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Chaucer: Historical, Literary and Cultural Context

4. Chaucer’s Life and Works

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About this Lecture


In this module, we think about how we might relate the events of Chaucer’s own life to his written works, focusing in particular on: (i) the complexity of the relationship between an author and his or her texts; (ii) the real people to whom Chaucer makes direct reference in his poetry, e.g. Philip de la Vache, Bukton, Richard II; (iii) the ways in which Chaucer responds to both contemporary history and contemporary literature in his ‘Book of the Duchess’; (iv) the autobiographical details in ‘The House of Fame’, in which the poet is admonished for spending too much time reading his books and too little time speaking to his neighbours; (v) the historical realities that sit behind the General Prologue of the Canterbury Tales, including the Tabard Inn and its innkeeper, Harry Bailey; and (vi) the development of Chaucer’s thought from the beginning of his career to the end.


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.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

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

MLA style

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