The period between 1343 and 1450 is known as the age of Chaucer. It marked the first
significant literary age in English literature. It heralded a new era of learning.
Chaucer’s age also witnessed many social, political, and religious challenges. There was
a nationalistic fervor. There was a strong dislike for the Papal or Church’s interference,
which had previously been the citadel of moral authority, social prestige but now
suffered from corruption, turpitude and superstitions.
There were strong nationalistic passions due to the 100 Years’ War between England
and France. There was also the charged atmosphere due to the Peasant upheavals in
England. The middle class also emerged as strong social stratum.
All of this represented a transition form a feudal social setup toward a free society where
men and women could exercise their individual whims and fancies without fear of
reprimand. A transition form age of Medievalism to Modernism. Geoffrey Chaucer was
the night star of the former and the morning sun of the latter.
Another significant even of the age was the Black Death occurred or plague that affected
a third of country’s population. This affected various social dynamics like limiting labor
and employable bodies.
Here are the main characteristics of the period:
The age saw the emergence of the standard English language. This was the single biggest
development of the age as English had previously been heavily curbed by the influence
of French and Latin. The East Midland dialect became the accepted form of
The language saw great achievement and expression in the masterpieces of Chaucer.
French and Latin see a waning influence on the language of the day. Chaucer’s use of
language to describe man and his place are embellished with beauty, simplicity and
humour. The common examples from the daily life account details of blooming gardens
in spring to unique human characteristics.
The language glorified themes of beauty, vitality and the secular sentiment.
2-Curiosity and criticism:
The age is known for its scathing criticism of the established order and religion.
Church’s control over temporal affairs of common men was challenged during this
There was a renewed interest in the common man’s affairs. There is a theme of derision
of romance especially by Chaucer. Drama takes the prominent stage. The dominance of
historical fables and romance of Medieval age was eschewed for more humanistic
It was a period of great social and intellectual movements as well as poverty, unrest, and
revolt. It had the plague called the Black Death as well as the growth of the scientific
temper and inquiry. It had great criticisms of the Church as well celebration of the
commoners. It is often regarded as the precursor to the Renaissance movement of the
The English prose had its beginning in this age. Due to ripening of the language the
prose could now be experimented with. The Biblical translation of John Wycliffe is an
example of it.
The prose writing is both original and individual. There are experimental works like that
of Thomas Mallory (King Arthur) etc. and also a desire to shed the grip of Latin as seen
in demand for an English Bible. The formation of allegory was refined in this period.
There was a return of alliteration which had been replaced with rhymes in the middle
The prominent prose writers of Chaucer’s age were Chaucer, John of Trevisa and John
There is also great influence of Scottish works like Barbour.
The middle age saw the birth of English poetry. In Chaucer’s age poetry continued to
flourish and assumed an unparalleled position. The most noted poets of this age were
Chaucer, John Gower and William Langland. Spencer became the father of poetic
diction as there was no poetic diction before this age.
The poetry saw the amalgamation of religion, humanism and secular passions. There
were new forms of poetry like narrative and descriptive poetry that were enhanced in
this time period.
Chaucer himself was known for his trenchant observations. He was sociable and loved
mingling with people from diverse backgrounds as evidenced in his work; ‘The
Canterbury Tales’. In it he has been able to pen minute peculiarities and complexities of
human nature. Chaucer uses seven lined stanza ABABBCC, known as the Chaucerian
There is liberal use of humor. There is insistence on human sentiment like in ‘The
Legend of good women’.
Normally the Chaucerian poems are divided into three stages- Italian (The Parliament of
Fowls etc), French (The Romaunt etc.), and English (The Parson’s Tale etc.)
However, there is also some criticism for the inordinate length of some speeches and
preachy discourse on ethics etc.
5-Age of germination:
Even thought there were no novels or drama at his age, Chaucer’s work did pkant the
seeds for its development in the succeeding Elizabethan age. If ‘The Canterbury Tales’
had been in prose and divided into scenes and acts, it would have been the language’s