Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais

Faculdade de Letras
Introdução às Literaturas de Língua Inglesa

Geoffrey Chaucer and the creation of the English language and its literature

Professor: Marcel Lima Alumni: Thalita de Carvalho Pereira

Belo Horizonte/MG 2011

Geoffrey Chaucer and the creation of the English language and literature

In this essay I will outline the influence of Geoffrey Chaucer in the development of the English language as we know it today and its literature. Geoffrey Chaucer is believed to have been born around 1340. He was the son of John Chaucer, a wine trader, but he had access to aristocracy life by working as a professional courtier and marrying in the family of John of Gaunts. His work gave him the opportunity to travel to various areas of Europe, including Italy and France, and consequently make “the acquaintance of the works of writers such as Dante, Petrarch, and Boccacio.” (Carter and McRae, p. 33). The wide range of cultural references acquired by Chaucer in his travels and his own intelligence made of him one of the most capable writers of his time. Although he knew all the finer languages used to write by his contemporary men, Chaucer chose to write mostly in the East Midland dialect of English, which was spoken in London. The problem with his choice was that the dialect did not present him with enough material for his writings, hence, “in a sense, he had to create the English language as we know it today and to establish its literary traditions.” (Burgess, p. 29) One of Chaucer’s most important works is Troilus and Criseyde, the tragic lovestory of the Trojan War. According to Burgess (p. 34), it is considered the first full-length piece of English fiction. The theme of joys and pain of love is recurrent in Chaucer’s works and, according to Carter and McRae (p. 34), becomes more and more important, as in The Legend of Good Women, poem about women who died for love. Chaucer’s masterpiece is The Canterbury Tales, a collection of linked tales told by pilgrims who would go from Southwark to Canterbury. In this unfinished work, Chaucer is not only telling the tales of pilgrims, but he is unveiling different human characters and a “view of life which, in its tolerance, humour, skepticism, passion, and love of humanity, we can only call ‘modern’”. (Burgess, p. 31)

In summary, Geoffrey Chaucer contributed to the development of modern English, using his knowledge of other languages to make additions to English language itself, especially the written English. He also sets the bases for what we call English literature through his works that mirrored the changing society he lived in. I am happy for the fact that Chaucer was English for, were he Portuguese, I would have to hate him for developing a language I find already too complicated for its own good, as Portuguese is.


Burgess, Anthony. (1974) English Literature. Longman.

Ronald Carter and John McRae. (1997) The Routledge History of Literature in English: Britain and Ireland. New York: Routledge.

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