Post Chaucerian Barrenness in English Literature


The literature of the fifteenth century is comparatively barren in production, and there are no any poets or prose-writer in consequence. There is a steep decline in poetry even in the hands of the English and Scottish Chaucereans. By that time that freshness of Chaucer, in the fields of characterization; narration and versification was come to an end. Chaucer’s great name and fame disciples like Lydgate, Langland, Dunbar, Skelton, Occleve, Barclay, Hawes etc. were also unable to keep the freshness of poetry   of their master. There is a marked decadence in style. In Chaucer’s great disciples the spirit of poetic imagination and phrasings always lacked. Their metres were merely decrial: Compared with master, their works seemed sheer childish. In the sphere of prose there is a little progress, though the prose of the fifteenth century is better man the prose of the preceding age. Several factors are responsible for the barrenness of literary production in this age.

The War of Roses: 

The war, intervening from 1454 to 1485, fought for coronation, had a fatal effect on art and literature. They embarrassed country and countrymen and also destroyed the noble families on whose patronage early literature and art .were dependent. The time following the death of Chaucer was full of zigzag ways of life and many illegal activities were done throughout the century. The histories as well as the official records are major witnesses of this. The piston family -producer of creative and literary artists was besieged three times by the armed bands fed by lords, the lords of the realm behaved in a very shameless manner. Such transitive period cannot be, no country can do, conductive for the development of the literature. The age contained the utter decadence of inspiration to be consisted verse.

The Vast Political, Social and Religious change:

 The period between 1400-1 550 was the period of vast political, social and religious changes. The old political and social order was changing yielding place to new. The printing press was introduced by Caxton.  The colleges and universities Were established, and the Greek ideal and culture found a rapid ground for development. Because of this turmoil there was a hindrance to literary development of the age. A literature always grows iri peace. It requires quiet and meditation rather than activity. The age miserly created only poor imitators and retreaters of worn out themes. The sense of beauty and reality was always seen doing away with them, so the literature became barren & fruitless.

Lack of Real Literary Talents:

 No writer of genius was born during these long years. It is almost noteworthy that the fifteenth century is not an age of great men’s product almost in every field of activity. There was nobody to carry on the Chaucerian tradition with any great credit. The ever flashing 14th century light was come to an end now and 15th century seemed mere shadow of it. Although some artificial poets were produced but their works remained artificial and could not affect the natural minds: So the transitive period of the age could not produce any talent. The talents which were, could not find the freedom to restore the spirits and imaginations to create their works, but entangled in the participation of the wars and other was concerning activities.



The Artificial Disciples of Chaucer:

 An important cause of the barrenness was the lack of understanding among the true but unreal followers of Chaucer. His followers could not carry the traditions of the master with acute senses. Chaucer’s accurate and sure versification ceased to be understood soon after his death. His followers soon made amass of the master’s great metrical art. Hawes much infelicities of metre entangled much of Chaucer’s rendered metrical art, and Hawes metres are much responsible for the decline of poetry. So there was no any metrical-practitioner who could modify the old metre to suit new. The old metre could be recovered to a great extent only with Spenser. It is said that the, poets are the born-gifted. But it is untrue because it is only society which produces the artist but free thinking and free observation must be necessary to produce the artists. Lacking these, no born gifted artist can write anything, and if he does so, it will  be unreal and artificial, as is quite true in the 15th century.

The fifteenth century society was much entangled into wars and other activities. The noble families due to these wars came to an end, on which patronage the poets were related on. All men were indulged to earn their bread in this emergency period. This was the emergency period for literature, but exception may be made of prose which are only scattered. So all the facilities of the becoming artists were seized in the age.

The Restraint of Thought: 

The freedom of free-thinking was checked during this period and the melancholic thought of earning bread was the substitute. The freethinking now became a rare. Although Wycliffe, a versatile literary figure, made a great attempt to reform the human thinking and meditation but religion has made cold it, even the powers and authority also crushed the free thinking. A literature cannot grow in an atmosphere of cramping inertia. In such an atmosphere an artist cannot say whatever he wants to say. So such atmosphere pressed the imaginations and spirits of the poets. In true democracy a literature always grows. Monarchy is an antagonist of literature The 15th century was not an exception to it.

The poets like Occleve, Hawes, Barclay Lydgate. Dunbar, Lindsay; Skelton, Douglus, Henryson etc. were under the effect of kingship. This rod of state seized by dishonesty, never wanted to be ignored by the words of these poets; so the monarchs always entangled them only to earn the bread. So the 15th century literature became barren.

The Standard of Education:

 During this period the standard of education was very low. People were really abstained the education. School and colleges were not to come in existence only the primary school was established, so the low education was also a factor of barrenness of literature in the age.

We see that there was no any inspiring thing to excite the artist’s spirit and imagination. The shallow poets of this age could write only satires and pastoral poetry even the carols and eclogues were the other stream of the poetry. It was because the poets, being devoid of the gift of a real poet, wanted an improvement in social life. So they were real against ideal. The clergy and women were the leader of society and mostly conceited. The women were very greedy and fascinated easily to anyone. Henryson’s Cressida is a burning example of it, which was written to be equalized Chaucer’s Cressida in ‘Troilus and Crisseyde.’

From Chaucer we have to wait till the Elizabethans who were full of new spirits and poetic imagination, who could give us a pleasing thing in literature. Probably all the barrenness of the 15th century could be fulfilled by the Elizabethans. 

Reference:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geoffrey_Chaucer