middle Ages
Kings & Queens
England
History of language

He is often called the father of English literature, and his work has been enjoyed by people all over the world.

In this episode, we'll learn about this innovative author, his fascinating life, and how he created a new literary tradition.

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[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about Geoffrey Chaucer, a man who by many people’s standards is the father of English Literature. 

[00:00:33] He might not be the first person you think about when you think of an English writer, but he was the most famous person to have first written in the vernacular, the English spoken by normal English people.

[00:00:47] He was also much more than a writer. He was an astronomer, a diplomat, a member of Parliament, a courtier, a philosopher, a bureaucrat, a soldier and a poet.

[00:01:00] So, let’s not waste a minute, and learn about the fantastic and fascinating life and work of Geoffrey Chaucer.

[00:01:09] As with almost everyone who lived in the Middle Ages, there is a limited knowledge about his life on a day to day basis, but we do know more about Chaucer than many other writers who were alive at the time.

[00:01:24] We know that he was a prolific traveller in Europe, which was obviously a lot harder to do 650 years ago than it is now.

[00:01:33] He was also a linguist

[00:01:35] He spoke fluent French and seems to have had a good working knowledge of both Italian and Latin. 

[00:01:43] Although his home and work were right at the heart of London, he was very much a European. 

[00:01:50] Since he first put pen to paper, in the year 1357, his brilliant writing has amused and intrigued people across the social spectrum – from kings to the most lowly of peasants; from his own contemporaries to 21st century digital natives. 

[00:02:09] Yet this man lived more than 600 years ago and wrote in a style of English which, although recognisable to scholars, requires some translation or at least getting used to in order to make it fully understandable to even a native speaker of modern English.

[00:02:29] If you were to take a copy of Chaucer to the streets of London, New York, or Sydney, I imagine that most people wouldn’t understand it, and many wouldn’t even recognise it as English. 

[00:02:43] His life and work have continued to fascinate writers, poets especially; and since his death in 1400, he has not gone out of fashion. 

[00:02:54] This achievement is all the greater when we consider that he was an amateur writer - in other words, he wrote in his spare time, he wasn’t a professional. 

[00:03:05] He had a variety of demanding, salaried jobs, mainly working for the government; in spite of this he managed to produce a large body of literature – almost all poetry, but across a wide range of literary styles or genres. 

[00:03:23] His collected works, all of the writing that he produced in his life, rival those of the other undisputed giant of English Literature, William Shakespeare. 

[00:03:33] So, Chaucer's status as the “Father of English Literature” is well deserved. 

[00:03:40] Aside from literary merit, aside from what an excellent author he was, there are two other very good reasons for exploring the life and writing of Geoffrey Chaucer. 

[00:03:52] The first is that, because he worked for most of his life for the state as a diplomat, bureaucrat and member of Parliament, we actually know quite a lot about his life, as much was written down and survived in court documents. 

[00:04:08] This means that he gives us a unique insight into the working life of a socially and professionally ambitious Englishman of the late Middle Ages. 

[00:04:20] The other reason for exploring this fascinating man is that he wrote in English. 

[00:04:26] Now, you might think, this isn’t much of a reason - he was English, wasn’t he?

[00:04:32] Well, yes, he was English, but most English poets at the time would have written in French, rather than English. 

[00:04:40] We’ll explore this further in a few minutes, but Chaucer’s decision to use English rather than French may well have had a significant effect on the development of the English language, on the development of the language that I am speaking at the moment.

[00:04:57] Let's start then with a brief outline of the man‘s life, before moving onto his impact on the language and then finally the works themselves. 

[00:05:08] Born in 1343 into a prosperous middle-class London merchant family, the young Chaucer’s social status was on the rise from early on in life.

[00:05:21] This was partly because his parents grew richer for a tragic reason - as a result of many of their relatives dying in the bubonic plague or Black Death which swept through all of Europe in the late 1340s. 

[00:05:37] As his relatives died, they left money to Chaucer’s family, who then grew richer.

[00:05:44] However, to get ahead, to be successful, in Medieval England money wasn’t enough. 

[00:05:51] You also needed connections to people in high places.

[00:05:55] Luckily enough, his father had them, and was able to place the young Chaucer as something called a “page” in a royal household.

[00:06:05] A page is essentially a young boy who would be a servant in a noble, an aristocratic, family.

[00:06:13] Chaucer was placed in the household of the wife of one of the King’s sons – in fact the second son of King Edward III, the king who was on the throne from 1327 – 1377.

[00:06:27] It's not a perfect analogy, but if you imagine that once Prince Charles becomes king, Prince Harry will be the second son of the King: so, the teenage Chaucer’s position in the court of Elizabeth de Burgh, Countess of Ulster, was a bit like being in the Court of Meghan Markle. 

[00:06:47] Of course, without the press, the paparazzi, and scandal, but that’s the idea.

[00:06:53] Anyway we have all sorts of details about young Chaucer‘s life in that royal court, including the fact that his aristocratic mistress required him to wear ultra-fashionable but provocatively tight stockings and short tunics when he was waiting on the family and their noble guests. 

[00:07:15] One can only hazard a guess as to why...

[00:07:19] What else do we know about his varied working life? 

[00:07:23] We know that he went to war – against France, of course, as the so-called Hundred Years’ War was in progress. 

[00:07:31] We know that as an eighteen year old soldier he was captured at the siege of Reims in France and that he was ransomed, that he was held as a hostage for a total of £16, which is equivalent to about £12,000 now. 

[00:07:49] This meant that he was in effect bought back by King Edward III, clearly demonstrating that he was greatly valued in high places. 

[00:07:59] The appetite for travel and discovery was clearly a strong element of Chaucer’s character. 

[00:08:06] His role as a diplomat, possibly even a spy, took him to France and Italy. 

[00:08:13] In both countries he seems to have encountered the significant poets of the day, people like Petrarch and Boccaccio, as well as powerful aristocrats like the Viscontis, the rulers of Milan. 

[00:08:26] As well as being a member of Parliament, he occupied the influential role of controller of the King’s customs in London for 12 years. What this would mean is that he was in control of goods coming in and out of the city of London.

[00:08:43] He would therefore have had a very close up insight into the way in which England‘s largest export to continental Europe, sheep‘s wool, paid for much of the vast cost of the Hundred Years’ War through the taxes raised on the product. 

[00:08:59] Chaucer’s final job was as clerk of the King‘s works, which involved being the main person in charge of managing and organising the King‘s major building projects. 

