Geoffrey Chaucer as a representative of his age because as we analyse Chaucer’s work of Canterbury Tales, we come to know that in his prologue to the “Canterbury Tales” Chaucer has proved himself as a great realist in his approach of presenting the trends, customs, attitudes, habits, rites, cultures and flaws of life of his age.
He has very superbly and excellently given us a very fine picture of 14th century. A very true and real picture of common as well as upper life in England is revealed to us by Chaucer’s art of presenting the realistic social and religious conditions of the country. He was always of the views that literature always reflected the age and time in which it was written and produced. This is the very idea of him which makes his work of the Prologue to the Canterbury Tales as a mouthpiece of his age.Chaucer is equal to Pope and Tennyson in presenting the ideas, traditions, hopes and aspirations of the people of his own age.
It is the very plus point of his art and life that he had been living among the people of various sorts and gathered a lot of experience about life in a practical way. This is the very experience of life which later helped him in his power of observation and he had described his characters so realistically and vividly that we could almost reconstruct 14th Century England through them. As it is acknowledged and observed that all the characters are the mouthpiece or representatives of different professions; they reflect the varied aspects of the me of those times leaving only the royal on the one hand and the lowest life on the other. Though there are many other evident events which had been happened in 14th Century yet ‘Black Death’ was such accident all which was the most important event of the 14th Century which had shaken the entire life of the country.
The portrayal description of the ‘Doctor of Physic’ presents the true conditions of that age which were prevailing in Chaucer’s age due to the negligence of so-called doctors and physicians. In the prologue, some light is being thrown on the poor conditions of medical science through the character of ‘Doctor of Physic’. For example,
“In al this world he was their noon hym like to speak of Phisik and of surgery”.
Apparently he proves himself to be having mastery of the medical field but actually the basis of his scientific knowledge was astronomy i.e., astrology. He was actually such a personality that was much attracted or allured by gold and other worldly ornaments. The thing of which he was most careful was money which he had collected in sufficient quantity during the (plague) epidemic in which millions of people were suffering and finally lost their lives. Here Chaucer rightly describes his character in the following words!
“For gold in Phisik is a cordial’ therefore he lovde gold in special”.
Tradewise speaking, the conditions of present England were different from England of Chaucer’s time because there were many great landed proprietors and “worth vavasours” who like Chaucer’s Frankline — a very saint Julian or pattern of hospitelity – knew not what was what to be,
“Without bakemeat in the house”.
In other words we can say that these above mentioned characters apparently show themselves as men of giving the services to their guests at the best levels but actually they were not as such as they exposed themselves.
Another very prominent trait of Chaucer’s age is that the English mariners were excelling too much in their trade like the shipman in Chaucer’s characters:
“He knew well alle the hevens, as they were,
From Gootland to the cape of Fynstere,
And every cryke in Britaingne and in speyne”.
England of that time was becoming commercially rich and prosperous and the classes of tradesmen and merchants were also becoming economically rich that resulted in the new achievement for them because now their voices could also be listened to in the affairs of the nation. In other words, they also started participating in the national affairs at govt levels. The ‘plotis’ merchant represents this new rising class. We also see that a trend of industrialization had also prevailed over the people of agricultural class and they were converting their lands, farmhouses and fields into industries. In this way, the new industries of silk, glass-making and brass were becoming quite popular.
This very trend gave an expansion to the business community. The other classes of craftsmen as The Carpenter, The Haber, The Weaver, The Dyer and The Tapicer , were prominent and all of those had become fairly prosperous. As far as the character of knight is concerned, is the most respected figure or character in the company of other characters. It is through the medium of Chaucer’s Tales that we come to know that in the later half of the 14th Century, Knighthood was losing its importance because of the changing trends of the age. The distinction between the high and low was becoming decreased and now the ‘Host’ could also walk with shoulder to shoulder and also sit in the parliament side by side with the knights of the shire. The later effects of the Plague (Black Death) made the life difficult for the poor and middle classes because the prices of edibles and daily used things were increased.
This very inflation resulted in the revolution which was known as the ‘Peasants Revolt’. Though that revolt uplifted the standard of farmer class and they were being given their basic rights of life yet there were some conservative workers who still believed in living a peaceful life, and paying able due respect to the authorities. It is the character of “The Ploughman” in the tales which is the true mouthpiece of true laborers.
