This site was created as a special project for ENGL 405, "Chaucer: On Love and Death" by two students with the help of Dr. Goldstein to explore the theme of death as a provocation of heightened spiritual awareness found in Chaucer’s poetry. This project began as an ambitious attempt to examine the cultural aspirations of the fourteenth century as a foundation for understanding the implications of death and even torture in Chaucer’s work, but it became a far too ambitious project for two undergraduates to complete. After further analysis of our goals, we decided to specifically focus on death and torture in selected works written by Chaucer as well as to analyze death within the context of fourteenth century art and punishment. There are hints of the reoccurring and devastating plague in Chaucer’s poems which have the effect of raising awareness to larger issues such as the importance of life on earth and life after death. Torture in Chaucer’s poetry alludes to historical executions as well as mental anguish that an individual experiences when struck by cupid's arrow. Courtly love was often the cause of torture. In Troilus and Criseyde, Troilus's love for Criseyde caused his heart to experience severe pain in her absence. The pain was enough for him to speak as if he were dying.

Torture in England during the Middle Ages was commonly exercised on criminals convicted of a crime in order extract a confessions. People were tortured if they committed treason or heresy. Chaucer's poetry describes the type of torture common during the late fourteenth century. Executions were performed on more serious crimes against the State or the Church. There are many different types of torture that Chaucer alludes to in his poetry that will be explored in this site.

A form of torture to the masses was the Black Death which tremendously effected the population in terms of numbers and impacted the awareness of time on earth which in effect heightened the importance of spiritual piety. People were confronted with death on a daily basis as bodies decomposed in the streets. The sight of decomposition was the catalyst to a growing obsession with death found in church sermons, tracts, and art consequently leading to a rising awareness of the Christian’s role in the earthly world. Stress was placed on preparing for the afterlife. Death from famine, war, torture, and plague made people turn their eyes away from the process of decay and the wretchedness of earthly existence toward heaven where eternal bliss is promised to those who dedicate their lives to God.

 

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