[00:09:11] Upward mobility, or rising up in society, was also a feature of his personal life: he married Philippa de Roet, a lady-in-waiting or aristocratic attendant to the Queen. 

[00:09:26] Philippa’s sister became the mistress and then wife of a man called John of Gaunt.

[00:09:32] Now, this explanation might be a little confusing, but John of Gaunt was King Edward III’s second son, and after the death of Richard II, who was John of Gaunt’s nephew, John of Gaunt’s eldest son, Henry IV, became king.

[00:09:50] If you’re lost, I don’t blame you. 

[00:09:52] The point to remember is that this man, John of Gaunt, had been the uncle of the king, and then the father of the new king, so he was incredibly wealthy and powerful. 

[00:10:04] And he was a close friend and ally of Chaucer.

[00:10:09] Chaucer had gone from a relatively modest, one could say middle-class upbringing to being the brother in law to the King’s father – a highly influential position at the centre of the English court. 

[00:10:24] If you would like a more yet more memorable way of understanding how much he was appreciated by his royal masters, here is a bizarre fact for you: King Edward III awarded him a gallon of wine every day for the rest of his life. 

[00:10:42] A gallon is just under 5 litres.

[00:10:45] We have no way of knowing for sure, but it is highly likely that this liquid appreciation was in recognition of Chaucer‘s talents as a poet. 

[00:10:57] Even today, the poet chosen by the monarchy as the official poet is paid in liquid form – a barrel of something called sherry, a barrel is about 720 bottles, and they are paid this for the 10 years they do the job. 

[00:11:14] Now, let‘s move on to discuss the impact that Chaucer had on the English language. 

[00:11:21] As we know, English is now a global language – a lingua franca.

[00:11:27] But if we go back 700 years to the period just before Chaucer‘s birth, so that’s the early 1300s, what do we find?

[00:11:37] Well, English is a very different beast - a low status, vernacular language, meaning native language or dialect. 

[00:11:46] It was the poor relation to French which was the language that the most aspiring and ambitious poets in Europe would generally use and that Chaucer, as a poet at the King’s court, would have been expected to use. 

[00:12:04] French was the undisputed language of all things sophisticated - fine food, perfume, law and, yes, fine poetry. 

[00:12:14] If you wanted to have your writing heard and read by the best educated and most sophisticated people, you wrote in the appropriate language - French. 

[00:12:26] After all, French had remained the language of the royal court for many years following the so-called Norman Conquest of England by the Norman French in 1066. 

[00:12:38] It was actually only in the year 1415, 15 years after Chaucer‘s death that for the first time English was used to convey a royal message; this was when the news of the victory at the Battle of Agincourt was brought back from France to England. 

[00:12:56] Previously, all such messages had been in French. 

[00:13:00] So, given all of this, Chaucer’s decision to write in English went completely against the grain – it was against what would have been expected. 

[00:13:10] However, as a result of his brave decision, two particular opportunities opened up for him. 

[00:13:18] The first was that, although he was less likely to reach a European audience, writing in English opened up a large English audience. 

[00:13:28] After Chaucer‘s death, this became ever more so when, with the operation of the first printing press for books in English in 1473, Chaucer’s works were much printed and started to be read by the increasingly literate English population. 

[00:13:46] The second result of his decision was that he was able to create his very own fusion or combination of influences: this meant combining both the native or indigenous English influence and the semi-foreign French one.

[00:14:03] This became apparent both in the style of his language and also in the literary styles that he used. 

[00:14:11] In particular, Chaucer took advantage of the fact that the English of this time was being flooded by French words – often these words were providing additional synonyms and nuances which complemented the existing, native English words. 

[00:14:30] So, for example, words like chivalry, courtesy and perfume, all imports from French are readily used by Chaucer. 

[00:14:40] In terms of the literary styles, a parallel or comparable process happened under Chaucer – you could say that it was a magical combination. 

[00:14:51] In short, the English narrative or storytelling poetic tradition relied on action – it featured lots of events - battles, quests, journeys

[00:15:04] This meant that there was plenty to interest the reader, but the interest was mainly based on action: who was going to do what to whom and when? 

[00:15:14] The equivalent French literature of the day had at its centre emotion – with the emotion of love as the most significant and powerful. 

[00:15:25] The genius of Chaucer, many believe, was to use the relatively new, fast-developing English language with its new, sophisticated French words and to combine the best of both of the English poetic tradition with the best of the French: in other words, English tradition for action, combined with the French penchant towards emotion. 

[00:15:52] As we draw towards a close, I will do my best to illustrate this by referring to Chaucer’s best known works – Troilus and Criseyde and The Canterbury Tales. 

[00:16:04] Troilus and Criseyde is a beautifully constructed long poem that describes the love of Troilus, a Trojan prince in ancient Troy and his love, Criseyde, whose father has deserted Troy and treacherously gone over to the Greek enemies who are camped outside the city. 

[00:16:23] These two lovers know that their love is forbidden, it is not allowed; Criseyde’s position as a vulnerable young woman is especially poignant

[00:16:34] In Chaucerian English, he writes:

[00:16:37] Right as an aspes leaf she gan to quake, 

[00:16:40] What she hym felte hire in his armes folde. 

[00:16:44] Now, I imagine you might not understand that, and indeed many native speakers wouldn’t either.

[00:16:51] He is saying that Criseyde is shaking like the leaf of a tree as she feels herself being wrapped in Troilus’ arms. 

[00:17:01] Although we know from the start of the poem that their love is doomed, that it will never work, the psychological reality of a nervous young woman in her lover’s arms that Chaucer creates is typical of the quality that makes this poem one of the greatest love poems in English. 

[00:17:20] Of course, the story isn’t Chaucer’s own. 

[00:17:23] Troilus is a character from Ancient Greek literature, and Chaucer’s story is inspired by a work of Boccaccio, which is itself inspired by a 12th century French poet.

[00:17:36] But that doesn’t stop it being beautiful and worth reading in its own right.

[00:17:42] Chaucer‘s vision for his more famous work, The Canterbury Tales, was even more ambitious

[00:17:49] The vehicle for this great work was that of a pilgrimage from London to Canterbury, the site of the shrine to the most famous, domestic English saint, Thomas A Becket.

[00:18:02] Chaucer tells the tale of 30 different pilgrims, each of whom should tell two stories on the journey out to Canterbury and two stories on the way back. 

