Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The House of Fame

Chaucer's House of Fame is one of his major "dream poems," and many critics feel it's his finest. Although unfinished, it has all the best elements of his work: a vast, cosmic setting, a wry take on the conventions of allegory, and a healthy dose of self-deprecating humor. Other poets were lofted to the skies by eagles, but only Chaucer's eagle complains about how heavy he is (and this would seem to accord with the portraits we have).

Many of the classical and continental poets admired by Chaucer used the dream-poem, with its personalized allegory of the order of things, as a vehicle for theological or ethical argument; some of the best-known were Cicero's Dream of Scipio Africanus, Alain de L'Isle's Plaint of Nature, and The Romance of the Rose (an English translation of which appears to have been Chaucer's first major work as a poet). Even Dante's Divine Comedy, with its most serious of settings, takes many of its cues from this tradition.

In the House of Fame, we see an explanation for the "fickleness" of Fame, both eternal (the names in stone) and ephemeral (the names carved in ice). We also get a treatise on acoustics, by way of explaining how the sounds of human chatter reach to the heavens, where the blind goddess Fame heralds them with one sort of trumpet -- or another.

But perhaps the most intriguing part of the poem, and the one that speaks most to us today, is the final section, describing the Domus Dedali (house of Daedalus). Here, trapped in a vast wicker rotating chamber, rumor-mongers of all stripes, repeat, distort, mangle, and contend with language. It sounds a lot like the Internet to me!

Some order is promised at the end, when a "man of great authority" -- imagined by some to have been meant to have been Dante himself -- steps forward -- but this, alas, turns out to be the last line of the poem. Unless some forgotten fragment turns up, the world will never know what this man might have said, or done.

NB: You can skip the latter portion of Book I (lines 140-496) which rehearses the story of the ├ćneid.

12 comments:

  1. I definitely agree that "The House Of Fame" is one of Chaucer's best pieces, for all the elements listed above. I appreciate the humor most and its use in a critical context. I also agree that the most intriguing portion is the final section. I hadn't thought to connect the Domus Dedali to the internet but now that the metaphor has been offered, I can't imagine anything different. I like the emphasis on how language is used and abused, issues we still witness today. This really speaks to how universal Chaucer's texts are, how timeless many of the ideas can be.

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  2. Chaucer uses alot of symobolism in The House of Fame. For example uses the word accoustics to compare the way chitter chatter reaches the heavens or higher power. How fame recieves the chitter chatter..comparing fame to a trumpet or other. Great symbolism. The Domus Dadali was kind of neat, as I think Chaucer's is referencing life's hmmm..kind of wide open spaces, in a sense, and what it may or may not encompass. I enjoyed The House of Fame. Kind of has to be read a few times to digest. A bit on they eccentric side but still good.

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  3. It's interesting to hear Chaucer saying he doesn't need to seek fame, and to be reading him in 2017. It's also a cool metaphor, the idea that all fame depends on a game of telephone. The way Lady Fame rejected the groups was so ruthless, but it seemed like she had a kind of reasoning, like when she gave fame to the modest group. However, she also said she had no justice, and was glad to punish one group, as if it wasn't her decision. The fart jokes were hard to see at first, but became increasingly obvious.

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  4. The House of Fame was an interesting read and I also found it interesting that Chaucer didn't have a need for fame. Comparing the Domus Dedali to the internet is the perfect way to modernize it. Just like in modern times a person's fame can be greatly affected by an untrue rumor that started on the internet or in Chaucer's case the Domus Dedali. As a fan of comedy it is also interesting to see early uses of the types of humor that we see used today, such as the self-deprecating humor Chaucer uses.

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  5. Reading the House of Fame I found it very assuming by the eagle had an significance role in the story because the symbolism we have for eagles today. I just felt a connection with the eagle because it unified the whole poem as a whole by emphasizing the long disquisition of sound. Also the humor of the eagle made the reading more enjoyable!

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  6. I found the House of Fame to be one of the most interesting poems I've ever read. The use of the dream as the setting really intrigued me as it bring us into a different reality. Some parts confused me which lead me to do some research in order to understand some of the events in history that he brought up. I guess I need to brush up on my history. But other than that I really enjoyed the depth of this poem. The cliff hanger ending leaves you asking whats next. I believe there is more to this story that hasn't been discovered.

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  7. Part of me wonders if Chaucer is recounting an LSD trip. This alternate reality is strange to say the least, from a giant eagle who may or not be Jupiter calling Chaucer fat, to wicker-basket portals of insanity and Middle English bathroom humor. However, I do appreciate Chaucer and what he is attempting to do: find a purpose for fame, and try to quantify it some way. Perhaps fame is as crazy and construed as this poem is; unidentifiable and alien.

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  8. This was a fun poem to read. Dreams are a wonderful thing because they bring us to another world, and sometimes dreams can tell us subconsciously what we desire in real life. They are also a way of escaping into a fantasy land where you can do anything. So maybe in life Chaucer did not seek fame but allowed himself in dreams to do so, and that is why he wrote this poem. Because he wanted to be able to soar through the heavens on a giant gilded eagle, and find fame? It is an interesting theory. Also, when he finds the names carved in ice - some in shade that were perfectly legible and those that were on the sunnier side unable to be read: maybe this was due to the sun, but maybe also saying that if you stay in the shadow of the House of Fame you will be remembered forever, but those that run about in the sun and basically take too many chances are bound to fade away.

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  9. I enjoyed reading House of Fame compared to some other works we've read this semester mostly because I find dreams to be quite intriguing, so reading someone else's perspective on interpreting dreams is pretty interesting. However, I did have a hard time keeping focus and following the poem as it didn't fully grab my attention. I think in order to have gained a better understanding of it, I would've had to read it several times or even listen to it on an audio book.

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  10. I found this to be rather interesting. The amount of symbolism he used in this piece was something that confused me a lot though. He used a lot of words/terminology that I wouldn't have really understood unless I looked it up, and I found myself having to do that a lot.

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  11. Reading House of Fame, it was interesting to see how Chaucer seemed reject fame and see it as meaningless, while most writers crave to be noticed. The comparison of the Domus Dedali to the internet today’s world was a great way to modernize. People today use the internet to gain their fame. For example, Justin Bieber was found using YouTube as his ticket to fame being discovered by Usher. However, fame can be tarnished by the internet as easily as it is to be gained just by having someone post and false rumor or video that poorly portrays one’s self.

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  12. I wonder how the word “fame” is defined here since there are so many definitions of the word to be considered during this time period. It seems as though fame could be considered as gossip in this case. The theme of morality and sexuality comes to play with the feelings Dido and Aeneas have for one another. Chaucer, having a history of portraying women as the sinister gender, makes Dido seem like she is in the wrong for her feelings for Aeneus. Chaucer blames Dido for her error in judgment rather than put emphasis on the fact that these two characters are not married. This is because women were held to higher standard when it came to sexuality and morals.

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