For a student of English literature, Geoffrey Chaucer is a symbol of excellence. And for the readers, he is “the Father of English Literature.” Yes, there are a thousand reasons to define why he deserves this title. But one big question is can we confine Chaucer’s periphery to literary terms only? Or apart from his literary identity, he also possesses the designation of the proponent of the renaissance spirit.
It is undeniable that Geoffrey Chaucer is the inventor of the literary form of the English language. And to date, his creation remains “the accented form of literary English.” He appeared as the pioneer for educating, for the first time, his fellow countrymen about the hidden features that made the future passage of the ‘English versification.’ Famous English poet Matthew Arnold opined, “With him is born our real poetry.”
However, limiting the kudos to a single title is impossible. Chaucer earned acclaim for being “the first narrative artist.” He had even got the title of becoming the first humorist and the first narrator of realism in English poetry. Also, as a character painter, his skills were matchless. But, one of his best achievements defined him as the first metrical artist to shape English literature in its finest ever form. Furthermore, he has been hailed as a forerunner of English Drama because he was dramatic even before the drama was born.
All the above discussion about the great English poet and author unveils an account of incomparable achievements. But, again, the million-dollar question is whether Geoffrey Chaucer was a proponent of the renaissance spirit.
While talking about Chaucer’s advocacy on renaissance spirit, one thing becomes evident that his writings possessed a broad experience of humans and human affairs. His open and wide association with all classes of people is apparent from his words. His vast knowledge of books was indeed a rare feat if compared to any layman of his age. In addition, His familiarity with contemporary French poetry and knowledge about the works of famous writers like Cicero, Virgil, and Ovid still surpluses the periphery of many great knowledgeable persons on renaissance-related facts even of the current times.
Chaucer’s personal acquaintance with famous Italian authors Petrarch and Boccaccio helped him acquire a solid understanding of Greek classics. In addition, the works of these two immensely skilled and learned Europeans unlocked the new classical spirit and simultaneously opened the door of new thoughts. In a word, it unfolded an option of rebirth and reawakening. And thus, Chaucer became the first English man to get vastly influenced by the great cultural movement in Europe, which was more familiar as Renaissance.
The great English author’s visit to Italy made him spellbound to see the grandeur and splendor of the famous Florentine Court. He further discovered how a potent literary and artistic activity emerged as the ultimate means of the said European country’s cultural expression. In short, Chaucer came across a completely new renascent Italy.
After a passionate tour to the European state, he returned to England with a heightened feeling that defined the fundamental contrast between renaissance characteristics and Medievalism. He understood how this renaissance spirit would improve and upgrade every part of worldly things, including life and beauty, to enrich the great literature. The English man realized that a new age of reawakening was imminent. And it was he who appeared as an exponent to bring and infuse that spirit into academic and cultural activities related to English culture. Some experts opine that without Chaucer, a refined and polished Shakespearean age could never be possible.
One strange thing is that although Geoffrey Chaucer acted as a proponent of the renaissance spirit, he never tried to insert that spirit in his life forcefully. The history of his personal life at least indicates that trend. Moreover, he never doubted the orthodoxy tradition of the Middle Ages. However, strangely, he possessed no professional connection with the Church. As a result, he felt no overwhelming interest in the other world that Dante, Gower and Langland felt. In truth, Chaucer was probably the first preacher of realism who had no professional association with the Church but never questioned the orthodoxy culture.
But, his words put a lot of questions. His gentle satire with irony disclosed “the institution of chivalry” and exposed the clergy’s spiritual pretensions. Chaucer’s realism always worked to uncover the truth gently, which many contemporary writers even dare to think. His effort to free the human spirit from bondage is still praiseworthy.