[00:18:15] Chaucer did not fulfil all of this massive task - he died before he could complete it - but he still left us something incredible. 

[00:18:25] What is so special about this great work? 

[00:18:28] Well, I have time to tell you about three things. 

[00:18:32] Firstly, this work is surprisingly and brilliantly democratic: Chaucer gives voice to characters right across the full span of society, from the aristocratic knight to the humble ploughman, the farmer who ploughs the fields.

[00:18:50] And the social status of the pilgrim does not save them from the criticisms of the poet: for example, he even raises doubts about the motives of the knight through suggesting that his claimed high virtues are not true, given his participation in some dreadful massacres of civilians

[00:19:11] Chaucer dramatises the fights that the pilgrims have; for example the rivalry between the miller, a person who works in a mill, and his sworn enemy, the carpenter. 

[00:19:23] The result is that the miller tells a very rude story which shows carpenters in a very poor light, it portrays them badly. 

[00:19:33] No one escapes satire and laughter, no matter their social status.

[00:19:38] The second special thing is the way that Chaucer combines the character of the person telling the story with the tale itself and thereby uses irony skilfully. 

[00:19:52] A good example of this is with one of the nastiest characters of the group - a man called the Pardoner, whose job involves cheating poor people into buying fake pardons and relics to forgive them of their sins.

[00:20:08] This being the Middle Ages, England was still a Catholic country, and people would buy objects and do certain things which they thought would save them from going to hell. 

[00:20:20] The Pardoner’s story to his fellow travellers is the same one that he tells people to trick them out of their money, with a moral of The Root of all Evil is the Desire for Money. 

[00:20:33] The Pardoner seems to have no shame, he is not embarrassed about the fact that he is a cheat and a fraud, and he even asks his fellow pilgrims for money at the end of his story.

[00:20:46] The Pardoner thinks he is being very clever by tricking the pilgrims, but the irony is that the reader can see quite how terrible he is, and how the Pardoner himself is a living example of how “The Root of all Evil is the Desire for Money”.

[00:21:04] So, this is not only thought-provoking, but it is beautifully ironic.

[00:21:10] The third and final important thing to mention is Chaucer’s portrayal of women, in particular his most famous creation, the Wife of Bath. 

[00:21:20] This character talks with great colour and openness about her life and in particular her treatment of her five husbands, the ways she controls them and her sexual appetite. 

[00:21:34] It is really compelling and unusual, given the traditions of medieval poetry.

[00:21:40] We have no way of knowing the degree to which the prominence of female characters like the Wife of Bath helped increase the reading of Chaucer amongst women, but it would be surprising if it did not.

[00:21:53] So there you have it - what a poet, what a man, and deservedly called The Father of English Literature.

[00:22:01] His work is translated into most languages, and if you are planning to read some, I would recommend doing so in the translation.

[00:22:10] As I said earlier, reading it in the original Middle English is hard enough for a native speaker, and it probably isn’t realistic to try to read the works of Chaucer in the original as a non-native speaker.

[00:22:23] But, I would certainly recommend listening to a bit of how we believe it would have sounded.

[00:22:30] Here’s a very quick taster:

[00:22:32] Narrator: [00:22:32] Here bygynneth the Book of the tales of Caunterbury

[00:22:32] Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote,

[00:22:32] The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,

[00:22:32] And bathed every veyne in swich licóur

[00:22:32] Of which vertú engendred is the flour;

[00:22:48] Alastair Budge: [00:22:48] Now, don’t worry if you can't understand that. It is very different, and there is no reason for you to be able to understand it, it certainly wouldn’t help much with modern English conversation.

[00:23:00] But if you haven’t read any Canterbury Tales, I would certainly recommend it. 

[00:23:05] It is amazingly timeless, from stories of love affairs to jealousy, gluttony to drunkenness, like all great writers there is something truly timeless about the works of Geoffrey Chaucer.

[00:23:20] OK then, that is it for today's episode on Geoffrey Chaucer: the father of English literature.

[00:23:28] I hope it's been an interesting one, that you've learnt something new, and that this might have inspired you to pick up a copy of The Canterbury Tales, in translation of course, and enjoy it for yourself.

[00:23:40] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. 

[00:23:44] Were you aware of Geoffrey Chaucer before listening to this episode? 

[00:23:48] Have you read any of The Canterbury Tales? 

[00:23:51] And if so, what did you think? 

[00:23:53] Which pilgrim told your favourite story?

[00:23:56] I would love to know. You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:24:07] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:24:12] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]


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[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about Geoffrey Chaucer, a man who by many people’s standards is the father of English Literature. 

[00:00:33] He might not be the first person you think about when you think of an English writer, but he was the most famous person to have first written in the vernacular, the English spoken by normal English people.

[00:00:47] He was also much more than a writer. He was an astronomer, a diplomat, a member of Parliament, a courtier, a philosopher, a bureaucrat, a soldier and a poet.

[00:01:00] So, let’s not waste a minute, and learn about the fantastic and fascinating life and work of Geoffrey Chaucer.

[00:01:09] As with almost everyone who lived in the Middle Ages, there is a limited knowledge about his life on a day to day basis, but we do know more about Chaucer than many other writers who were alive at the time.

[00:01:24] We know that he was a prolific traveller in Europe, which was obviously a lot harder to do 650 years ago than it is now.

[00:01:33] He was also a linguist

[00:01:35] He spoke fluent French and seems to have had a good working knowledge of both Italian and Latin. 

[00:01:43] Although his home and work were right at the heart of London, he was very much a European. 

[00:01:50] Since he first put pen to paper, in the year 1357, his brilliant writing has amused and intrigued people across the social spectrum – from kings to the most lowly of peasants; from his own contemporaries to 21st century digital natives. 

[00:02:09] Yet this man lived more than 600 years ago and wrote in a style of English which, although recognisable to scholars, requires some translation or at least getting used to in order to make it fully understandable to even a native speaker of modern English.

[00:02:29] If you were to take a copy of Chaucer to the streets of London, New York, or Sydney, I imagine that most people wouldn’t understand it, and many wouldn’t even recognise it as English. 

[00:02:43] His life and work have continued to fascinate writers, poets especially; and since his death in 1400, he has not gone out of fashion. 

[00:02:54] This achievement is all the greater when we consider that he was an amateur writer - in other words, he wrote in his spare time, he wasn’t a professional. 

[00:03:05] He had a variety of demanding, salaried jobs, mainly working for the government; in spite of this he managed to produce a large body of literature – almost all poetry, but across a wide range of literary styles or genres. 

