S. H. Rigby
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Real-life observation versus literary convention
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Geoffrey Chaucer's lifetime, from his birth early in the 1340s to his death in 1400, encompasses one of the most dramatic periods of English history. The search for a historical Chaucer has led critics to look for the 'real-life models' of the pilgrims described by Chaucer in the Canterbury Tales. The pilgrims and the characters are best seen as active reinterpretations of reality in terms of the literary conventions, scientific doctrines and stock social satires of the day. Chaucer's works do not offer direct evidence about late fourteenth-century society. Chaucer's accounts of the pilgrims are often couched in terms of the stock 'scientific' stereotypes of his day and thus describe individuals in terms of the attributes thought appropriate to their age, astrological character and physiological make-up. Such 'scientific' stereotypes, Chaucer draws upon traditions of character-description which are more specifically literary in origin.

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Chaucer in context

Society, allegory and gender


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