Apart from this, we also see that there were two languages – one was English and second was French which were being popularized among the communities of Chaucer’s age and finally there erupted a new confusion of a new fusion of two races. This resulted in a new language of England because the lower classes were anxious to learn French but they were unable to pronounce or articulate or understand its true meanings while the upper classes were fond of speaking French as their mother tongue. So, both these two upper and lower classes created a new peculiar mixture of French and the native tongue. This confusion or issue was solved in 1362, when English was declared to be the language of the courts. The Frerich was still the language of the aristocrats. In this connection, we can quote the example of the character of Prioress who was really conscious about this and she tried her best to speak French in its true articulation but was unable to pronounce it correctly.
“And Frenssh she spak full faire and fetisly For
French of Parys was to hire unknown”.
The very prominent changing of the 14th Century was the advent of the Renaissance which was highlighted in the “Prologue” through the character of the Clerk of Oxford as it presented the new tendency of the Renaissance learning and spirit of gaining new trends of worldly affairs in order to become prominent in the society.
“But al be that he was a philosopher”. Another very remarkable aspect of 14th Century life was an extravagance of dresses. Upper classes of Chaucer’s time were very fond of wearing costly and fashionable dresses which also served as a distinction between the lower and the upper classes. Talking about the horses of the Knights, Chaucer presents a true picture of the Renaissance period. The Knight’s horses were decorated or dressed with more finery than were the knights themselves. In all the young characters, it was young or youthful squire who was the most showy and Chaucer rightly utters;
“Embroidered was he as it were a meade.
All full of freshest flowers, white and red”.
In addition to all these, we also gather a true picture of religious conditions which were being prevailed in that time. Before the starting of Renaissance spirit in the 14 Century, there were already signs of harmony between dogma and intelligence. Most of the religious characters are the embodiment of the sins of flesh and avarice. The picture of ecclesiastical figures which Chaucer presented through the religious characters, was not flattering one. Ignoring their true duties and responsibilities to their religion and Church, they had willfully and willingly become the victim of profigacy; forgetting their original role of poverty and of labour.
Another very prominent class of the society to which a man’s life is incomplete, is the section of women. In his Prologue to the Canterbury Tales, Chaucer had flighty thrown light on the women’s conditions of his age. In the Prologue, he has presented three ladies, The Prioress, a Nun and the Wife of Bath; These three ladies are the true representatives of the women of his time. Reading the characters of these three ladies in the Prologue, we become able to gather an overall view of the activities, trends, fashions, etc. of the life of the female section of Chaucer’s time. Talking about the conditions of the inns of his times and the table manners of the pilgrims, he says that inns were situated at some distance and beer was also found in other places than in these inns.
Having all the above analysis in mind, we come to the conclusion and say it vehemently and openly that Chaucer himself was a realist and he revealed the truth about life as he saw it. Because before Chaucer, the writers were lost in the world of dreams and allegories but it was Chaucer who changed that trend and shook off the limits and shackles of the dreamy allegory and came out with healthy observation and experiences of life which were unfolding before his eyes. There is no doubt in saying that all this discussion proves him as a great chronicler of his age and he reflects his times not in fragments but completely. He laid the foundation of a new humanism and the dawn of the Renaissance. One thing is very worthy to note here that at the same time, he openly, realistically and vividly brings before us the traditions and conventions which his age had inherited from the middle ages.
So we can say here without any doubt that Chaucer is also a great representative of his age because through his art of writing, he has presented the body and the soul of the society of his times. We also observed that there is left no field or branch of life or colour of life which these thirty pilgrims have not covered because these thirty pilgrims cover the long range of 14th Century English society. Chaucer himself presented only that which was felt and experienced by these thirty pilgrims. It is really Chaucer’s great art of writing that first of all he has all the pros and cons of the action of his character then he presents a masterpiece of poetry through character delineation. Having plunged into the deepest ocean of time; he throws light on its influence on the people of the age. There is no exaggeration in the saying that he has drawn his characters so realistically and truly that sometimes we feel ourselves present in the 14th Century, travelling from London to Canterbury, along with the pilgrims of Geoffrey Chaucer, visualizing and observing all the passing scenery, sights and happenings of the life of his age as he presented in the tales.