Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Age of Chaucer Viva

Q. 1. What is the state of English language in the age of Chaucer?
Ans. The period of transition is now over. The English language has shaken down to a kind of average—to the standard of the East Midland speech, the language of the capital city and of the universities. The other dialects, with the exception of the Scottish branch, rapidly melt away from literature, till they become quite exiguous. French and English have amalgamated to form the standard English tongue, which attains to its first full expression in the works of Chaucer.

Q. 2. What are the social and religious conditions of English in the age of Chaucer?
Ans. Social unrest and the beginning of a new religious movement were two of the chief active forces in England of the later fourteenth century. The third influence which did much to change the current of intellectual interests and thus affected literature very directly, came from the new learning. Thus for, scholarship had been largely the concern of the Church, and men’s thoughts and feelings about themselves and the world had been governed almost entirely by theology. Ecclesiastical ideas and the mediaeval habit of mind were still the controlling elements in Chaucer’s period but their sway was not some extent broken by the influx of a fresh and very different spirit.
Q. 3. How will you consider Langland as the representative of his age?
Ans. All the writers of this age reveal some aspect of contemporary life and of prevailing feeling and thought. Langland gives expression to the anger which was threatening the abuses of government and the vices of the clergy. He is essentially a reformer, indignant at the degenerate Christianity of his century. Langland opposes the practices of the time, the essential and reflected virtues, specially work and charity. This spirit of satire is reflected in his poems, specially in his Piers the Plowman and is accompanied and directed by an intense religious fervour.
Q. 4. Who are the other important English poets of the fourteenth century excluding Chaucer?
Ans. Among the other great poets of this period, we can mention Wycliffe, John Mandeville, Gower, and John Barbour. Firstly, John Wycliffe is the most powerful English figure of the fourteenth century. He may be called the father of English prose, because of his translation of the Bible. He is also a great reformer. Secondly, John Mandeville wrote important book Travels which has a distinct style and flavour and shows the culture and credulity of the time. Thirdly, John Gower is the contemporary of Chaucer. He follows the great poet’s style without his humour and his greatest book is Confessio Amantis. Finally, John Barbour is a contemporary of Chaucer and is the first of the Scottish poets to claim our attention. His greatest work is Bruce which is a lengthy poem of 20 books, in thirteen thousand lines.
Q. 5. In how many stages the Chaucerian poems are divided?
Ans. It is now customary to divide the Chaucerian poems into three stages: the French, the Italian, and the English, of which the last is a development of the two.
Q. 6. What do you understand by the English period in the literary career of Chaucer?
Ans. The English period is important in the literary development of Chaucer’s career because there was the greatest individual accomplishment. The achievement of this period is the The Canterbury Tales. For the general idea of the tales Chaucer was indebted to Boccaccio, but in nearly every important feature the work is essentially English. In The Canterbury Tales, Chaucer abandoned all artificial settings and schemes, forsook imitative methods and gave primary attention to the representation of the comedy of life in its highest as well as its grossest forms.
Q. 7. How will you comment upon ‘The Canterbury Tales’?
Ans. The Canterbury Tales is the outstanding example of a descriptive and narrative poem of the period, where we find the form and coherence of poetical literature. This book beautifully illustrates how English poetical style has established itself and the main lines of development with regard to metre and diction been laid down. The Canterbury Tales is marked by a mastery of versification, mastery of phrase, narrative power and humour. Besides, it is the representative poem of this period, which it mirrors beautifully. Every class of people are represented except the very highest and very lowest. All the characters are of actual type, studied from life.
Q. 8. What was the plan of ‘The Canterbury Tales’?
Ans. The original plan then was that each member of the company should tell two tales on the way to Canterbury and two more on the way back. This meant that in all about 120 tales would be told by the thirty or so pilgrims. There are however only twentyfour tales or fragments of tales now extant in the series. Moreover Chaucer seems to have changed his intentions regarding the scope of his plan as he went along. This is clear from the words of the Host on two or three occasions. Thus, he remainds the Franklin that at least “a tale or two” is expected from him.
Q. 9. How will you justify that ‘The Prologue’ is the picture of society of the fourteenth century?
Ans. The men and women who make up Chaucer’s Pilgrim band represent almost every class of society in the 14th century. Only the very highest—royalty—and the very lowest fringes of society are left out. But all those who make up the essential basis of the social organism are there. The Prologue has been described as a veritable picture gallery, it would be more true to call it a grand procession, with all the life and movement, the colour and sound that we associate with a procession.
