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or some such modern equivalent, we see that the English of Chaucer's day, as he used it, could rival the liquid flow of the Italian.
His Narrative Skill. Chaucer added to these varied gifts the power of telling a story in a clear, rapid, and effective manner. He was a great narrative, as well as an excellent descriptive, poet. He could reveal his characters through action, interest us in their adventures, and bring before us striking scenes or situations with vividness and dramatic force.
Poet of the Court. - With all this comprehensive excellence, there were aspects of life that Chaucer touched lightly or ignored. He pictures men and women of various social conditions, from the knight to the miller and the plowman, but he shows breadth of observation rather than breadth of sympathy for the miseries or wrongs of the poor. The laureate of the Court, something of the courtier clings to him, and he remains the poet of a feudal society, the outcome of the voice of chivalry in its class distinctions and exclusiveness, as well as its splendor. His easy-going nature has in it no touch of the reformer, the martyr, or the fanatic. He takes the world as it is; he loves the good, but the sight of the evil stirs in him no deeps of moral indignation; on the contrary, he often regards grossness and vulgarity with an amused tolerance. He painted medieval life in its outward aspects, while Dante, revealing its soul, probed to the center. He seems to dwell at his ease in his broad, sunshiny world of green fields and merry jests; but if he took life and its graver issues lightly, this buoyant good-humor is not only his limitation but also his enduring charm.
IMPORTANT DATES EDWARD I, who greatly furthered national unity
1272–1307 EDWARD II
1307–1327 Scottish Victory at Bannockburn
1314 EDWARD III
1327-1377 RICHARD ROLLE writes in the north of England The Prick of Conscience
about 1340 Beginning of the Hundred Years' War with France
1338 Battle of Crecy (gunpowder first used)
1346 Battle of Poitiers (won under the leadership of Edward the Black Prince)
1356 LAWRENCE Minor's poems on the Wars of Edward III. .about 1352 The Black Death first appears in England
1348-1349 Sir Gawayne and the Greene Knight In the west of (about 1370 The Pearl
England | about 1370 John Ball, the Mad Priest of Kent, executed
1381 John Wyclif, the Herald of the Reformation
1324–1384 His translation of the Bible completed
1383 GEOFFREY CHAUCER
1340?-1400 Begins poetical work
probably 1360 The Canterbury Tales
FOREIGN DATES Petrarch
1313-1375 Froissart, author of the Chronicles (of the Hundred Years' War),
II. THE RENAISSANCE IN ENGLAND
I. THE RENAISSANCE IN EUROPE
WHEN Chaucer died in 1400, Europe had already entered upon an era of change which produced a deep and lasting effect upon her civilization. Men were beginning to turn away from the life, the thought, and the ideals, that had satisfied them during the Middle Ages, and to look at life and the world about them in a different spirit. Men, and especially great men, were exhilarated by wonderful discoveries, and stirred to enthusiasm by contact with new ideas. Great things were being done, and Europe was full of excitement and anticipation. Italy and the other leading nations seemed renewed, or recreated, as by a fresh flood of life and inspiration, and hence this period is known as the Renaissance, that is the time when civilization seemed to be born again. This great movement began in Italy so early as the fourteenth century and spread from there throughout Europe. England was late in responding to the new impulse, and the fifteenth century was almost over before the Renaissance in England had fairly begun. Before we speak of the reasons for this, or sketch the course of literature in England during the period after Chaucer's death, we must glance at some of the great events which were transforming Europe at this time, and try to understand more definitely what the Renaissance really means.
The Revival of Learning. - One great factor in this rebirth, or awakening, of Europe, was the enthusiastic study of Greek and Roman literature and art. Ever since the fall of the Roman Empire a thousand years before, Europe had known and cared little for the pagan civilization of classic times. During the Middle Ages, indeed, a few Latin authors were read by scholars, and some of the works of the Greek philosopher Aristotle were studied in translation. But, with a few exceptions, even the wisest men were ignorant of the Greek language, and all the beautiful world of the Greeks, with its masterpieces of art, poetry, and philosophy, was either altogether forgotten or at best but dimly seen and understood. A great stimulus was given to the intellectual and artistic life of Europe when the achievements of this old classic civilization, so long ignored, began once more to be studied and enjoyed. Then came, as some one has said, “ the meeting of the ancient and the modern mind.” Europe came suddenly into a great inheritance: she discovered and took possession of the priceless treasures of her splendid past. The thoughts, the art, the ideals of a world long dead and out of mind, sprang to life and became again a power in the world. This was the revival of learning.
Italy, which in former times had been the center of culture as well as the ruler of the civilized world, was the first to reclaim this forgotten knowledge. In the fourteenth century, Francis Petrarch (1304-1374), a finished poet and an enthusiastic scholar, led the way in the study of the classics. Petrarch, while he did much to promote the study of the Latin classics, knew little Greek, but he was alive with the new spirit, and he inspired others with his enthusiasm for antiquity. The knowledge of Greek, though lost to Europe, survived
in Constantinople, the old capital of the eastern division of the Roman Empire, and towards the end of the fourteenth century Greek was taught in Italy by a scholar who came from Constantinople. By the fifteenth century many Italians were studying Greek with eagerness. After the capture of Constantinople by the Turks in 1453, many Greeks took refuge in Italy and helped to bring the old learning to men already waiting to receive it.
The Revival of Art. — While literature and learning, helped forward by the discovery of the old culture, were thus advancing in Italy, architecture, painting, and sculpture were transformed as by a fresh inspiration. In the thirteenth century, Nicola of Pisa, or Nicola Pisano, and his son Giovanni, led the way to a great era in sculpture: while Cimabue (1240-1302) and his greater pupil Giotto (1276-1337) were the precursors of the greatest age of painting the world had yet seen. The fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries are glorious in the history of the world's art. This period includes Raphael (1485-1520), Michael Angelo (14741564), architect, poet, and painter, as well as the greatest sculptor of the modern world, and others hardly less famous. This astounding revival of art, this love of beauty, was not confined to Italy. For instance, the Netherlands, where the art of painting in oils had been discovered, produced Rubens (1577-1640) and Rembrandt (1607-1669); Germany was represented by Hans Holbein (d. 1543) and Albert Dürer (1471-1528); and Spain by Murillo (1617-1682) and Velasquez (1599-1660).
Voyages and Discoveries. - While Italy was thus revealing new worlds of beauty and knowledge, the daring sailors of Portugal and Spain were giving Europe fresh fields for action and adventure. All through the