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Understanding Chaucer

The life and work of Geoffrey Chaucer, and understanding the contradictory nature of his writing.

Before there was Shakespeare, Geoffrey Chaucer was considered the father of English literature. Born in 1343, Chaucer was a prominent member of the royal courts of both Edward III and Richard II, however, he was most well known for his writing, with his most celebrated work being The Canterbury Tales.

Chaucer began writing fiction in the late 1360s and pioneered in a new literary style. He introduced a new poetic structure, more similar to the European style than his Anglo-Saxon predecessors. This was presumably inspired by his time in France, where he was a prisoner of war, and this style went on to inspire Shakespeare’s famous iambic pentameter. However, Chaucer is most well known for being the first significant writer in the English canon to write in a vernacular similar to the common man or woman, unlike his Medieval contemporaries who wrote in Latin or French. The Canterbury Tales focuses on a diverse cast of characters from throughout the social hierarchy of England in the late middle ages, and the language used reflects their lives and experiences.

While Chaucer was a pioneer in terms of giving the Medieval English peasantry a voice in literature, his views on the less fortunate were typical of his time. As an influential figure in the royal court, he was a close friend of the Duke of Lancaster and had little appetite for the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381 when the lower classes of England’s south-east took up arms to fight for better rights and fairer taxation. He was also a close associate of Jean Froissart, the French chronicler who played a key role vilifying the same peasants who Chaucer gave a voice to.

Chaucer may have been unique in his time for the way he wrote about different aspects of English culture, however, he was very typical of the English nobility during the late middle ages. In the canon of English literature, he remains a towering figure, being the first poet to be buried in the Poets’ Corner of Westminster Abbey, which subsequently housed Charles Dickens and Rudyard Kipling. Without Chaucer’s works, it is unquestionable that the English language would be very different today.

Short bio of the volunteer:

Josef Butler is a volunteer from London. History and Politics graduate from the University of Leicester. Currently living in Funchal and collaborating with AAUMa as part of the History Tellers programme.


Erasmus+ is a programme of the European Commission embracing the fields of education, training, youth and sports during the period 2014-2020. One of the major aspects is the cooperation between the different fields where the programme acts, hence contributing for a diverse and rich Europe.

Amongst the several goals of the programme, the following are prioritised: the objectives of the Europe 2020 Strategy, including the headline education target; the aims of the strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training (ET 2020), including the corresponding benchmarks; the sustainable development of Partner Countries in the field of higher education; the overall goals of the renewed framework for European cooperation in the youth field (2010-2018); the objective of developing the European dimension in sport, in particular grassroots sport, in line with the EU work plan for sport and the promotion of European values in accordance with Article 2 of the Treaty on the European Union.

In order to achieve these goals, the Erasmus+ has several action policies. The Key Action 1 (KA1) is directed towards the mobility of people; Key Action 2 (KA2) for the cooperation for innovation and the interchange of good experiences; and Key Action 3, which is for the support of reformation policies.

European Voluntary Service

Since 1991 the University of Madeira Students’ Union has developed a wide incentive policy for voluntary work. In 2013 the Students’ Union started the process to receive, send and coordinate Erasmus+ projects of the European Voluntary Service, in order to have a larger influence in the volunteering field. The Union received its first volunteer withing the ambit of a KA1 project in 2014. Many efforts have been done to allow young people from Madeira to take part in several initiatives in Europe, as well as propose several projects allowing young people from several countries to work in the projects of the Students’ Union of the University of Madeira. The main goal of the voluntary work is the contribution of the volunteers to the communities and places they will be staying, being their work not rewarded with payment.

We believe that the European Voluntary Service is a mechanism full of experiences, allowing the approved candidates to have the privilege of taking part in these projects and benefit the places and communities where these volunteers will be staying.

Since 2013, the University of Madeira Students’ Union has received volunteers that have collaborated in several activities and initiatives. Besides being able to enjoy a wonderful experience which will contribute to their personal and professional growth, they are able to contribute in a unique way to the community in which they are inserted and to join dozens of volunteers from the University of Madeira.