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Geoffrey Chaucer: The Master of Popular Poetry

Geoffrey Chaucer is an extremely famous English poet from the 14th century best known for his “Canterbury Tales.” This work of poetry depicts several pilgrims traveling to the town of Canterbury, which was a very important holy place in Medieval England. Travelers belong to all walks of life and, in order to pass the time quicker, share stories and fables as they ride together. “Canterbury Tales” highlight the topics that actually interested ordinary English people and, at the same time, mock the high-brow knightly culture. This choice of topics illustrates that Chaucer was not merely a poet who wrote refined romances for the well-to-do nobles but the master of popular poetry who wrote about ordinary English people and their interests.

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The many stories comprising “Canterbury Tales” work in unison to stress Chaucer’s intent to depict English people from all walks of life, not just knights and influential clerics who comprised the society’s elite. As a result, the stories relayed are not songs of valor and romance but far more simple and humorous ones. In the prologue and tale of the Wife of Bath, the author subtly criticizes the imbalance of the male-dominated feudal society and implicitly suggests that women should have more judicial and sexual freedom (Chaucer, n.d.). As such, it indicates that Chaucer was one of the first English poets to try representing women and their interest in his works or, at least, address the issues that concerned them. The Miller’s Tale provides a lewd story of adultery and bodily harm with a considerable humorous potential (Chaucer, n.d.). The tale of the Somonour (a church court official) goes as far as building the entire narrative around a fart joke (Chaucer, n.d.). To summarize, Chaucer’s poetry addresses the issues and themes that were of interest to ordinary English people of his time rather than the elite.

This focus on the simple people and their longings becomes even more evident in the ironic way in which Chaucer portrays himself. When the caravan’s host invites Chaucer to entertain the public with some dainty story, the latter responds with the Tale of Sir Thopas. Unlike the down-to-earth fables told before, and to great praise as well, the Tale of Sir Thopas belongs to “the tradition of popular Middle English romances” (Kao, 2018, p. 147). It is full of chivalry, courtly love, and miracles – in other words, all things befitting a romance created for medieval nobility. However, the tale fails to impress the listeners and the caravan host in particular. The host even interrupts Chaucer in the middle of his narration by shouting: “No more of this, for goddes dignitee” (n.d.). High-brow knightly romance is so boring and unappealing to the audience that they are unable to listen to it for another minute. Chaucer not only emphasizes the interests of the ordinary folk but also mocks the nobility culture for being too far off from real life, which further illustrates his status as a master of popular poetry.

To summarize, Chaucer is a noteworthy figure in English literature not only because he was a talented poet but because he was one of the first to focus on the lives of simple people. The many tales shared by the diverse group of pilgrims paint a lively picture of English society and largely revolve around simple things concerning simple people. Moreover, the author openly mocks the high-brow culture of medieval nobility. Thus, one can safely conclude that Chaucer was a true master of popular poetry who aimed his literary talent at portraying the actual life of medieval England through his mastery of popular poetry.


Chaucer, G. (n. d.). The Canterbury tales. Project Gutenberg. Web.

Kao, W.-C. (2018). Cute Chaucer. Exemplaria, 30(2), 147-171. Web.

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