[00:03:23] His collected works, all of the writing that he produced in his life, rival those of the other undisputed giant of English Literature, William Shakespeare. 

[00:03:33] So, Chaucer's status as the “Father of English Literature” is well deserved. 

[00:03:40] Aside from literary merit, aside from what an excellent author he was, there are two other very good reasons for exploring the life and writing of Geoffrey Chaucer. 

[00:03:52] The first is that, because he worked for most of his life for the state as a diplomat, bureaucrat and member of Parliament, we actually know quite a lot about his life, as much was written down and survived in court documents. 

[00:04:08] This means that he gives us a unique insight into the working life of a socially and professionally ambitious Englishman of the late Middle Ages. 

[00:04:20] The other reason for exploring this fascinating man is that he wrote in English. 

[00:04:26] Now, you might think, this isn’t much of a reason - he was English, wasn’t he?

[00:04:32] Well, yes, he was English, but most English poets at the time would have written in French, rather than English. 

[00:04:40] We’ll explore this further in a few minutes, but Chaucer’s decision to use English rather than French may well have had a significant effect on the development of the English language, on the development of the language that I am speaking at the moment.

[00:04:57] Let's start then with a brief outline of the man‘s life, before moving onto his impact on the language and then finally the works themselves. 

[00:05:08] Born in 1343 into a prosperous middle-class London merchant family, the young Chaucer’s social status was on the rise from early on in life.

[00:05:21] This was partly because his parents grew richer for a tragic reason - as a result of many of their relatives dying in the bubonic plague or Black Death which swept through all of Europe in the late 1340s. 

[00:05:37] As his relatives died, they left money to Chaucer’s family, who then grew richer.

[00:05:44] However, to get ahead, to be successful, in Medieval England money wasn’t enough. 

[00:05:51] You also needed connections to people in high places.

[00:05:55] Luckily enough, his father had them, and was able to place the young Chaucer as something called a “page” in a royal household.

[00:06:05] A page is essentially a young boy who would be a servant in a noble, an aristocratic, family.

[00:06:13] Chaucer was placed in the household of the wife of one of the King’s sons – in fact the second son of King Edward III, the king who was on the throne from 1327 – 1377.

[00:06:27] It's not a perfect analogy, but if you imagine that once Prince Charles becomes king, Prince Harry will be the second son of the King: so, the teenage Chaucer’s position in the court of Elizabeth de Burgh, Countess of Ulster, was a bit like being in the Court of Meghan Markle. 

[00:06:47] Of course, without the press, the paparazzi, and scandal, but that’s the idea.

[00:06:53] Anyway we have all sorts of details about young Chaucer‘s life in that royal court, including the fact that his aristocratic mistress required him to wear ultra-fashionable but provocatively tight stockings and short tunics when he was waiting on the family and their noble guests. 

[00:07:15] One can only hazard a guess as to why...

[00:07:19] What else do we know about his varied working life? 

[00:07:23] We know that he went to war – against France, of course, as the so-called Hundred Years’ War was in progress. 

[00:07:31] We know that as an eighteen year old soldier he was captured at the siege of Reims in France and that he was ransomed, that he was held as a hostage for a total of £16, which is equivalent to about £12,000 now. 

[00:07:49] This meant that he was in effect bought back by King Edward III, clearly demonstrating that he was greatly valued in high places. 

[00:07:59] The appetite for travel and discovery was clearly a strong element of Chaucer’s character. 

[00:08:06] His role as a diplomat, possibly even a spy, took him to France and Italy. 

[00:08:13] In both countries he seems to have encountered the significant poets of the day, people like Petrarch and Boccaccio, as well as powerful aristocrats like the Viscontis, the rulers of Milan. 

[00:08:26] As well as being a member of Parliament, he occupied the influential role of controller of the King’s customs in London for 12 years. What this would mean is that he was in control of goods coming in and out of the city of London.

[00:08:43] He would therefore have had a very close up insight into the way in which England‘s largest export to continental Europe, sheep‘s wool, paid for much of the vast cost of the Hundred Years’ War through the taxes raised on the product. 

[00:08:59] Chaucer’s final job was as clerk of the King‘s works, which involved being the main person in charge of managing and organising the King‘s major building projects. 

[00:09:11] Upward mobility, or rising up in society, was also a feature of his personal life: he married Philippa de Roet, a lady-in-waiting or aristocratic attendant to the Queen. 

[00:09:26] Philippa’s sister became the mistress and then wife of a man called John of Gaunt.

[00:09:32] Now, this explanation might be a little confusing, but John of Gaunt was King Edward III’s second son, and after the death of Richard II, who was John of Gaunt’s nephew, John of Gaunt’s eldest son, Henry IV, became king.

[00:09:50] If you’re lost, I don’t blame you. 

[00:09:52] The point to remember is that this man, John of Gaunt, had been the uncle of the king, and then the father of the new king, so he was incredibly wealthy and powerful. 

[00:10:04] And he was a close friend and ally of Chaucer.

[00:10:09] Chaucer had gone from a relatively modest, one could say middle-class upbringing to being the brother in law to the King’s father – a highly influential position at the centre of the English court. 

[00:10:24] If you would like a more yet more memorable way of understanding how much he was appreciated by his royal masters, here is a bizarre fact for you: King Edward III awarded him a gallon of wine every day for the rest of his life. 

[00:10:42] A gallon is just under 5 litres.

[00:10:45] We have no way of knowing for sure, but it is highly likely that this liquid appreciation was in recognition of Chaucer‘s talents as a poet. 

[00:10:57] Even today, the poet chosen by the monarchy as the official poet is paid in liquid form – a barrel of something called sherry, a barrel is about 720 bottles, and they are paid this for the 10 years they do the job. 

[00:11:14] Now, let‘s move on to discuss the impact that Chaucer had on the English language. 

[00:11:21] As we know, English is now a global language – a lingua franca.

[00:11:27] But if we go back 700 years to the period just before Chaucer‘s birth, so that’s the early 1300s, what do we find?

[00:11:37] Well, English is a very different beast - a low status, vernacular language, meaning native language or dialect. 

[00:11:46] It was the poor relation to French which was the language that the most aspiring and ambitious poets in Europe would generally use and that Chaucer, as a poet at the King’s court, would have been expected to use. 

[00:12:04] French was the undisputed language of all things sophisticated - fine food, perfume, law and, yes, fine poetry. 

