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THE CANTERBURY TALE The Knight: Once on a time, as old tales tell to us, There was a duke whose name was Theseus: Of Athens he was lord and governor, And in his time was such a conqueror That greater was there not beneath the sun. Full many a rich country had he won; What with his wisdom and his chivalry He gained the realm of Femininity, That was of old time known as Scythia. There wedded he the queen, Hippolyta, And brought her home with him to his country. In glory great and with great pageantry, And, too, her younger sister, Emily. And thus, in victory and with melody, Let I this noble duke to Athens ride.
With all his armed host marching at his side. And truly, were it not too long to hear, I would have told you fully how, that year, Was gained the realm of Femininity By Theseus and by his chivalry; And all of the great battle that was wrought Where Amazons and the Athenians fought; And how was wooed and won Hippolyta, That fair and hardy queen of Scythia; And of the feast was made at their wedding, And of the tempest at their home-coming; But all of that I must for now forbear. I have, God knows, a large field for my share, And weak the oxen, and the soil is tough. The remnant of the tale is long enough.

GEOFFREY CHAUCER Geoffrey Chaucer led a busy official life, as an esquire of the royal court, as the comptroller of the customs for the port of London, as a participant in important diplomatic missions, and in a variety of other official duties. All this is richly recorded in literally hundreds of documents (see Martin Crow and Clair C. Olson, Chaucer Life Records, Austin, Texas (1966) [Widener 12422.598]). But such documents tell us little about Chaucer the man and poet.

Nor does Chaucer himself tell us all that much. He is a lively presence in his works, and every reader comes to feel that he knows Chaucer very well. Perhaps we do. There is a certain consistency in the character of Chaucer as he appears in his works, and occasional biographical passages, such as this from The House of Fame, seem to ring true:

The Feudal System For safety and for defense, people in the Middle Ages formed small communities around a central lord or master. Most people lived on a manor, which consisted of the castle, the church, the village, and the surrounding farm land. These manors were isolated, with occasional visits from peddlers, pilgrims on their way to the Crusades, or soldiers from other fiefdoms. In this "feudal" system, the king awarded land grants or "fiefs" to his most important nobles, his barons, and his bishops, in return for their contribution of soldiers for the king's armies. At the lowest echelon of society were the peasants, also called "serfs" or "villeins." In exchange for living and working on his land, known as the "demesne," the lord offered his peasants protection.