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My hero: Geoffrey Chaucer by Lavinia Greenlaw

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In Troilus and Criseyde, Chaucer takes risks, breaks laws, invents words and enters the dark

I was introduced to Chaucer when I was too young to know that the questions of how to live and how to live with each other are ones we never stop exploring. I studied “The Franklin’s Tale” first, the story of a couple who try to live as equals. This now seems extraordinary for the 14th century, but all I remembered was some hokum about the “grisly rokkes blake” off the coast of Brittany that had to be magicked away to avoid a shipwreck.

The work that made me realise Chaucer was not all horses and castles was Troilus and Criseyde, the greatest account you will ever read of people arguing themselves and each other into and out of love. Chaucer stole the story, made up a source and invented a form. He showed that English, on which the paint was still wet, could be as elegant and evocative as Latin or French. He was open to influence, intellectually mobile and properly curious. He wrote a treatise on the astrolabe for his 10-year-old son.

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