As the author of this Guardian review points out, when we think of Chaucer, we visualise a rather chubby, light-hearted, witty, somewhat cheeky middle-aged man as portrayed in the few portaits we have of him, such as the one above.
Well, it would seem that as a younger man he was indeed cheeky! And not in the conversational context! When he was a page in the household of Elizabeth de Burgh, we’re told he wore a paltok and “….long leggings, or tights. Contemporary sources say they emphasised the genitals, as they were laced up very tightly over the penis and bottom, so you could see everything….” Good heavens! And to make matters worse, a paltok was “….a kind of extremely short tunic ‘which failed to conceal their arses or their private parts’….”
And this is Chaucer, over whose works many a schoolchild, university student, historian and general enthusiast has laboured for centuries? The Father of English Literature? Will I ever ‘see’ him in the same light again? His characters, yes, but not the great man himself!
This biography, new in 2019, promises to be well worth the reading. I certainly will be!