Chaucer as a representative poet

Chaucer as a representative poet

Question: Discuss Chaucer as a representative poet. Or what aspects of medieval life and thought are revealed in Chaucer’s writings. Or discuss The Prologue to the Canterbury Tales “A Microcosm of 14th-century English society”.


The term ‘representative poet’ means a poet who epitomizes his contemporary society, art, philosophy, and religion. To put it differently, it means that a poet writes his poem by observing and depicting his society where the lives of people of all classes exist. Geoffrey Chaucer (1343-1400) is the first illustrious representative poet in the history of English literature.

Chaucer as representative

Chaucer is a truly representative poet of his time. Each of his Canterbury Tales is deeply rooted in the spirit of his period. And “The Nun’ Priest’s Tale” stands no exception. They offer us a direct transcription of medieval life and thought. They provide an ironic study of contemporary life. Chaucer’s representation of his age is indeed vivid, picturesque, and historical.

Medieval chivalry

Chaucer’s poetry reflects the chivalric spirit of medieval times. It is observed that in “The Canterbury Tales” Chaucer classifies his characters into three groups. The knight is one of the characters who is a true representative of the spirit of medieval chivalry which was a blend of love, religion, and bravery. He has been champion of more than fifteen battles in the defense of Christianity. Chaucer’s knight observes utmost courtesy being the embodiment of chivalric ideals. He was not only worthy in politeness but also wise indecisiveness. Now, we must point out that Chaucer is a representative one as he keeps pace with contemporary time upholding fascinating chivalry in his writings.

Trade and commerce

Chaucer lived in a society that was based on trade and commerce. The second group of Chaucer’s art of characterization is doctors, lawyers, and merchants who symbolize the brand of merchants. The merchant is a typical representative of his class. The countrymen and the merchants have always made the two most common objects of humor and satire. Although the doctors and lawyers have been satirized severely but Chaucer lets the merchant go without much satire. So, the merchants signify the changed condition of Chaucerian society.

The church

The third group represents the church which was a visible powerful force throughout England. The church had become a hotbed of profligacy, corruption, and rank materialism. The Friar is a jolly beggar who uses his tongue to live his life. The Pardoner is a despicable parasite because he ensures heaven for the sinners in return for cash money. A Summoner is likewise a depraved fellow. The only exception is the poor parson apparently a follower of Wycliffe who revolted against the corruption of the church. Thus, Chaucer has traced out the corrupted society in his “The Canterbury Tales” that is nothing else but representative.

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The life of the poor folk

Chaucer observes thousands of people of the Middle Ages who lived in the countryside faced extreme poverty and hardship. In “The Nun Priest’s Tale”, Chaucer depicts at the very outset of the story about the cottage of a poor widow who lives below the bread or poverty line. The cottage of the widow consists of only two apartments which have been designated by the term ‘bower’ and ‘hall’. The widow and her daughters sleep in the bower. Such sorts of poverty and hardship were experienced by the people of the Middle Ages.


Chaucer in his writing has shown the vague conception of contemporary medical science. It was believed at that time that all the physical ailments were the consequences of the particular configuration of the stars and planets. That is why the doctors were two-sided in astronomy without applying the basic treatment of medical science. Chaucer has satirized the gold and money-loving nature of the doctor who well knew how to cure diseases, but he did not do that for snatching away cash from the ignorant patients.


Thus, we may allow that Chaucer is the embodiment of his age. His representation of three main classes such as the knight representing chivalry, the clergy representing the church, and the workers representing the poor class provide the main social structure and we can construct the life of the fourteenth-century through them.

Ruhul Huda
Ruhul Huda

You can call me Mr. Huda. I am a researcher and doing this work for years. I like to learn everywhere. So, feel free to share your experience with me.

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