Discuss differences in effect and structure created by the first-person narration in Dante's The Inferno, and Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.

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Discuss differences in effect and structure created by the first-person narration in Dante's The Inferno, and Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.

Dante completed The Inferno, the first part of his epic redemptive poem The Divine Comedy, around 1314. This date could technically fall under the label of the Renaissance, but it was at a very early stage and the humanistic revival of art and culture had yet to reach anywhere near the full impact it would later achieve. Dante did not live to see the widespread influence of humanism and its effect on the world of literature, although there is much evidence in Dante’s writing of humanistic inclinations.

Humanism literally means ‘the study of man’ and can be conceived of as an awakening of the self, both in its personal application and in the social and political implications on Renaissance-era European society. Until the Renaissance began to establish itself over the course of the fourteenth century, European citizens had very much regarded themselves as part of a collective cultural or political way of thinking.

The introduction of philosophy, art, literature, poetry and increasingly well-defined systems of morality gave many Europeans a feeling of liberation and the confidence to explore their individuality. It was encouraged to study classic literature, as well as all other forms of art that liberate the mind. Of course, it was to be a while yet before these ideas found their way into the current literary and artistic output, but the work of Dante often seems to pervade this and is almost predictive of the humanistic influences that would soon dominate literature.

Whereas a god-fearing Medieval populace had embraced and unquestioningly abided by the teachings of the Church, humanists began to draw equal influence from their devoted studies of literary classics and the liberal arts. This did not lead to a rejection of religious values, by any means, but did result in increased concentration on improving life as lived on Earth, as well as laying foundations for a favourable position in the afterlife, which had previously been the priority. This led to many humanists taking total control of their own life and destiny, rather than submitting to the futility of a pre-determined fate.

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These themes are reflected with impressive cultural foresight in Dante’s The Divine Comedy, and perhaps most significantly in The Inferno. Throughout the poem, Dante meets a wide range of characters, with vastly different personalities and stories to tell, many of whom Dante has previously encountered. His friends and enemies alike are given the respect of their individuality, their distinctive personalities highlighting them among the population of sinners. Due to the first person narration - Dante is not merely the protagonist, but also the storyteller - we see these characters through Dante’s eyes and his various reactions to different aspects ...

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