Q. 10. What are the important characters in ‘The Prologue’?
Ans. First of all conies the knight, fresh from the holy war. Then comes his son the Squire, a dashing youngman, handsome and fashionable, and their attendant, the Yeoman dressed in Lincoln Green. The Church is represented by dainty and aristocratic Madam Eglentine and her fellow Nun. There is also the undisciplined and grosser Monk, the jovial Friar, the Summoner and the Pardoner, who are parasites of the Church. Last of all there is the poor and virtuous parson who, with his ‘earnestness and true goodness redeems the cause of religion. The Doctor, the Man of Law, the Clerk of Oxenford and Chaucer himself represent the intellectual professions. Commerce is represented by the Merchant and the Sailor. The woman of the world has her spokesman in the outstanding figures of them all—the immortal Wife of Bath.
Q. 11. “Chaucer is our greatest story-teller in verse.” How will you justify this statement?
Ans. Chaucer is the greatest story-teller in verse. According to Lowell, “He is one of the world’s three or four story-tellers.” He is second to no English poet in the art of narration. Other writers have greater moments, but none such even excellence. He can tell a realistic or a romantic tale with the same skill and success. The Canterbury Tales were originally designed to beguile the time; and their power to do so is unimpaired to this day. The invention of a story in a sense belongs to the man who tells it best.
Q. 12. How will you compare Chaucer’s art of narration with that of Shakespeare?
Ans. Like Shakespeare, Chaucer’s stories are in no case original in theme. He has taken his raw material from many different sources. The range of his reading and his quick eye for anything and everything would enable him to search the various sources for building structure of his tales. He keeps in view all sort of literature, Latin, French and Italian, under contribution. But whatever he borrows he makes entirely his own. Chaucer and Shakespeare, though of course in different degrees of excellence and vivifying power, so frequently make dry bones live, transform dull chronicles, legends and stupid tales into literary gems, sparkling with animation and realism, and invested with the deepest human interest. The original story is not merely translated, it is completely transformed.
Q. 13. What characteristics of novel do you find in Chaucer?
Ans. Chaucer clothed in artistic form the low intrigue, the fable, the adventure, and the romance of chivarly, prefacing them with a group of contemporary portraits. Delightful are as these tales of the Canterbury pilgrims, yet the poem in which Chaucer moved most directly towards the novel is ‘Troilus and Cressida’. Its heroine is the subtlest piece of psychological analysis in mediaeval fiction; and the shrewd and practical Pandarus is a character whose presence of itself brings the story down from the heights of romance to the plains of real life.
Q. 14. What do you know about Chaucer’s method of characterisation.
Ans. Chaucer was not only the prince of story tellers, but also one of the mighty poets of human heart. He was par excellent in psychology, knowledge of men and women, which he revealed with an insight into the heart and imaginative humour, only equalled by Shakespeare. According to Chesterton, “The story-tellers do not merely exist to tell the stories; the stories exist to tell us something about the story-tellers.” The characters in the Prologue develop a vitality of their own and reveal themselves fully and dynamically in the tales.
Q. 15. What are the dramatic gifts of Chaucer?
Ans. The genius of Chaucer is essentially dramatic. Certainly he has great delight in character, and the power of exhibiting it in action and in dialogue. The vividness of his imagination, which conjures up, so to say, the very personality of his characters, and the contagious force of his pathos which is as spontaneous as his humour, complete in him the born dramatist. Some of the Canterbury Tales––those of the Wife of Bath, the Friar and the Pardoner, for example, can easily be reset into lively little plays. The speeches may be recast in dramatic form with little alteration, with the descriptive comments appearing as stage directions.
Q. 16. Do you agree that Chaucer is a realist?
Ans. Chaucer was one of the greatest masters of realistic art. Though in the beginning he followed the conventions of the day and displayed interest in fantasies and allegorical dreams, in the later days of his life when he embarked upon the compositions of Canterbury Tales, he set before him a faithful transcript of reality as the superme object of the poetic endeavour.
Q. 17. In what sense Chaucer can be considered a great humorist?
Ans. Chaucer may be regarded as the first great English humorist. No English literary work before him reveals humour in the modern sense. His is an esentially English humour. It is not the wit of the Frenchman. His humour is always sympathetic. So, it is free from the satirical bitting. In his handling of the Wife of Bath, he reminds us of Shakespeare’s treatment of Sir Toby in Twelfth Night and of Falstaff in Henry IV. Langland is satirist and attacks the Church with keen and telling thrusts. Chaucer, on the other hand, who also exposes the corruption of the Church, does so with a good-humoured laugh. Moreover, he makes fun of the individual than of the institution.
