Chaucer, the Maker

Chaucer, the Maker

Chaucer, the Maker

Chaucer, the Maker

Excerpt

Dryden, trying to counteract what he evidently felt was an excessive contemporary respect for Latin and French, recognized Chaucer and Shakespeare--to a lesser degree Ben Jonson--as belonging in the great English tradition. His instinct was right. It is an association that needs continually to be borne in mind. The tendency to separate Chaucer from the rest of English literature, as a Middle English text, is always insidiously with us, especially among our academic teachers.

Chaucer's society is implied in Chaucer's poetry. We should not, of course, read Chaucer (or any author) merely to disocver what his society was like. The present value is in the poetry, not in the one-time society. Nevertheless, the complexity (and value) of that society is still, if it is anywhere, in the complexity (and value) of the poetry which is our present object. The rudiments and externals of what that society was like are, of course, known also from other sources; the social historians have constructed their own picture of it and have confirmed that in general it was a complex of little communities, each market-town being both the focus of local life and in touch with London. Chaucer's English, courtly as it is in one of its aspects, is rooted in the speech of what was still (allowing for expanding trades) a predominantly agricultural community.

The community that discovers itself in Chaucer is already recognizably the English community of Shakespeare. Mediaeval England did not dissolve suddenly and absolutely in the sixteenth century. Shakespeare and Ben Jonson . . .

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