The Age Of Chaucer With Reference To Medieval And Modern Renaissance

Chaucer in Relation to His Age :

To realise the import of Chaucerian literature in the age and the society in which it was composed. It is necessary to understand the social context of the age. Geoffrey Chaucer was the most representative poet who was so much the greatest figure of the Middle Ages that he has thrown all his other contemporaries into the shade. Chaucer symbolises the characteristic spirit and the ideals of this age as none of his fellow-writers do “standing in much the same relation to the life of his time as Pope does to the earlier phases of the eighteenth century and Tennyson to the Victorian era.” The works of Pope and Tennyson bear the impress of those impersonal forces of their respective ages which “combined to create the Zeitgeist or Time-Spirit of the age of Anne and the Victorian era.” It is true that no other English poet has preserved for us so much of the life Spirit. Ideals and sentiments of the Middle Ages as Chaucer.

But, Like Dante, Chaucer was a kind of bridge between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. He is the “Evening Star of the Medieval day and Morning Star of the Renaissance.” Chaucer is thus the central figure of that earlier Renaissance which could not maintain itself in England. Because the time was not yet ripe.” Man’s discovery of himself as all object of contemplation is the new spirit of Renaissance expressing itself in the sense of dignity of the human personality, the humanist’s interest in the study of classical antiquity, the discovery of the external universe and the cultivation of the sense of beauty. All these modern tendencies also find expression in Chaucer’s poetry, which, while still reflecting the pomp and pageantry of the Middle Ages and painting the picture of medieval England. Caught the light of the New Learning. For which Chaucer may be said to be heralding the dawn of the Modern Age. Chaucer was like a lone peak, rising sheer from the center of a high tableland and catching the first streaks of the dawn, though it is still many hours before the full break of day. The romantic literature of the medieval period was but a preparation for Chaucer’s singular literary achievements in humanism and realism. Of the New Learning which distinguish Chaucer from medieval writers. In his later works Chaucer discarded the old English traditions altogether, expressed in no uncertain terms his supreme contempt for miracle plays and romances, disregarded even the work of his earlier period when he was under French influence and deliberately made a fresh beginning in modern English poetry. So “if we call him the father of modern poetry, we shall be speaking the literal truth”

The contrast between the medieval mind with its gaze fixed primarily on the spiritual and the abstract and the Renaissance attitude with its stress on the sensuous and the concrete is characteristic of the two standpoints. The former is definitely an unprogressively spirit, of marked by monotony, stagnation of ideal, absence of individual initiative, and devotion to forms rather than to the substance of life. All the time when Chaucer was under the domination of medievalism. his French and Italian. periods”. he was working for independence and, as he went on. “his original genius strengthened and took store and more of real life into his view and when he finally emerged into his English period. he had cast oft his foreign masters and struck but absolutely for himself.”

A Period of Transition :

Unlike other epochs of English literary history named after their representative writers, the age of Chaucer covers a period which is neither more nor less than his own life-time of sixty years from 1340 to 1400, essentially an age of unrest, transition of glaring social contrasts and rapid political changes. A great representative writer is not an isolated product, even though he rises head and shoulders above is contemporaries. He has his affiliations with the past and the prevent-with the social milieu. But if we say with Taine that Chaucer was little more than a mere sample of his race and the epoch in which he was born, we shall be neglecting the factor of the personality of Chaucer and his originating genius. In fact “it is the minor men of in age in whose work the general spirit of that age is most faithfully reflected. The strong man (the genius) is most himself when he is most independent of current influences.” So with the man of genius the Chaucer, we must make allowance for the exceptional personal quality, which combines in him with the common characteristics of the social context some unique gift of his own: otherwise we shall misunderstand him altogether. Though responsive to the call of the time- spirit. Chaucer was not limited by it. So while remaining essentially true to the life and characteristic ideals of his time, he was also true to the eternal varieties in human nature, which make him not only a poet of the age but also for all time. While consolidating the great achievement of the past, the age of Chaucer was looking forward to far-reaching social changes in the future through his poetry. there by anticipating the modern age with all its problems “which either into existence or made themselves specially troublesome in the sixty years of Chaucer’s life.”

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Medieval and Modern Renaissance :

Fourteenth century England, as mentioned above, was essentially an age of transition and social unrest. The old feudalism was a dying institution towards the end of the century though a potent social force in its earlier past when the outward forms and showy magnificence of chivalry were a part of the natural life in England. King Edward III himself was a patron of the tournament. He still kept a Round Table at Windsor after King Arthur and instituted the chivalric Order of the Garter. The medieval conception of the universe with the earth as its center still dominated men’s thoughts. Planetary influence upon mortals was still an article of belief of the average man. Men’s tempers and ailments still combined to be referred by medical experts to the proportion of ‘humours’ in their bodies. The spiritual life of man was regarded as the only life worth leading, affecting men thoughts and their sense of values. Thus, we must remember that when the first intimations of the Renaissance assumed definite form ushering in the modern world like the first streaks of the dawn, the medieval world still stood. “Side by side they stood, the old and the new, essentially hostile to each other, yet blended and intermingled through the whole range of society, often in most incongruous fashion. In its intellectual ferment the world of 14th century England had much the same character as the age of Shakespeare or Elizabeth. There was the same glow of patriotism and national consciousness consequent upon a series of brilliant victories against a foreign foe: there was the same ‘spirit of revolt against a foreign church: and though the outward forms of medievalism still survived there was at work the same leaven of new ideas and of a new conception or life. reinforced by a new interest in the works of classical antiquity, coming overseas from Italy: literature and art was breaking away from the conventional and. under the influence of new models, was drinking again at the fountainhead of Nature. Such periods of restlessness and change have often given birth to great creative literature.” Labour was already giving trouble in many ways and the downtrodden peasantry were exasperated by taxation. The Black Death had cut down the supply of farm-hands throughout the country Theories of government that men held divine. were now in the melting pot and the significant event of the period was the rapid growth of the British Parliament. The art of war was also undergoing an alarming change with the invention of gun-powder which spelt the death of chivalry. The increasing corruptions and abuses in the church prepared the ground for the advent of the Reformation. Due to the early effects of the Renaissance scholarship was no longer the monopoly of the church. The Renaissance was also the precursor of the growth of a new individualism which brought in its train all those new ideas and conceptions leading to a virtual social revolution. Some of these characteristics of the age of Chaucer may now be considered in detail below.



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