[00:12:14] If you wanted to have your writing heard and read by the best educated and most sophisticated people, you wrote in the appropriate language - French. 

[00:12:26] After all, French had remained the language of the royal court for many years following the so-called Norman Conquest of England by the Norman French in 1066. 

[00:12:38] It was actually only in the year 1415, 15 years after Chaucer‘s death that for the first time English was used to convey a royal message; this was when the news of the victory at the Battle of Agincourt was brought back from France to England. 

[00:12:56] Previously, all such messages had been in French. 

[00:13:00] So, given all of this, Chaucer’s decision to write in English went completely against the grain – it was against what would have been expected. 

[00:13:10] However, as a result of his brave decision, two particular opportunities opened up for him. 

[00:13:18] The first was that, although he was less likely to reach a European audience, writing in English opened up a large English audience. 

[00:13:28] After Chaucer‘s death, this became ever more so when, with the operation of the first printing press for books in English in 1473, Chaucer’s works were much printed and started to be read by the increasingly literate English population. 

[00:13:46] The second result of his decision was that he was able to create his very own fusion or combination of influences: this meant combining both the native or indigenous English influence and the semi-foreign French one.

[00:14:03] This became apparent both in the style of his language and also in the literary styles that he used. 

[00:14:11] In particular, Chaucer took advantage of the fact that the English of this time was being flooded by French words – often these words were providing additional synonyms and nuances which complemented the existing, native English words. 

[00:14:30] So, for example, words like chivalry, courtesy and perfume, all imports from French are readily used by Chaucer. 

[00:14:40] In terms of the literary styles, a parallel or comparable process happened under Chaucer – you could say that it was a magical combination. 

[00:14:51] In short, the English narrative or storytelling poetic tradition relied on action – it featured lots of events - battles, quests, journeys

[00:15:04] This meant that there was plenty to interest the reader, but the interest was mainly based on action: who was going to do what to whom and when? 

[00:15:14] The equivalent French literature of the day had at its centre emotion – with the emotion of love as the most significant and powerful. 

[00:15:25] The genius of Chaucer, many believe, was to use the relatively new, fast-developing English language with its new, sophisticated French words and to combine the best of both of the English poetic tradition with the best of the French: in other words, English tradition for action, combined with the French penchant towards emotion. 

[00:15:52] As we draw towards a close, I will do my best to illustrate this by referring to Chaucer’s best known works – Troilus and Criseyde and The Canterbury Tales. 

[00:16:04] Troilus and Criseyde is a beautifully constructed long poem that describes the love of Troilus, a Trojan prince in ancient Troy and his love, Criseyde, whose father has deserted Troy and treacherously gone over to the Greek enemies who are camped outside the city. 

[00:16:23] These two lovers know that their love is forbidden, it is not allowed; Criseyde’s position as a vulnerable young woman is especially poignant

[00:16:34] In Chaucerian English, he writes:

[00:16:37] Right as an aspes leaf she gan to quake, 

[00:16:40] What she hym felte hire in his armes folde. 

[00:16:44] Now, I imagine you might not understand that, and indeed many native speakers wouldn’t either.

[00:16:51] He is saying that Criseyde is shaking like the leaf of a tree as she feels herself being wrapped in Troilus’ arms. 

[00:17:01] Although we know from the start of the poem that their love is doomed, that it will never work, the psychological reality of a nervous young woman in her lover’s arms that Chaucer creates is typical of the quality that makes this poem one of the greatest love poems in English. 

[00:17:20] Of course, the story isn’t Chaucer’s own. 

[00:17:23] Troilus is a character from Ancient Greek literature, and Chaucer’s story is inspired by a work of Boccaccio, which is itself inspired by a 12th century French poet.

[00:17:36] But that doesn’t stop it being beautiful and worth reading in its own right.

[00:17:42] Chaucer‘s vision for his more famous work, The Canterbury Tales, was even more ambitious

[00:17:49] The vehicle for this great work was that of a pilgrimage from London to Canterbury, the site of the shrine to the most famous, domestic English saint, Thomas A Becket.

[00:18:02] Chaucer tells the tale of 30 different pilgrims, each of whom should tell two stories on the journey out to Canterbury and two stories on the way back. 

[00:18:15] Chaucer did not fulfil all of this massive task - he died before he could complete it - but he still left us something incredible. 

[00:18:25] What is so special about this great work? 

[00:18:28] Well, I have time to tell you about three things. 

[00:18:32] Firstly, this work is surprisingly and brilliantly democratic: Chaucer gives voice to characters right across the full span of society, from the aristocratic knight to the humble ploughman, the farmer who ploughs the fields.

[00:18:50] And the social status of the pilgrim does not save them from the criticisms of the poet: for example, he even raises doubts about the motives of the knight through suggesting that his claimed high virtues are not true, given his participation in some dreadful massacres of civilians

[00:19:11] Chaucer dramatises the fights that the pilgrims have; for example the rivalry between the miller, a person who works in a mill, and his sworn enemy, the carpenter. 

[00:19:23] The result is that the miller tells a very rude story which shows carpenters in a very poor light, it portrays them badly. 

[00:19:33] No one escapes satire and laughter, no matter their social status.

[00:19:38] The second special thing is the way that Chaucer combines the character of the person telling the story with the tale itself and thereby uses irony skilfully. 

[00:19:52] A good example of this is with one of the nastiest characters of the group - a man called the Pardoner, whose job involves cheating poor people into buying fake pardons and relics to forgive them of their sins.

[00:20:08] This being the Middle Ages, England was still a Catholic country, and people would buy objects and do certain things which they thought would save them from going to hell. 

[00:20:20] The Pardoner’s story to his fellow travellers is the same one that he tells people to trick them out of their money, with a moral of The Root of all Evil is the Desire for Money. 

[00:20:33] The Pardoner seems to have no shame, he is not embarrassed about the fact that he is a cheat and a fraud, and he even asks his fellow pilgrims for money at the end of his story.

[00:20:46] The Pardoner thinks he is being very clever by tricking the pilgrims, but the irony is that the reader can see quite how terrible he is, and how the Pardoner himself is a living example of how “The Root of all Evil is the Desire for Money”.

[00:21:04] So, this is not only thought-provoking, but it is beautifully ironic.

[00:21:10] The third and final important thing to mention is Chaucer’s portrayal of women, in particular his most famous creation, the Wife of Bath. 

