Influences of Geofrey Chaucher Of all the prominent Italian writers that influenced Geoffrey Chaucer, Dante and Boccaccio had the greatest impact on his literary works. Though others, such as Petrarch, also influenced Chaucer, none did so to the extent of Dante and Boccaccio (Brewer pg.13). In the fourteenth century, Italy led European culture. The most highly organized cities, the biggest industries, the richest merchants and bankers, the best doctors, the most innovational technicians, the best painters and sculptors, the finest vernacular poets, and the most learned scholars were all Italian (Miller pg.125). Chaucers trip to Florence had taken him to the right place at the right time, and what he saw in Boccaccio and Boccaccios mentor, Petrarch, was a major shift in literary history (Pearsall pg.254). Throughout Chaucers visits to Italy, both Petrarch and Boccaccio were alive.
Though it is possible that Chaucer did not know of Boccaccio, it is of the greatest improbability, involving several inconceivable coincidences. The more likely scenario is that Chaucer knew about Boccaccio, possibly even met him, and aware of Boccaccios achievements, he utilized him as a touchstone (Pearsall pg.282). Chaucer became very prone to model his work on previous literary pieces by Boccaccio. Chaucer wrote the short poem the Falls of Princes, which eventually transformed into The Monks Tale, by using Boccaccios De Casibus as a mold. Chaucer modeled The Canterbury Tales and The Legend of Good Women on Boccaccios Decameron and De Claris Mulierbus, respectively.
Chaucer also came across Boccaccios Il Filostrato, Robert Garay Page 2 basis of his Troilus and Criseyde, and Teseida, basis of The Knights Tale (Pearsall pg.261). All of Boccaccios influences occurred in less than a decade and virtually affected all of Chaucers remaining work. At one time or another practically all of Boccaccios Italian works have been put forward as sources by Chaucer or influences on him. For years the accepted opinion was that Chaucers greatness would be diminished if Boccaccio were more than one of many negligible influences (Boitani pg.44). An imitation is not weak unless the poet is weak. Boitani states, Originality cannot be measured by the absence of borrowing.
Chaucers originality shows best in works based on other works, such as the Troilus. Chaucer had to learn to be unoriginal when he substituted Italian for French models (Boitani pg.46). Italy had a peculiar mixture of religious and secular people. Chaucer, however, revealed no interest in this world of international politics, though it must have fed some aspects of his scepticism and anti-clericalism (Pearsall pg.308).
The other writer who has a tremendous effect on Chaucer is Dante. Dante, an Italian poet, is regarded to as one of the worlds greatest poets. His masterpiece, The Divine Comedy, is considered to be the most able and eloquent summing up of the moral, religious, and political thoughts of the Middle Ages (Schless pg.3). Both, The Canterbury Tales and The Divine Comedy are considered to be quest epics (Schless pg.31).
The main Robert Garay Page 3 discrepancy between these works is that The Divine Comedy consists of one protagonist, whereas Chaucers work contains thirty-one story tellers. To claim that every pilgrim with his or her tale recapitulates the entire Dantean pilgrimage is absurd. The generally accepted theory is that in their summaries, various pilgrims comment or focus on one or more of the aspects of the Dantean journey (Schless pg.74). A sign in the shift in the critical sensibility is R.A. Shoafs Dante, Chaucer and the Currency of the Word, which, focusing on the two poets concern with a poetic language, illustrates that Chaucer was, in his words, no mere quoter of virtuoso passages from The Divine Comedy, but a great interpreter of Dante (Shoaf pg.8).
In Chaucer and the Poets, Wetherbee observes, Dante is not only a model but a standard by which the quality and seriousness of his own future work may be measured, (Wetherbee pg.21). It is clear to see that Italian writers had a tremendous influence on the writing style and the works of Geoffrey Chaucer. Some might argue that he made a career out of imitating the works of those before him, but Chaucer is a very talented and intellectual poet, and therefore his literary pieces would succeed regardless of the circumstances.