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In the fourteenth century Geoffrey Chaucer, who served three kings as a customs official and special envoy, virtually invented English poetry. He did so by wedding the language of common speech to metrical verse, creating a medium that could accommodate tales of courtly romance, bawdy fabliaux, astute psychological portraiture, dramatic monologues, moral allegories, and its author’s astonishing learning in fields from philosophy to medicine and astrology. Chaucer’s accomplishment is unequalled by any poet before Shakespeare and—in The Canterbury Tales and Troilus and Cressida—ranks with that of the great English novelists.
Both The Canterbury Tales and Troilus and Cressida are presented complete in this anthology, in fresh modern translations by Theodore Morrison that convey both the gravity and gaiety of the Middle English originals. The Portable Chaucer also contains selections from The Book of Duchess, The House of Fame, The Bird's Parliament, and The Legend of Good Women, together with short poems. Morrison's introduction is vital for its insights into Chaucer as man and artist, and as a product of the Middle Ages whose shrewdness, humor, and compassion have a wonderfully contemporary ring.
About the Author
Geoffrey Chaucer was born in London, the son of a wine-merchant, in about 1342, and as he spent his life in royal government service his career happens to be unusually well documented. By 1357 Chaucer was a page to the wife of Prince Lionel, second son of Edward III, and it was while in the prince's service that Chaucer was ransomed when captured during the English campaign in France in 1359-60. Chaucer's wife Philippa, whom he married c. 1365, was the sister of Katherine Swynford, the mistress (c. 1370) and third wife (1396) of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, whose first wife Blanche (d. 1368) is commemorated in Chaucer's ealrist major poem, The Book of the Duchess.
From 1374 Chaucer worked as controller of customs on wool in the port of London, but between 1366 and 1378 he made a number of trips abroad on official business, including two trips to Italy in 1372-3 and 1378. The influence of Chaucer's encounter with Italian literature is felt in the poems he wrote in the late 1370's and early 1380s – The House of Fame, The Parliament of Fowls and a version of The Knight's Tale – and finds its fullest expression in Troilus and Criseyde.
In 1386 Chaucer was member of parliament for Kent, but in the same year he resigned his customs post, although in 1389 he was appointed Clerk of the King's Works (resigning in 1391). After finishing Troilus and his translation into English prose of Boethius' De consolatione philosophiae, Chaucer started his Legend of Good Women. In the 1390s he worked on his most ambitious project, The Canterbury Tales, which remained unfinished at his death. In 1399 Chaucer leased a house in the precincts of Westminster Abbey but died in 1400 and was buried in the Abbey.
“The most successful translations of Chaucer’s poetry that I have ever seen.”—Chicago Tribune