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Essentials of English and American Literature

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*         The Age of Chaucer (14th)

*         From Chaucer to the Reign of Queen Elizabeth
*         The Literature of the Age of Elizabeth   I    II  

*         The Literature of the Commonwealth and the Restoration

*         The Literature of the Eighteenth Century   I    II   


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The Wife of Bath

Selection from

the Canterbury Tales

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The Summary

of the Wife of Bath

The Prologue

of the Wife of Bath

The Characteristics

of the Wife of Bath

The Age of Chaucer

The Fourteenth Century

        The fourteenth century was a time of much political, religious, and industrial discontent in England. All this was reflected in the literature of the time. The people of England became one people, and the English tongue came into common use. In 1362 English was made the language of the law courts, and in 1386 English displaced French in the schools.

        Sir John Mandeville (1300?-1371?) was an English prose-writer of the fourteenth century. He has been called the "Father of English Prose." He was a physician; but, in the year 1322, he set out on a journey to the East. He was away from home for more than thirty years. He probably wrote his travels first in Latin, next in French, and then turned them into English. The book is a kind of guide-book to the Holy Land; but the writer himself went much farther east, and reached China, in fact.

        Mandeville's Travels was much admired, read, and copied; indeed, hundreds of manuscript copies of his book were made. There are nineteen still in the British Museum.

John Wyclif (1327-1384) was the most influential prose writer of the fourteenth century. His fame rests upon his complete translation of the Bible. This work was finished in 1383, just one year before his death. However, the translation was not done by himself alone, but a number of men worked on it under his supervision. Though often copied in manuscript, it was not printed for several centuries. Wyclif's New Testament was printed in 1731, and the Old Testament not until the year 1850. But the words and the style of his translation, which was read and re-read by hundreds of thoughtful men, were of real and permanent service in fixing the form of the English language.

        Geoffrey Chaucer (1340?-1400) was the "Father of English Poetry," and the greatest narrative poet of England. He was the man who made a distinct advance in literature. With him the old alliterative poetry died. In most of his poems he used the heroic couplet, which is a verse having five accents with the lines rhyming in pairs; for example,

Befell¡ıthat, in¡ıthat sea¡ıson on¡ıa day,¡ı

In south¡ıwork at¡ıthe Ta¡ıbard as¡ıI lay,¡ı

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

at night¡ıwas come¡ıinto¡ıthat hos¡ıtelry

well nine¡ıand twen¡ıty in¡ıa com¡ıpany,

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

        Owing to his handsome presence, his powers and attainments, Chaucer early found favor at court. He traveled extensively on the Continent, especially in France and Italy, and had much experience as soldier, ambassador, and Member of Parliament.

        Chaucer's greatest work is the Canterbury Tales. The finest part of the Canterbury Tales is the Prologue; the noblest story is probably the Knight's Tale.

        Chaucer expresses, in the truest and liveliest way, the true and lively things which are set before him. He first gave to English poetry that force, vigor, life, and color which raise it above the level of mere rimed prose. All the best poems and histories in Latin, French, and Italian were well known to Chaucer.

        The lesser poets of this period were William Langland (1332?-1400), who used the alliterative form, and whose principal work was Piers Plowman; John Gower (1325?-1408), author of a poem entitled Lover's Confession, and John Barbour (1320-1396), a Scottish poet, whose best remembered work is entitled The Bruce.

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The Eighteenth Century
Commonwealth & Restoration
The Age of Elizabeth
Chaucer to Queen Elizabeth

The Age of Chaucer

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