Q. 18. How will you summarise Chaucer’s contribution to English poetry?
Ans. We may summarize Chaucer’s achievement by saying that he is the earliest of the great moderns. In comparison with the poets of his own time, and with those of the succeeding century, the advance he makes is almost startling. For example, Manning, Hampole, and the romancers are of another age and of another way of thinking from ours; but, apart from the superficial archaisms of spelling, the modern reader finds in Chaucer something closely akin. All the Chaucerian features help to create this modern atmosphere; the shrewd and placidly humorous observation, the wide humanity, the quick aptness of phrase, the dexterous touch, the metre, and above all, the fresh and formative spirit—the genius turning dross into gold. Chaucer is indeed a genius: he stands alone, and nearly two hundred years none dare claim equality with him’?
Q. 19. How will you justify that Chaucer is the ‘Evening Star of the Medieval and Morning Star of the Renaissance’?
Ans. Chaucer is the last of the medievals and he is the first of the moderns. Dryden describes him as the father of the English poetry. According to Matthew Arnold, ‘with him is born our real poetry’. His poetry contains all the characteristics of the Modern ear.
The impression we gain of Chaucer from The Canterbury Tales in particular is of a man full of interest in life, at home in all companies, a good judge of human nature but a tolerant one, a keen observer, a genial and humorous companion readier to listen than to talk, one who loves a good laugh though he has a subtly ironical smile as well as one who, while ready to be serious artist, his outstanding qualities are his excellence in characterisation, description, and narrative, his humour, and his skilful versification.
Q. 20. What was Chaucer’s contribution to English verification?
Ans. Chaucer’s most significant contribution to the development of English poetry was through his achievement in respect of the technical structure of his verse. He brought to a conclusion the metrical experiments of generations of poets, who had struggled to evolve a new rhythm to take the place of the alliterative measure of Anglo-Saxon poetry. He perceived, as by a sure instinct, the possibilities of the foot-rhythm which as gradually emerging out of those experiments as the common measure of English poetry, and employed it with a technical mastery which served to bring out its complete naturalness in English verse.
Q. 21. How will you discuss the metrical skill of Chaucer?
Ans. In the matter of poetical technique English literature owes much to Chaucer. He is not an innovator, for he employs the metres in common use. In his hands, however, they take on new powers. The octosyllabic and heroic couplets, which previously were slack and inartistic measures, now acquire a new strength, suppleness and melody. Chaucer, who is no great lyrical poet, takes little interest in the more complicated metres common in the lyric; but in some of his short poems he shows a skill that is as good as the very best apparent in the contemporary poems.
Q. 22. How will you criticise ‘The Pardoner’s Tale’?
Ans. The Pardoner discourses on the evils of gluttony and drunkenness, gambling and swearing. This theme is illustrated by the story of three reyellers who in plauge-time set out on a search for Death, who has killed one of their comrades. An old man tells them they will find him under a certain tree. There they discover a heap of gold. Each designs to get sole possession of the treasure but they only succeed in killing one a another.
Q. 23. Discuss the descriptive and narrative form of the age of Chaucer?
Ans. In this form of poetry Canterbury Tales is the outstanding example, but in many passages of Langland and Gower we have specimens of the same class. In the best examples, such as those of Chaucer, there is powerful grip upon the central interest, a shrewd observation and humour, and quite often a brilliant rapidity of narration.
Q. 24. How will you discuss the scope of prose in the age of Chaucer?
Ans. The field for English prose is rapidly extending. The Travels of Mandeville presents an interesting departure as a prose work written for amusement rather than instruction. We have the translation of the Bible usually associated with Wyclif, and a prose version of Higden’s Polychronicon by John of Trevisa. But the most significant development is to be found in the clarity and vigour of the homely English used in civic records, and by letter-writers such as the pastones, Celt’s and Stonors. Simple, straightforward, and free from the stylistic ornamentation of the consciously literary prose, these everyday writings illustrate ‘vividly the growing command of the native idiom in may sections of the community.
Q. 25. How will you comment upon the style of prose in the age of Chaucer?
Ans. The state of prose is still immature, but the everyday writings of the age show a vigour and clarity which are a great advance on the mingled French and English writing of the beginning of the period; then English was still struggling to shake off the dominance of French. Wyclif’s prose is unpolished, though it can be pointed and vigorous. Mandeville’s prose style, though it is devoid of artifices, attains to a certain distinction by reason of its straightforward methods, its short and workman-like sentences, and a brevity rare in his day. In the case of Malory, who comes some time after the others, we have, quite an individual style.
Q. 26. How will you estimate ‘Morte d’ Arthur’ as a book of prose?
Ans. Morte d’ Arthur is, in truth, a compilation from many books. He has brought together scattered romances and co-ordinated them without estiminating the traces of disparity. The French Arthurian romances are drawn upon to create a long performance of great length and detail. It is England’s first book in poetic prose, and also the storehouse of those legends of the past, which have most haunted English imagination. It is the work which kept the chivalrous spirit among the literate, the poets and the gently, while the people were fed by the cheap books.

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