16 Pages

"Canterbury Tales"-The Dramatis Personæ

DURING those twelve years in Aldgate Tower, Chaucer's genius fought its way through the literary conventions of his time to the full assertion of its native originality. He had begun with allegory and moralization, after the model of the "Roman de la Rose" ; shreds of these conventions clung to him even to the end of the Aldgate period; but they were already outworn. In II Troilus and Cressida" we have real men and women under all the classical machinery: they think and act as men thought and acted in Chaucer's time; and Pandarus especially is so lifelike and individual that Shakespeare will transfer him almost bodily to his own canvas. In the "House of Fame" and the "Legend of Good Women" the form indeed is again allegorical, but the poet's individuality breaks through this narrow mask; his self-revelations are franker and more direct than at any previous time; and in each case he wearied of the poem and broke off long before the end. With the humility of a true artist, he had practised his hand for years to draw carefully after the old acknowledged

models; but these now satisfied him less and less. His mind was stored with images which could not be forced into the narrow framework of a dream; he must find a canvas broad enough for all the life of his time; for the cream of all that he had seen and heard in Flanders and France and Italy, in the streets of London and on the open highways of a dozen English counties. Boccaccio, for a similar scheme, had brought together a company of young Florentines of the upper class, and of both sexes, in a villa-garden. Chaucer's plan of a pilgrim cavalcade gave him a variety of character as much greater as the company in a third-class carriage is more various than that in a West-end club.