Essay on Jest and Earnest in Chaucer's Work

Essay on Jest and Earnest in Chaucer's Work

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Geoffrey Chaucer was born in London around 1342, though the details are vague at best, and lived until 1400. Little is known of his early education, but his works show that he could read French, Latin, and Italian, and as such was clearly very well educated, and it is also known that he spent much of his life close to the centres of English power because the first reports of Chaucer come from 1357 as a page in the household of Prince Lionel before he went to serve for Edward III in France, where he was captured and ransomed. His first literary work appeared in the form of `The Book of the Duchess' in 1369, an allegory which grieves over the death of John of Gaunt's wife Blanche. Chaucer wrote many other works after this period but it was not until 1387 when Chaucer began his master work, `The Canterbury Tales.' Two years later, Chaucer's appointments in King Edward's court culminated with his position as clerk of the King's works.

As a result of these elevated positions in society, Chaucer gained a variety of viewpoints of social hierarchy as he met people from all levels of the ladder. It is this idea, Chaucer's knowledge of society as a whole, as well as what we know of Chaucer's good education, that is reflected in his work, and in particular in the `Canterbury Tales'. The tales present the reader with characters from all levels of society and Chaucer uses different characters' positions in society to make comments on other areas of society whilst always distancing himself from the remarks made.

Chaucer comments on society by presenting the reader with a large variety of characters, from the Knight at the very top level of society to characters such as the miller and the carpenter, laymen who are down the bottom level....


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... there is no real difference between social levels other than the way in which members of each behave are all ideas that Chaucer depicts in the tales. These themes and ideas, as well as many others, are presented by Chaucer using satire throughout the tales and the prologue, and in particular through his changing use of humour and earnestness in all of them. The manner in which Chaucer uses both of these techniques so effortlessly to highlight key points within each character, even using comedy to affront the religious figures for whom he holds a particular disdain, as well as the manner in which he splits his own input to the tales into two separate characters in order to show two sides, shows Chaucer's great ability as a writer and allows us a deeper insight into society of the 14th Century, and in particular, Chaucer's view on the social system of the 14th Century.

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