Influences of Geofrey Chaucher


Influences of Geofrey Chaucher

Of all the prominent Italian writers that influenced Geoffrey Chaucer,
Dante and Boccaccio had the greatest impact on his literary works. Though
others, such as Petrarch, also influenced Chaucer, none did so to the extent of
Dante and Boccaccio (Brewer pg.13).

In the fourteenth century, Italy led European culture. The most highly
organized cities, the biggest industries, the richest merchants and bankers, the
best doctors, the most innovational technicians, the best painters and
sculptors, the finest vernacular poets, and the most learned scholars were all
Italian (Miller pg.125). Chaucer’s trip to Florence had taken him to the right
place at the right time, and what he saw in Boccaccio and Boccaccio’s
mentor, Petrarch, was a major shift in literary history (Pearsall pg.254). Throughout Chaucer’s visits to Italy, both Petrarch and Boccaccio were alive.

Though it is possible that Chaucer did not know of Boccaccio, it is of
the greatest improbability, involving several inconceivable coincidences. The
more likely scenario is that Chaucer knew about Boccaccio, possibly even
met him, and aware of Boccaccio’s achievements, he utilized him as a
touchstone (Pearsall pg.282). Chaucer became very prone to model his work on previous literary
pieces by Boccaccio. Chaucer wrote the short poem the Falls of Princes,
which eventually transformed into The Monk’s Tale, by using Boccaccio’s De
Casibus as a mold. Chaucer modeled The Canterbury Tales and The Legend
of Good Women on Boccaccio’s Decameron and De Claris Mulierbus,
respectively. Chaucer also came across Boccaccio’s Il Filostrato,
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basis of his Troilus and Criseyde, and Teseida, basis of The Knight’s Tale
(Pearsall pg.261). All of Boccaccio’s influences occurred in less than a
decade and virtually affected all of Chaucer’s remaining work. At one time or another practically all of Boccaccio’s Italian works have
been put forward as sources by Chaucer or influences on him. For years the
accepted opinion was that “Chaucer’s greatness would be diminished if
Boccaccio were more than one of many negligible influences” (Boitani pg.44). An imitation is not weak unless the poet is weak. Boitani states,
“Originality cannot be measured by the absence of borrowing.” Chaucer’s
originality shows best in works based on other works, such as the Troilus. Chaucer had to learn to “be unoriginal” when he substituted Italian for
French models (Boitani pg.46).

Italy had a peculiar mixture of religious and secular people. Chaucer,
however, revealed no interest in this world of international politics, though it
must have fed some aspects of his “scepticism and anti-clericalism” (Pearsall pg.308).

The other writer who has a tremendous effect on Chaucer is Dante. Dante, an Italian poet, is regarded to as one of the world’s greatest poets. His
masterpiece, The Divine Comedy, is considered to be the most able and
eloquent summing up of the moral, religious, and political thoughts of the
Middle Ages (Schless pg.3). Both, The Canterbury Tales and The Divine
Comedy are considered to be quest epics (Schless pg.31). The main Robert Garay
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discrepancy between these works is that The Divine Comedy consists of one
protagonist, whereas Chaucer’s work contains thirty-one story tellers. To claim that every pilgrim with his or her tale recapitulates the entire
“Dantean” pilgrimage is absurd. The generally accepted theory is that in their
summaries, various pilgrims comment or focus on one or more of the aspects
of the “Dantean” journey (Schless pg.74).

A sign in the shift in the “critical sensibility” is R.A. Shoaf’s Dante,
Chaucer and the Currency of the Word, which, focusing on the two poets’
concern with a poetic language, illustrates that Chaucer was, in his words,
“no mere quoter of virtuoso passages” from The Divine Comedy, but “a great
interpreter of Dante” (Shoaf pg.8). In Chaucer and the Poets, Wetherbee
observes, “Dante is not only a model but a standard by which the quality and
seriousness of his own future work may be measured,” (Wetherbee pg.21). It is clear to see that Italian writers had a tremendous influence on the
writing style and the works of Geoffrey Chaucer. Some might argue that he
made a career out of imitating the works of those before him, but Chaucer is a
very talented and intellectual poet, and therefore his literary pieces would
succeed regardless of the circumstances.

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