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Chaucer: Historical, Literary and Cultural Context

2. Chaucer’s Books

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In this module, we think about the kinds of books Chaucer read and his major literary influences, focusing in particular on: (i) his early life and education, including the languages and texts he would have studied at school; (ii) the influence of Latin texts, both classical works such as those of Virgil and Ovid, and post-classical texts such as Boethius’ Consolations of Philosophy; (iii) the influence of French texts on Chaucer, including La Roman de la Rose and the works of Guillaume de Machaut; (iv) the influence of English texts, including the genre known as estate satire; (v) Chaucer’s travels to Italy in the 1370s and the influence of Italian contemporaries and near-contemporaries such as Dante (1265-1321), Petrarch (1304-74) and Boccaccio (1313-75); and (v) the influence of Boccaccio, in particular, on both subject matter and form.


In this course, Professor Marion Turner (University of Oxford) explores the historical, literary and cultural context for Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. In the first module, we think about the literary and linguistic culture of 14th-century England, focusing in particular on the languages that people read and spoke, and what each language was most commonly used for. In the second module, we think about the kind of books Chaucer read – in Latin, English, French and Italian. In the third module, we think about everyday life in Chaucer’s England – what did people eat and drink? what did they wear? what kinds of things did they have in their homes? – before turning in the fourth module to consider the extent to which Chaucer’s works reflect a historical reality. In the fifth module, we think about the role of religion and the church in 14th-century England, before turning in the sixth module to the role of the king, parliament and government – and Chaucer’s own role in relation to each of these.


Marion Turner is Associate Professor of English at Jesus College, University of Oxford. She is the author of a ground-breaking biography of Chaucer: Chaucer: A European Life (Princeton, 2019). This biography focuses on Chaucer as an international figure, exploring his travels, his multicultural influences, his multilingual identity, and the global aspects of medieval London.

Her other books include Chaucerian Conflict (Oxford, 2007) and, as editor, A Handbook of Middle English Studies (Wiley-Blackwell, 2013), and she has published many articles on Chaucer and other aspects of late medieval literature. Marion has received research funding from the British Academy, the Leverhulme Trust, and the Wellcome Trust. She often speaks in the media, including Radio 4, BBC1, Channel 4, and ITV. She has a particular interest in outreach, taking part in Chaucer Days at the Ashmolean Museum and the Weston Library, aimed at sixth form students of Chaucer, and often speaking at schools and colleges.

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APA style

Turner, M. (2020, April 04). Chaucer: Historical, Literary and Cultural Context - Chaucer’s Books [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Turner, M. "Chaucer: Historical, Literary and Cultural Context – Chaucer’s Books." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 04 Apr 2020,

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