chaucer vs shakespeare

If Chaucer and Shakespeare were in a fight, who would win?

This is a fairly big debate among our friends (Jesus, we’re nerds.) We decided to settle this, once and for all.

Quantity: 

images I mean, Shakespeare’s got to win this one. 38-ish plays, 154 sonnets, 2 narrative poems, and some other collaborative stuff?! The man must have written plays in his sleep!

images-1 Not that Chaucer is lacking in this department! Most famous for ‘The Canterbury Tales’, he also wrote the ‘Parlemente of Foules’, ‘The Legend of Good Women’ (LOL), and ‘Troilus and Criseyde’. AND he translated various French poems, as wrote his ‘Treatise on the Astrolabe’, basically a writer’s manual. However, he did have a bad habit of leaving things unfinished. You shouldn’t start a project if you can’t finish it, Chaucer!

Quality:

images This is a tricky one. They’re both considered as GREATS. However, I think I’m going to have to be contentious, and go with Chaucer on this one. To quote our flatmate Carrie: “HE’S JUST BETTER, OKAY?!” Pretty much all of Chaucer’s works are still read today, which I think is pretty good going.

images-1 Shakespeare’s had some bangers of lines, I will admit. However, his plays are also widely…adapted. Scenes and characters can be easily cut out. And let’s not forget, he also wrote some truly dismal plays in his time. ‘Timon of Athens’, anyone?

Influence:

images Again, difficult. But it’s Shakespeare, all the way, just for sheer quotability. And the fact that he wrote pretty much every plot known to modern literature. And that a LOT of really good literature references any number of his works. And he’s been translated into every major language in the world. And he invented words like ‘elbow’. And ‘swagger’. Where would we be today without swagger?!

images-1 Chaucer, though. Chaucer has done well in this one. He’s the first proper poet to write in English, for God’s sake! He was also the first one to write down a lot of English words, including ‘scissors’, and ‘bagpipe’. Cool.

Special features:

images It has to be Chaucer. Like, no question. He can write in anybody’s voice, at any time. He’s funny, he’s serious, and he wrote the first monologue by a woman UNTIL Shakespeare!  He had relatively few peers – Gower and Langland are the only two that spring to mind. And, well, I know I’ve already made this point but – Shakespeare is only POSSIBLE because of him. I think that’s worth another point.

images-1 I mean, there’s the whole idea of Shakespeare not actually being Shakespeare, but some upper-class guy. That’s not the greatest special feature to have. Also, he had a lot of really good peers – Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Kyd, Ben Jonson, others who I can’t be bothered to list…

images-2Alas, poor Yorik! We have a tie!

So here’s our tie-breaker:

…Hey, where’d they get that from?: 

images Both of them took things from other texts, that’s pretty well known. In fact, in their day it was acceptable (even encouraged) to use other people’s stories and add your own twist to them. Chaucer is guilty of this – he based Troilus and Criseyde very heavily on the work by Boccaccio and Boethius, and some of his works were also rather loose translations of various texts from continental Europe. However, he isn’t NEARLY as guilty as this as Shakespeare.

images-1 Shakespeare…yeahh. Hamlet and King Lear? ‘Based’ upon, Ur-Hamlet and King Leir. Oh, dear. A lot of his other poems are based on works by Plutarch and English historical plays. I’ve also done a little project for university where I looked at Shakespeare and Seneca – and Shakespeare took exact lines (quite famous ones too!) from some of his plays, too! And, lets end on the fact that he wrote a play called Troilus and Cressida. Yup.

So, that’s that, folks. In case any of you have the same weird arguments that we do, rest assured. At least you’re not the one who wrote a whole blog post about it. xx

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