Chaucer's Influence on the Age of Renaissance

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     With the death of Chaucer, a blight fell upon English poetry. For almost a century no poet of genius and individuality had appeared in England. Nevertheless, Chaucer was still a living influence and poetry was written under his influence by English and Scottish poets, who were near him and regarded him as their master.

English Chaucerians: The two English poets who were among the immediate successors of Chaucer and wrote under his influence were Thomas Occleve (1368- 1450) and John Lydgate (1370-1451).

      English Chaucerians: The two English poets who were among the immediate successors of Chaucer and wrote under his influence were Thomas Occleve (1368- 1450) and John Lydgate (1370-1451). Occleve speaks of himself as a stupid scholar of an excellent master:
"Fader Chaucer fayne wold han me taught,
But 1 was dul, and lerned lyte or nought.
(Father Chaucer fain would have me taught,
But 1 was dull and learned little or naught)."

      Lydgate was a friend of Chaucer, upon whom he modeled much of his poetry. But they could little appreciate the high literary qualities of the master and were mere imitators. Occleve saw in Chaucer only a wise philosopher, a pious poet, almost a saint. Chaucer's humor escaped him. His poem Letter of Cupid was for a long time ascribed to Chaucer. His principal work is Regement of Princes (1412), a hotch-potch of political wisdom designed for the instruction of Prince Hal, afterward Henry V. The language is clear and fluent but inspired. Its meter is loose and sprawling. It is more reminiscent of 'moral Gower' than Chaucer.

      Lydgate is more discriminating and is conscious of Chaucer's wit. But he, too, is incapable of continuing Chaucer's manner. He has none of Chaucer's metrical skill and lively imagination. His Falls of Princes, translated from original Boccaccio, is the same as Chaucer's Monk's Tales, though without Chaucer's graces. His most lively popular work is London Lickpenny, which describes the misadventures of a penniless countryman in London but his authorship of it is now doubted. His Complaint of the Black Knight is the most Chaucerian of his poems.

      Stephen Hawes (1474-1523) is one of the allegorists of Renaissance. His Court of Love is a deliberate cast-back to love allegory, with no didactics about it, written by an accomplished versifier who imitated Chaucer's early style without quite understanding his merits. His Passetyme of Pleasure is an educational allegory meant to show by what degree of study and prowess perfection can be attained. It is dull beyond human endurance. It is probable that the poem influenced Spenser.

      John Skelton (1463-1529) and Barclay (1474-1552) are the two last writers of verse in the medieval tradition, who show some novelty of subject and manner. John Skelton after trying his hand at allegory in the old prosodic tradition, throws the syllabic system overboard and falls back on a purely accented meter, written in short lines. Skelton looks at life and not at books and dead conventions. He is a tutor to the future Henry-VII. He is faithful to satirical allegory. There is real passion in his attack on Cardinal Wolsey in Why Come Ye not to the Court and feeling as in his Book of Philipp Sparowe (1503-1507), an elegy on the death of a sparrow etonged to the fair Jane Scroupe. There are occasional passages full of freshness and charm in it. Other works of his are the Book of Colin Clout and the Bowge of Court. His poetry represents the last stirrings of the dying Middle Ages.

      Alexander Barclay is famous as the first writer who introduced the pastoral in English poetry. Ship of Fools and Ecloges are his two works. His introduction of the pastoral at this date is significant, for the pastoral with its praise of simple, open-air life represents a reaction from the chivalric ideal. He imitates the Chaucerian couplet and stanza but his verse suffers from a lack of rhythm.

      Scottish Chaucerians: Scottish poetry of the fifteenth century was born under the strong and new influence of Chaucer, which was gradually withering England and produced no poet of consequence as we have already noted Scotland Chaucerian tradition struck root and produced a rich and varied crop. The Scottish poets came fresh to the Chaucerian models and were not unintelligent imitators.

      The first of these Scottish poets is King James I (1394-1437), who brought the Chaucerian tradition from England from his English captivity. His The King's Quair is a poem of no small beauty and power. It is a love allegory, recording his first sight of the Lady Jane Beaufort, niece to Henry IV, King of England who later on became his queen. The heart of the poem is a real experience, though it is couched in an allegorical garb. It is not the courtly love proverbial romance but a lawful love leading to marriage. The poem is written in English. It is the well-head of Scottish Chaucerianism.

      Robert Henryson (1430-1506) is of all the Scottish Chaucerians nearest the master in temper. He had not, of course, Chaucer's wide knowledge of life and his brilliant wit. But he had Chaucer's keen sense of the comic and vivid realism, which he made his own. His fame rests chiefly on The Testament of Cresseid, Mora Fables of Aesop and Rabene and Makyne. The first is a continuation of Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde and has been given a tragic end. By the punishment of gods Cressida for her faithlessness is stricken with leprosy and begs from door to door, with bell and clap-dish, according to the law of the lepers. As Troilus one day rides past her, he does not recognize her, though something in her bearing reminds him of his own darling. He empties his purse on her lap. She learns his name and dies. The poem is picturesque and dramatic and its diction is a blend of that of Chaucer and colloquial Scotch.

      William Dunbar (1460-1530) is the chief of the Scottish Chaucerians. His versatility and originality are amazing. In whatever vein he writes - pious, courtly or satirical, he is always the artist with an artist's delight in language and metre for their own sakes. His work is varied and voluminous. He carries on the allegorical tradition of Chaucer. Some of the more important of his poems are The Thrissil and the Rois (an allegory celebrating the marriage of James IV and the English Margaret in 1503); The Merie and the Nightingale and Daice of the Seven Deadly Sins. He has been called the Burns of the fifteenth century, "with something of that poet's passion for beauty, native humor and force of expression".

      Another Scottish poet of the allegorical school is Gawin Douglas (1474-1522), a member of the famous Douglas family. His two allegories were youthful works - The Police of Honour and King Hart, these two poems are in the Chaucer-Lydgate tradition, splendid in diction and elaborate in meter. His best work is a translation of the Aeneid, written in plain heroic couplets and homely vernacular language. He is the last of the medievals.

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