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The House of Fame, placed also in the period of Italian influence, is interesting because in it we have a fuller revelation of the personality of the poet than in any other poem. “This poem,” said Warton, “contains great strokes of Gothic imagination, yet bordering often on the most ideal and capricious extravagance.” The Legend of Good Women belongs to the ending of the Italian influence and the beginning of the third or English period. While the prolog itself is interesting as a revelation of Chaucer's personality, the tales themselves are told without the charm and enthusiasm that we expect from the author of the Canterbury Tales. The stories are taken from various sources such as the Heroides of Ovid and the De Claribus Mulieribus of Boccaccio. This poem, like all his long poems with the exception of Troilus and Criseyde, was left incomplete. There are nine legends, among which are the stories of Dido, Thisbe, Cleopatra, and Lucretia.
The full measure of Chaucer's greatness is found in the maturity of his third or English Period. To this period belongs his Canterbury Tales. He has served his apprenticeship by translating French poetry, by studying Italian models, now he casts aside these aids and gives full expression to the life of his own country and time.
“He is the poet of the dawn, who wrote
Made beautiful with song; and as I read
Canterbury Tales.* — Of the beginning of The Prologue of the Canterbury Tales Lowell writes:
* The simplest rule for the pronunciation of Chaucer is Skeat's: “Pronounce the words as they are spelt, but with the Italian vowel-sounds and the German final e, and you will come very near the truth.” It is also well to remember that when e is the last letter of a line, it should be lightly pronounced.
“There is a pervading wholesomeness in the writings of this man -a vernal property that soothes and refreshes in a way of which no other has ever found the secret. I repeat to myself a thousand times
'Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote,' etc., and still at the thousandth time a breath of uncontaminate spring-tide seems to lift the hair upon my forehead.”
Chaucer's pilgrims meet by chance at the Tabard Inn of Southwark, a place just across the river from London from which travelers started on their jaunt to Canterbury;
“At nyght were come into that hostelrye
Wel nyne-and-twenty in a compaignye, ..." and the poet gives us in the Prologue an interesting, lifelike characterization of the miscellaneous company. There is the Knight who has traveled much and endured much. Noble in port and manner
“He was a verray parfit, gentle knight;' the Squire, his young son, twenty years of age and “as fresh as is the monthe of May”; a brown-visaged Yeoman; a Nun
“She was so charitable and so pitous
Kaught in a trappe, if it were deed or bledde; ” a jovial Monk who refuses to study too hard for fear he might go mad, and Chaucer smilingly thinks his opinion is good; a Friar who cared more for the pleasures of this world than the joys of the next; the Merchant with his forked beard; the likeable Clerk of Oxenford who cared more for books than for money
Sownynge in moral vertu was his speche,
And gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche;" the bustling Sergeant-at-law
“Nowhere so bisy a man as he ther nas,
And yet he semed bisier than he was;” the Franklin, the true disciple of Epicurus; the Cook with gan
grene on his shin; the Shipman; the Physician; the brawny Wife of Bathe
“ Boold was hir face and faire and reed of hewe;"
the Parish Priest; the Plowman; the Miller blowing his bagpipe as the procession moved out of town; the Manciple; the Reeve, "a sclendre colerik man”; the loud-mouthed Summoner; the gentle Pardoner; the self-important host of the Tabard — of such was the company composed.
The loquacious and merry host of the Tabard suggests to his guests that instead of riding to Canterbury as “doumb as a stone,"
“ That eche of yow to shorte with your weye,
and that the one who tells the best story shall receive a fine supper on their return at the cost of the others. Accordingly on the morrow when the pilgrims wend their way towards the shrine of Thomas à Becket, the first tale is told by the Knight, who has drawn the shortest cut.
The Tales.-Had Chaucer carried out his original plan we should have about one hundred and twenty stories, for each person was to tell two as the pilgrims went to Canterbury and two more as they returned. But Chaucer's pilgrims do not enter the city of the sacred shrine; they take us with them until we catch a glimpse of the distant towers, but what happens when they enter the city, or how they journey homeward, we know not. We have less than a quarter of the number of tales originally planned, for not every one in The Prologue tells a story.
After the pilgrims had ridden two miles away from the Tabard Inn of Southwark the jovial host reminds the company of the agreement made the previous night
"If even-song and morwe-song acorde,
Who-so be rebel to my Jugement
Shal paye for al that by the weye is spent.” The lot to tell the first story falls upon the Knight, the dignified and worthy aristocrat, whose station naturally gave him precedence.
The Knight's Tale is taken from the Teseide of Boccaccio, for Chaucer, like Shakspere, did not hesitate to borrow freely. Chaucer adapts and modifies to suit his own purpose. The Teseide is a poem of almost 10,000 lines; the Knight's Tale has but 2250 lines. The tale deals in a romantic spirit with the love for Emily of two close friends who are also kinsmen, Palamon and Arcite; the fourth character of importance being Duke Theseus. When Palamon and Arcite from their prison window behold the lovely Emily, they are stricken with love. Their vow of perpetual brotherhood receives a rude shock. The matter-offact Arcite is the first to realize that
“Love is a gretter lawe, by my pan,*
Writes Mr. Root:
"As for Emily, she is a fair vision of womanly beauty and grace, and little more. Only once in the whole story, and that when the story is more than half done, in her prayer to Diana, do we hear Emily speak. ... We see her beauty and recognize her worth, realizing that the love of her may well be strong enough to break the friendship of a life; and yet we know her not at all. She is the golden apple of strife, . . . but she does nothing. Theseus is the motive power of the plot; his acts and decisions really determine the whole story.”
Arcite is released from prison, but ordered to flee the country; this he does, but his love for Emily draws him back in disguise; then after a year or two Palamon is released also. The two former friends meet and agree to decide by a duel on the right of the one or the other to the love of Emily. This plan is discovered by Duke Theseus, who in his anger at first condemns them to death, but upon the intercession of his queen
* skull t given
and Emily it is decided that a tournament is to be the means by which the decision is to be rendered. Chaucer describes the tournament in which Arcite meets death through an accident. The story ends with the marriage of Palamon and Emily.
The Knight's Tale is not, like The Prologue, preeminent because of its power of characterization; its chief charm lies in its beauty of description. The vernal freshness of this poet of the dawn of English literature is well illustrated in passages like this:
“The bisy larke, messager of day,
The silver dropes, hangynge on the leves." When the Knight's story of love and romance has been ended, the Host, who acts as leader of the company, turns to the Monk for a story. The Monk is likely second in rank to the Knight, but, as his story ought to be a serious one, Chaucer causes the drunken Miller to break in with a request that he be allowed to tell his story at this time. This he is permitted to do. After the Miller's coarse story a similar one is told by the Reeve. Then follows the Cook's — a story interrupted at the end of the fifty-eighth line and never finished. The Man of Law follows with the story of Constance, the brave woman who passes from prosperity to adversity, who is always an exemplar of the finest Christian virtues. Of her Ten Brink writes:
"The heroine here appears almost a personification of Christianity itself, such as it comes to heathen nations, is maligned and persecuted, yet, in the strength of its Founder, endures in patience and finally remains victorious."
At the conclusion of the story of Constance the Host stands up in his stirrups and cries,
“This was a thrifty tale for the nones!” Then he turns to the parish priest for a tale. The parson objects