[00:21:20] This character talks with great colour and openness about her life and in particular her treatment of her five husbands, the ways she controls them and her sexual appetite. 

[00:21:34] It is really compelling and unusual, given the traditions of medieval poetry.

[00:21:40] We have no way of knowing the degree to which the prominence of female characters like the Wife of Bath helped increase the reading of Chaucer amongst women, but it would be surprising if it did not.

[00:21:53] So there you have it - what a poet, what a man, and deservedly called The Father of English Literature.

[00:22:01] His work is translated into most languages, and if you are planning to read some, I would recommend doing so in the translation.

[00:22:10] As I said earlier, reading it in the original Middle English is hard enough for a native speaker, and it probably isn’t realistic to try to read the works of Chaucer in the original as a non-native speaker.

[00:22:23] But, I would certainly recommend listening to a bit of how we believe it would have sounded.

[00:22:30] Here’s a very quick taster:

[00:22:32] Narrator: [00:22:32] Here bygynneth the Book of the tales of Caunterbury

[00:22:32] Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote,

[00:22:32] The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,

[00:22:32] And bathed every veyne in swich licóur

[00:22:32] Of which vertú engendred is the flour;

[00:22:48] Alastair Budge: [00:22:48] Now, don’t worry if you can't understand that. It is very different, and there is no reason for you to be able to understand it, it certainly wouldn’t help much with modern English conversation.

[00:23:00] But if you haven’t read any Canterbury Tales, I would certainly recommend it. 

[00:23:05] It is amazingly timeless, from stories of love affairs to jealousy, gluttony to drunkenness, like all great writers there is something truly timeless about the works of Geoffrey Chaucer.

[00:23:20] OK then, that is it for today's episode on Geoffrey Chaucer: the father of English literature.

[00:23:28] I hope it's been an interesting one, that you've learnt something new, and that this might have inspired you to pick up a copy of The Canterbury Tales, in translation of course, and enjoy it for yourself.

[00:23:40] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. 

[00:23:44] Were you aware of Geoffrey Chaucer before listening to this episode? 

[00:23:48] Have you read any of The Canterbury Tales? 

[00:23:51] And if so, what did you think? 

[00:23:53] Which pilgrim told your favourite story?

[00:23:56] I would love to know. You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:24:07] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:24:12] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]


[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about Geoffrey Chaucer, a man who by many people’s standards is the father of English Literature. 

[00:00:33] He might not be the first person you think about when you think of an English writer, but he was the most famous person to have first written in the vernacular, the English spoken by normal English people.

[00:00:47] He was also much more than a writer. He was an astronomer, a diplomat, a member of Parliament, a courtier, a philosopher, a bureaucrat, a soldier and a poet.

[00:01:00] So, let’s not waste a minute, and learn about the fantastic and fascinating life and work of Geoffrey Chaucer.

[00:01:09] As with almost everyone who lived in the Middle Ages, there is a limited knowledge about his life on a day to day basis, but we do know more about Chaucer than many other writers who were alive at the time.

[00:01:24] We know that he was a prolific traveller in Europe, which was obviously a lot harder to do 650 years ago than it is now.

[00:01:33] He was also a linguist

[00:01:35] He spoke fluent French and seems to have had a good working knowledge of both Italian and Latin. 

[00:01:43] Although his home and work were right at the heart of London, he was very much a European. 

[00:01:50] Since he first put pen to paper, in the year 1357, his brilliant writing has amused and intrigued people across the social spectrum – from kings to the most lowly of peasants; from his own contemporaries to 21st century digital natives. 

[00:02:09] Yet this man lived more than 600 years ago and wrote in a style of English which, although recognisable to scholars, requires some translation or at least getting used to in order to make it fully understandable to even a native speaker of modern English.

[00:02:29] If you were to take a copy of Chaucer to the streets of London, New York, or Sydney, I imagine that most people wouldn’t understand it, and many wouldn’t even recognise it as English. 

[00:02:43] His life and work have continued to fascinate writers, poets especially; and since his death in 1400, he has not gone out of fashion. 

[00:02:54] This achievement is all the greater when we consider that he was an amateur writer - in other words, he wrote in his spare time, he wasn’t a professional. 

[00:03:05] He had a variety of demanding, salaried jobs, mainly working for the government; in spite of this he managed to produce a large body of literature – almost all poetry, but across a wide range of literary styles or genres. 

[00:03:23] His collected works, all of the writing that he produced in his life, rival those of the other undisputed giant of English Literature, William Shakespeare. 

[00:03:33] So, Chaucer's status as the “Father of English Literature” is well deserved. 

[00:03:40] Aside from literary merit, aside from what an excellent author he was, there are two other very good reasons for exploring the life and writing of Geoffrey Chaucer. 

[00:03:52] The first is that, because he worked for most of his life for the state as a diplomat, bureaucrat and member of Parliament, we actually know quite a lot about his life, as much was written down and survived in court documents. 

[00:04:08] This means that he gives us a unique insight into the working life of a socially and professionally ambitious Englishman of the late Middle Ages. 

[00:04:20] The other reason for exploring this fascinating man is that he wrote in English. 

[00:04:26] Now, you might think, this isn’t much of a reason - he was English, wasn’t he?

[00:04:32] Well, yes, he was English, but most English poets at the time would have written in French, rather than English. 

[00:04:40] We’ll explore this further in a few minutes, but Chaucer’s decision to use English rather than French may well have had a significant effect on the development of the English language, on the development of the language that I am speaking at the moment.

[00:04:57] Let's start then with a brief outline of the man‘s life, before moving onto his impact on the language and then finally the works themselves. 

[00:05:08] Born in 1343 into a prosperous middle-class London merchant family, the young Chaucer’s social status was on the rise from early on in life.

[00:05:21] This was partly because his parents grew richer for a tragic reason - as a result of many of their relatives dying in the bubonic plague or Black Death which swept through all of Europe in the late 1340s. 

[00:05:37] As his relatives died, they left money to Chaucer’s family, who then grew richer.

[00:05:44] However, to get ahead, to be successful, in Medieval England money wasn’t enough. 

[00:05:51] You also needed connections to people in high places.

[00:05:55] Luckily enough, his father had them, and was able to place the young Chaucer as something called a “page” in a royal household.

[00:06:05] A page is essentially a young boy who would be a servant in a noble, an aristocratic, family.

[00:06:13] Chaucer was placed in the household of the wife of one of the King’s sons – in fact the second son of King Edward III, the king who was on the throne from 1327 – 1377.

