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Influences Of Geofrey Chaucher Essay, Research Paper

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,

Robert Garay

Page 2

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

Page 3

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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