Jan 25: Introduction to The Canterbury Tales

The Introduction notes that there has been a signal of a shift in “the reception of Chaucer’s poetry; earlier he had elevated”our” language to new heights of golden rhetoric, but now he is distanced, likened to classic poets of another time and language” (22). Why is the distinction between Chaucer as “father” and as “master” so important to scholars? Why is it important for us in studying Chaucer now?

3 thoughts on “Jan 25: Introduction to The Canterbury Tales

  1. If a writer is portrayed as a “father” figure, he can be seen as a person who started everything. Chaucer was clearly not the first writer of the Middle Ages; however, his father figure status allows modern readers to think of his writings as the beginning that others continue to copy or develop over the years. If Chaucer is portrayed as a master, that implies he has practiced and has honed his writing skills, dedicating his life to writing timeless works that people will always enjoy. Both interpretations of Chaucer as the “father of English literature”, and as the “classic” master of his time encourage us to revere Chaucer for his great writings (20) (22).

  2. In the sense of a father, Chaucer is seen as the creator of a new style of English language, and as a master he is seen as “a teacher whom the present writer is striving to imitate” (20). These distinctions are important because they were given to Chaucer despite criticism that appeared to his works, such as ‘Trilus and Criseyde’ being described as “filthy and full of wantonness”, and his writing being labeled “too old-fashioned to be easily understood” (22). It is important to note that Chaucer was, and still is, a highly revered author – to the point of being labelled ‘father’ and ‘master’ of the English language – despite the moral criticism he seemed to acquire.

  3. The term “master” implies a great degree of skill obviously, but it also implies an element of leadership, and a feeling that this person transcends commonness. We speak of great artists as “masters” (the first that come to mind are the Dutch Masters) and this label implies that their work has, not only been influential and garnered much critical study, but can be framed as a template for aspiring artists. By calling Chaucer a master we assign him a position of leadership in the literary canon that we don’t if we just label him a “father”. “Father” might retain a little bit of the connotation of leadership, but I think you can argue that it does not nearly as effectively as “master”. “Father” also implies a link to the past, something that has happened, and now a newer generation is looking back on it. In a way, “father” minimizes Chaucer’s contributions to literature. It says “This person was important because he started this, and this new generation acknowledges that influence, but he is old-timey and not exactly worthy of emulation, lest you emulate his old-timeyness.”

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