[00:06:27] It's not a perfect analogy, but if you imagine that once Prince Charles becomes king, Prince Harry will be the second son of the King: so, the teenage Chaucer’s position in the court of Elizabeth de Burgh, Countess of Ulster, was a bit like being in the Court of Meghan Markle. 

[00:06:47] Of course, without the press, the paparazzi, and scandal, but that’s the idea.

[00:06:53] Anyway we have all sorts of details about young Chaucer‘s life in that royal court, including the fact that his aristocratic mistress required him to wear ultra-fashionable but provocatively tight stockings and short tunics when he was waiting on the family and their noble guests. 

[00:07:15] One can only hazard a guess as to why...

[00:07:19] What else do we know about his varied working life? 

[00:07:23] We know that he went to war – against France, of course, as the so-called Hundred Years’ War was in progress. 

[00:07:31] We know that as an eighteen year old soldier he was captured at the siege of Reims in France and that he was ransomed, that he was held as a hostage for a total of £16, which is equivalent to about £12,000 now. 

[00:07:49] This meant that he was in effect bought back by King Edward III, clearly demonstrating that he was greatly valued in high places. 

[00:07:59] The appetite for travel and discovery was clearly a strong element of Chaucer’s character. 

[00:08:06] His role as a diplomat, possibly even a spy, took him to France and Italy. 

[00:08:13] In both countries he seems to have encountered the significant poets of the day, people like Petrarch and Boccaccio, as well as powerful aristocrats like the Viscontis, the rulers of Milan. 

[00:08:26] As well as being a member of Parliament, he occupied the influential role of controller of the King’s customs in London for 12 years. What this would mean is that he was in control of goods coming in and out of the city of London.

[00:08:43] He would therefore have had a very close up insight into the way in which England‘s largest export to continental Europe, sheep‘s wool, paid for much of the vast cost of the Hundred Years’ War through the taxes raised on the product. 

[00:08:59] Chaucer’s final job was as clerk of the King‘s works, which involved being the main person in charge of managing and organising the King‘s major building projects. 

[00:09:11] Upward mobility, or rising up in society, was also a feature of his personal life: he married Philippa de Roet, a lady-in-waiting or aristocratic attendant to the Queen. 

[00:09:26] Philippa’s sister became the mistress and then wife of a man called John of Gaunt.

[00:09:32] Now, this explanation might be a little confusing, but John of Gaunt was King Edward III’s second son, and after the death of Richard II, who was John of Gaunt’s nephew, John of Gaunt’s eldest son, Henry IV, became king.

[00:09:50] If you’re lost, I don’t blame you. 

[00:09:52] The point to remember is that this man, John of Gaunt, had been the uncle of the king, and then the father of the new king, so he was incredibly wealthy and powerful. 

[00:10:04] And he was a close friend and ally of Chaucer.

[00:10:09] Chaucer had gone from a relatively modest, one could say middle-class upbringing to being the brother in law to the King’s father – a highly influential position at the centre of the English court. 

[00:10:24] If you would like a more yet more memorable way of understanding how much he was appreciated by his royal masters, here is a bizarre fact for you: King Edward III awarded him a gallon of wine every day for the rest of his life. 

[00:10:42] A gallon is just under 5 litres.

[00:10:45] We have no way of knowing for sure, but it is highly likely that this liquid appreciation was in recognition of Chaucer‘s talents as a poet. 

[00:10:57] Even today, the poet chosen by the monarchy as the official poet is paid in liquid form – a barrel of something called sherry, a barrel is about 720 bottles, and they are paid this for the 10 years they do the job. 

[00:11:14] Now, let‘s move on to discuss the impact that Chaucer had on the English language. 

[00:11:21] As we know, English is now a global language – a lingua franca.

[00:11:27] But if we go back 700 years to the period just before Chaucer‘s birth, so that’s the early 1300s, what do we find?

[00:11:37] Well, English is a very different beast - a low status, vernacular language, meaning native language or dialect. 

[00:11:46] It was the poor relation to French which was the language that the most aspiring and ambitious poets in Europe would generally use and that Chaucer, as a poet at the King’s court, would have been expected to use. 

[00:12:04] French was the undisputed language of all things sophisticated - fine food, perfume, law and, yes, fine poetry. 

[00:12:14] If you wanted to have your writing heard and read by the best educated and most sophisticated people, you wrote in the appropriate language - French. 

[00:12:26] After all, French had remained the language of the royal court for many years following the so-called Norman Conquest of England by the Norman French in 1066. 

[00:12:38] It was actually only in the year 1415, 15 years after Chaucer‘s death that for the first time English was used to convey a royal message; this was when the news of the victory at the Battle of Agincourt was brought back from France to England. 

[00:12:56] Previously, all such messages had been in French. 

[00:13:00] So, given all of this, Chaucer’s decision to write in English went completely against the grain – it was against what would have been expected. 

[00:13:10] However, as a result of his brave decision, two particular opportunities opened up for him. 

[00:13:18] The first was that, although he was less likely to reach a European audience, writing in English opened up a large English audience. 

[00:13:28] After Chaucer‘s death, this became ever more so when, with the operation of the first printing press for books in English in 1473, Chaucer’s works were much printed and started to be read by the increasingly literate English population. 

[00:13:46] The second result of his decision was that he was able to create his very own fusion or combination of influences: this meant combining both the native or indigenous English influence and the semi-foreign French one.

[00:14:03] This became apparent both in the style of his language and also in the literary styles that he used. 

[00:14:11] In particular, Chaucer took advantage of the fact that the English of this time was being flooded by French words – often these words were providing additional synonyms and nuances which complemented the existing, native English words. 

[00:14:30] So, for example, words like chivalry, courtesy and perfume, all imports from French are readily used by Chaucer. 

[00:14:40] In terms of the literary styles, a parallel or comparable process happened under Chaucer – you could say that it was a magical combination. 

[00:14:51] In short, the English narrative or storytelling poetic tradition relied on action – it featured lots of events - battles, quests, journeys

[00:15:04] This meant that there was plenty to interest the reader, but the interest was mainly based on action: who was going to do what to whom and when? 

[00:15:14] The equivalent French literature of the day had at its centre emotion – with the emotion of love as the most significant and powerful. 

[00:15:25] The genius of Chaucer, many believe, was to use the relatively new, fast-developing English language with its new, sophisticated French words and to combine the best of both of the English poetic tradition with the best of the French: in other words, English tradition for action, combined with the French penchant towards emotion. 

