The Age of Chaucer (1350-1400)- English Literature Essay (100 Level Course)
The Age of Chaucer was rich in poetical forms. Since religion played a very important part in medieval society, religious poetry developed in the form of lyrics, usually drawing on episodes in the life of Christ and, even more, that of the Virgin Mary. Although these episodes sometimes used the language of chivalry,
they were pervaded by mysticism and characterized by great musicality and striking imagery.
Secular poetry, on the other hand, mostly consisted of love lyrics. These were influenced by the minstrels or “troubadours” of southern France, and reflected a special code known as “Courtly Love”. Courtly Love was based on a set of conventions mainly defining the relationship between a lady and her lover, both of whom belonged to the upper class or nobility.
The relationship generally developed outside marriage, since the latter, at this time, was normally a contract or agreement having little or nothing to do with love. Courtly love poetry obeyed the canons of a fixed formula, in which the lady was idealized and worshipped, while the lover was ready to serve her and even die for her. Unlike the more conventional and artificial French poems, the English lyrics were more sincere and enriched with allegory.
Medieval secular poetry was not exclusively devoted to love. It also included descriptive and narrative poems, as well as songs to be sung at banquets. Music and songs played an important role in medieval life and very of ten accompanied poetry. Medieval poems (including Chaucer’s Ganterbuty Tales) were in fact usually composed to be listened to at court and not to be read. It was only later that they were written down, often by monks in monasteries, in the versions that have survived into our times.
Among the poems that had appeared by the end of the fourteenth century, the finest were The Pearl and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, two anonymous alliterative poems.