Troy Patterson
January 31, 2005 AT 05:00 AM EST

EW reviews two books about Geoffrey Chaucer

Geoffrey Chaucer, author of The Canterbury Tales, died six centuries ago, leaving an underdocumented life as courtier, diplomat, and father of English poetry. Peter Ackroyd’s brief survey is measured, dutiful, and frequently dull — too sketchy to be useful to the initiated and too dry to captivate the novice. While Ackroyd simply notes that the cause of Chaucer’s death is unknown, Terry Jones (late of Monty Python) and his coauthoring academics seize on the poet’s shadowy demise as an opportunity: Showing how Chaucer’s verse might have insulted the ascendant Henry IV or offended the Archbishop of Canterbury, the authors evoke a number of nuanced medieval intrigues with lively lucidity. Chaucer: B- Who Murdered Chaucer?: B+

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