Geoffrey Chaucer was an English author, poet, diplomat, and philosopher. He is known as the “Father of English Literature” because he popularized in the English vernacular instead of writing in Latin or French. He is most well-known for his collection of poems called The Canterbury Tales, which follows a group of pilgrims on a journey to a religious site.
Geoffrey Chaucer was born sometime between 1341 and 1344, most likely in London. He was born in a well-to-do family, and because he was a courtier and bureaucrat, many records exist of his activities throughout his life. He was particularly close with John of Gaunt, who patronized a lot of his work including The Book of the Duchess, which was written as a tribute to John of Gaunt’s first wife Blanche of Lancaster.
While Chaucer wrote many poems throughout his lifetime, he is most well-known for his collection of poetic stories found in The Canterbury Tales. The Tales throw together an unlikely social group of thirty pilgrims who gather at an inn for a journey to Thomas à Becket’s tomb. They are offered an intriguing opportunity by the owner of the inn, Harry Bailey: whoever tells the best tale wins a free dinner when they return. Of course, this is a financial goldmine for Bailey, because he knows that they will all drink and eat on their return with the winner. The pilgrims are slated to tell four tales: two on the way to the tomb, and two on the way home. The original framework would have yielded 120 tales and likely kept Chaucer employed for many years to come. Unfortunately, he died before he could finish the Tales. The collection of stories is known for its wit, edgy humor, breaking of stereotypes, questioning of church personnel, and developing caricatures for which the audience needs to read between the lines to find Chaucer’s true thoughts on the characters.
Chaucer died in 1400 of unknown causes. There is some speculation that his political affiliations to King Richard II and John of Gaunt may have cost him his life, but there is no definitive proof.
”Truth is the highest thing that man may keep.”
”The life so short, the craft so long to learn.”
”Forbid us something, and that thing we desire; but press it on us hard, and we will flee.”
Check out the rest of our Teacher Guides and Lesson Plans!