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No – not our dear fellow Kossack, whom we at Mojo Friday hold in the highest esteem, even though she rarely graces our diaries (and, yes, we thoroughly understand why).  No, this diary is dedicated to this Chaucer:

Geoffrey Chaucer  

Geoffrey Chaucer is believed to have been born in 1343 in  London and is known to have died  on October  25, 1400.  Little is known of his circumstances growing up, but family records of the time indicate that he came from a fairly well-to-do upper middle class famly.

Without a doubt, Chaucer was born a commoner, but with aspirations above his born station.  Through his excellent work as a bureaucrat in 14th Century England, he rose to a singular level as a commoner.  In fact, his grand-daughter, Alice Chaucer, married the Duke of Suffolk, who played a major role in the Wars of the Roses, with their son (Geoffrey's great-grandson) being designated the heir of Richard III until Richard's defeat at the Battle of Bosworth Field.

Chaucer himself grew up to be a courtier, a diplomat, a raconteur of the Middle Ages, and is generally regarded as one of the finest writers of the English language (with the exception of some later guy named Will Something-or-Other.).  Certainly, his writings were the first significant works in English as a vernacular language. Before him, little record remains of significant literature in English (although there are a few scattered examples) and the vast majority of literary works at the time were produced in either French (the last remains of the Norman invasion) or  Latin.  His work certainly served to cement the English language (which had become an amalgam of Anglo-Saxon and Norman French) as one worthy of great literature.  

As noted above, Chaucer is believed to have been born in 1343.  That would make this year the 666th anniversary of his birth, an interesting number to be sure.  However, we do not know, in fact, when he was born.  It is only a matter of surmise.  In fact, there are some (a minority, to be sure, but a vocal one at that) that challenge the legitimacy of his right to be considered a native-born English poet.  They note that his last name has a suspiciously French cast to it.  They also point to the lack of certainty about his birth and demand that he produce a birth certificate.  This minority of critics, like all such, are, of course, crackpots.   Chaucer himself would, no doubt, have an appropriately rude and ribald retort for them and their ilk.

His works

Chaucer wrote some of the most important pieces of literature in the English language.    When I as studying them in college (all too many years ago), I was struck by their beauty, even in that seemingly strange mixture of Old and Modern English that was the language prior to the Great Vowel Shift.  Amongst my favorites of his works are:

The Book of the Duchess is a poem about death and sorrow, and was probably written as an elegy for the commemoration of the death of the wife of John of Gaunt

The Parlement of Fowles is a dream poem telling of the search for mates, which gets bogged down in a comic parliamentary debate.  As usual, the owls mess everything up.

Troilus and Creseyde is one of the sources of Shakespeare’s play and attempts to tell the romance of these two against the backdrop of the Seige of Troy.

And, of course, his most famous work:

The Canterbury Tales

The Canterbury Tales is, actually, an uncompleted work.  It attempts to tell the tale of a group of pilgrims who set forth from London to visit the shrine of Saint Thomas a Becket in Canterbury.  These pilgrims are meant to represent all the diverse types of English society of the day.  Along the way, they each tell a tale, which reveals something of themselves, and something of the society of the time.  Some of the tales are comic, some are serious and philisophical, some are morality plays, and some are absolutely ribald.  

A religious pilgrimage was the one framework in which all these different people from the various strata of medieval society could be expected to interact in an informal manner.  This allows Chaucer to look at the various levels of that society and make many a wry observation.  

Chaucer was a keen observer and one can learn much about the nature of medieval society by reading The Canterbury Tales.  Moreover, one can learn a great deal about human nature as well.  If tackling this piece in Middle English seems to be too much for you, there are many excellent translations.  But anyone with an appreciation of the English language owes it themselves to read The Canterbury Tales.  I highly recommend it.

Mojo Friday Guidelines (Per TexDem)

  1.   If you comment you have to recommend all comments. (in order to receive mojo you have to give mojo. It's only good mojo manners.)

       2. Everything you say may be taken as a joke (so if you ask a question, expect a silly answer)

       3. You must recommend the diary (and pimp it unapologetically)

       4. You don't have to comment to recommend.

       5. You can't steal my idea (right, like that ain't goin' to happen)

       6. Please, no pictures or YouTubes until after 300 comments.  Now, after 300, use a little common courtesy and be responsible in the number.

       7. Mojo mojo mojo mojo, mojo mojo mojo

Mojo Friday Goals

      A. at least 300 different commenters and 1000 comments by 1:30 PM EST and 1500 by 5:00 PM EST Friday Night that it's posted.

      B. 100 recommends for each comment, at least.

      C. Stay on Recommend List at least five hours (this requires some strategic planning by you guys, refer to guideline #3)

      D. At least 200 diary recommends. 300 would be better, spread the word.

      E. And always, fun fun fun.

      F. Have at least 75% average participation rate as seen here in the Mojo Friday Postgame Show by Hedwig.

      G. (New) Have at least 30 kossacks over 90% participation (see the "How to Succeed..." diary listed below for some tips).

      H. Overload the servers with recommends, not to mention dominate Top Comments Mojo list. (we do tend to mess with the site with all of our recommends at one time)(also, to dominate the Top Comments Top Mojo we need at least 50 comments with over 100 recommends, see guideline B)

      I. That's enough for now. (Have a suggestion? Post it.)

MKinTN posted a diary to help everyone achieve greater success called How to Succeed at Mojo Friday Without Really Trying.

Finally, a note about snecking.  This is an arcane ritual amongst some of the Mojo Friday regulars.  For a fuller explanation, see MFer Jez's excellent diary, The Official Mojo Friday Snecktionary.

Originally posted to It's the Supreme Court, Stupid on Fri Oct 02, 2009 at 07:30 AM PDT.


Who is the greatest writer of the English language?

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