From Chaucer to Shakespeare

I mentioned Geoffrey Chaucer in my last post, not because he was a notoriously poor speller. Indeed,  there was no “right or wrong” way to spell words in Chaucer’s time. English was primarily a spoken language and not a written one.

I mentioned Chaucer primarily because he was the first to legitimize English as a written language.  According to Wikipedia:

Sometimes called the father of English literature, Chaucer is credited by some scholars as the first author to demonstrate the artistic legitimacy of the vernacular Middle English, rather than French or Latin.

Chaucer came near the beginning of the Renaissance, which was fortuitous for English. He was writing English literature at a time when interest in literature was growing.  By the end of the Renaissance, we can see a significant shift in the English Language. William Shakespeare, for example, lived near the end of the Renaissance.  The following is a sample of Chaucer’s work in the original text with a translation:

Original Text Wikipedia Translation
  This frere bosteth that he knoweth helle, This friar boasts that he knows hell,
  And God it woot, that it is litel wonder; And God knows that it is little wonder;
  Freres and feendes been but lyte asonder. Friars and fiends are seldom far apart.
  For, pardee, ye han ofte tyme herd telle For, by God, you have ofttimes heard tell
  How that a frere ravyshed was to helle How a friar was taken to hell

The King James Bible (1611) and the works of William Shakespeare were written in late “Early Modern English.” Although clumsy, they are fairly understandable to the modern reader. The period of roughly 200 years between Chaucer and Shakespeare made for some significant differences in our language.

Next we will look at the changes being made to our language today, right before our very eyes. My next post is on line now.

James Snider
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About jamessnider

James Snider is the Vice President of Business Development for Engstrom Trading, LLC. Engstrom imports products from Scandinavian countries and builds a market for them in the USA and Canada. View all posts by jamessnider

3 responses to “From Chaucer to Shakespeare

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