[00:15:52] As we draw towards a close, I will do my best to illustrate this by referring to Chaucer’s best known works – Troilus and Criseyde and The Canterbury Tales. 

[00:16:04] Troilus and Criseyde is a beautifully constructed long poem that describes the love of Troilus, a Trojan prince in ancient Troy and his love, Criseyde, whose father has deserted Troy and treacherously gone over to the Greek enemies who are camped outside the city. 

[00:16:23] These two lovers know that their love is forbidden, it is not allowed; Criseyde’s position as a vulnerable young woman is especially poignant

[00:16:34] In Chaucerian English, he writes:

[00:16:37] Right as an aspes leaf she gan to quake, 

[00:16:40] What she hym felte hire in his armes folde. 

[00:16:44] Now, I imagine you might not understand that, and indeed many native speakers wouldn’t either.

[00:16:51] He is saying that Criseyde is shaking like the leaf of a tree as she feels herself being wrapped in Troilus’ arms. 

[00:17:01] Although we know from the start of the poem that their love is doomed, that it will never work, the psychological reality of a nervous young woman in her lover’s arms that Chaucer creates is typical of the quality that makes this poem one of the greatest love poems in English. 

[00:17:20] Of course, the story isn’t Chaucer’s own. 

[00:17:23] Troilus is a character from Ancient Greek literature, and Chaucer’s story is inspired by a work of Boccaccio, which is itself inspired by a 12th century French poet.

[00:17:36] But that doesn’t stop it being beautiful and worth reading in its own right.

[00:17:42] Chaucer‘s vision for his more famous work, The Canterbury Tales, was even more ambitious

[00:17:49] The vehicle for this great work was that of a pilgrimage from London to Canterbury, the site of the shrine to the most famous, domestic English saint, Thomas A Becket.

[00:18:02] Chaucer tells the tale of 30 different pilgrims, each of whom should tell two stories on the journey out to Canterbury and two stories on the way back. 

[00:18:15] Chaucer did not fulfil all of this massive task - he died before he could complete it - but he still left us something incredible. 

[00:18:25] What is so special about this great work? 

[00:18:28] Well, I have time to tell you about three things. 

[00:18:32] Firstly, this work is surprisingly and brilliantly democratic: Chaucer gives voice to characters right across the full span of society, from the aristocratic knight to the humble ploughman, the farmer who ploughs the fields.

[00:18:50] And the social status of the pilgrim does not save them from the criticisms of the poet: for example, he even raises doubts about the motives of the knight through suggesting that his claimed high virtues are not true, given his participation in some dreadful massacres of civilians

[00:19:11] Chaucer dramatises the fights that the pilgrims have; for example the rivalry between the miller, a person who works in a mill, and his sworn enemy, the carpenter. 

[00:19:23] The result is that the miller tells a very rude story which shows carpenters in a very poor light, it portrays them badly. 

[00:19:33] No one escapes satire and laughter, no matter their social status.

[00:19:38] The second special thing is the way that Chaucer combines the character of the person telling the story with the tale itself and thereby uses irony skilfully. 

[00:19:52] A good example of this is with one of the nastiest characters of the group - a man called the Pardoner, whose job involves cheating poor people into buying fake pardons and relics to forgive them of their sins.

[00:20:08] This being the Middle Ages, England was still a Catholic country, and people would buy objects and do certain things which they thought would save them from going to hell. 

[00:20:20] The Pardoner’s story to his fellow travellers is the same one that he tells people to trick them out of their money, with a moral of The Root of all Evil is the Desire for Money. 

[00:20:33] The Pardoner seems to have no shame, he is not embarrassed about the fact that he is a cheat and a fraud, and he even asks his fellow pilgrims for money at the end of his story.

[00:20:46] The Pardoner thinks he is being very clever by tricking the pilgrims, but the irony is that the reader can see quite how terrible he is, and how the Pardoner himself is a living example of how “The Root of all Evil is the Desire for Money”.

[00:21:04] So, this is not only thought-provoking, but it is beautifully ironic.

[00:21:10] The third and final important thing to mention is Chaucer’s portrayal of women, in particular his most famous creation, the Wife of Bath. 

[00:21:20] This character talks with great colour and openness about her life and in particular her treatment of her five husbands, the ways she controls them and her sexual appetite. 

[00:21:34] It is really compelling and unusual, given the traditions of medieval poetry.

[00:21:40] We have no way of knowing the degree to which the prominence of female characters like the Wife of Bath helped increase the reading of Chaucer amongst women, but it would be surprising if it did not.

[00:21:53] So there you have it - what a poet, what a man, and deservedly called The Father of English Literature.

[00:22:01] His work is translated into most languages, and if you are planning to read some, I would recommend doing so in the translation.

[00:22:10] As I said earlier, reading it in the original Middle English is hard enough for a native speaker, and it probably isn’t realistic to try to read the works of Chaucer in the original as a non-native speaker.

[00:22:23] But, I would certainly recommend listening to a bit of how we believe it would have sounded.

[00:22:30] Here’s a very quick taster:

[00:22:32] Narrator: [00:22:32] Here bygynneth the Book of the tales of Caunterbury

[00:22:32] Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote,

[00:22:32] The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,

[00:22:32] And bathed every veyne in swich licóur

[00:22:32] Of which vertú engendred is the flour;

[00:22:48] Alastair Budge: [00:22:48] Now, don’t worry if you can't understand that. It is very different, and there is no reason for you to be able to understand it, it certainly wouldn’t help much with modern English conversation.

[00:23:00] But if you haven’t read any Canterbury Tales, I would certainly recommend it. 

[00:23:05] It is amazingly timeless, from stories of love affairs to jealousy, gluttony to drunkenness, like all great writers there is something truly timeless about the works of Geoffrey Chaucer.

[00:23:20] OK then, that is it for today's episode on Geoffrey Chaucer: the father of English literature.

[00:23:28] I hope it's been an interesting one, that you've learnt something new, and that this might have inspired you to pick up a copy of The Canterbury Tales, in translation of course, and enjoy it for yourself.

[00:23:40] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. 

[00:23:44] Were you aware of Geoffrey Chaucer before listening to this episode? 

[00:23:48] Have you read any of The Canterbury Tales? 

[00:23:51] And if so, what did you think? 

[00:23:53] Which pilgrim told your favourite story?

[00:23:56] I would love to know. You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:24:07] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:24:12] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

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