Monday, February 26, 2018

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 151-467) which rehearses the story of the ├ćneid.

15 comments:

  1. While I dont agree it is Chaucers finest work, I do fins it to be an interesting departure from Canterbury tales. Now we have the same dilemma in both works - the lack ofna complete manuscript, so translations and our imagination are left to fill in the blanks. I also find that the carving of the names is an interesting allegory to not only fame but just how easily things can change. What if for instance your name is carved and then through the years someone decides that yohre really not that important? Well whats stopping from them from chiseling away your name? Indeed it is another example of the mang ways in which Chaucer seems literally timeless due to the fact that many of the things he mentions in this work can be translated into today, for instance history being written by the victor.

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  2. I think that this poem is beautifully written and the descriptiveness of Chaucer’s work makes it very easy to imagine being in this same dream. I find it interesting that Chaucer chose and eagle to be the guide. When I think of eagles, I picture freedom, but after reading this poem, I get the sense that the narrator feels trapped. Upon analyzation, I believe that the eagle represents the narrator’s inner desire to be free. The dream begins when he finds himself trapped in a glass castle. The glass, like the eagle, could also represent desired freedom. In a glass room, you are able to see the freedom of the world around you, but are not able to fully experience it. For these reasons, I believe that this poem has an underlying message of desiring freedom.
    -Sarah Basler

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    1. I also agree that this poem is beautifully written which makes it easy to imagine the same dream. I see the eagle as the guide because eagles are known for knowing where they are supposed to go, which makes them the perfect guide. I can also see how the eagle could represent freedom coming from your perspective.- Jaimee Barrett

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    2. I agree that the way this poem was written was poetically explained to help us place ourselves in Chaucer's shoes. Metaphors are placed throughout like you say the eagle and how it could be known for freedom, this freedom showed the narrator feeling trapped and wanting to be set free. The desire of freedom is shown throughout being a guide to the unfinished ending giving a underlying message for the readers.

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  3. In the House of frame Book I, I personally enjoyed this because it reminded me of Romeo and Juliet. Romeo falls in love at first sight and in the end, Juliet hears that Romeo was dead, so she kills herself because she loved him so much. Instead, Aeneas comes to Carthage and Dido "the queen" falls in love with him. Italy was his original destination, so he decides to leave Carthage. Dido is not happy with his decision to leave. When she hears he finally has left her she kills herself also. Chaucer even takes a pause to let readers know how a woman should not do anything with a man until she knows who he truly is. She fell in love with his looks and his false promises that he made. I enjoy how Chaucer is very visual with his writing. I am able to imagine what the scene look like which makes Chaucer very interesting to read.- Jaimee Barrett

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  4. When I was reading The House of Fame, I could not stop seeing similarities to The Divine Comedy. It is as if this is Chaucer's own version of The Divine Comedy. The eagle was like Chaucer's version of Virgil, and I also enjoyed learning that the dreamer is Geoffrey in his own poem, just as Dante is the main character in his poem. I also found the House of Fame to be similar to The Divine Comedy because both draw from ancient mythology.
    -Becca Clark

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  5. i also saw a lot of similarities between this poem and other stories. the first thing i thought of was Romeo and Juliet, but thats only because the lady kills herself one she sees the man has left (i read this last monday i forget the names), i like how he lets the audience know that a woman shouldn't give herself up to just any man either, that she should get to know his true self before she does anything. because in the older days i feel like a lot of woman were forced into things.

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  6. What I loved most about the House of Fame was how I was able to put myself in Chaucer’s shoes as if I was dealing with his dreams myself. The best thing about interpreting a story, book, or poem is being able to replace the character with yourself because of how descriptive the locations and actions are. Chaucer did a marvelous job at describing his visions and taking the readers through this journey. Not only was he illustrating the events properly, but the poem as a whole was very interesting to me. From the eagle first arriving at the scene, to introducing the readers to the lady Fame, every aspect of the story made me want more. To conclude, details in the House of Fame certainly have room for interpretation, allowing readers to include their own visuals in a sense. For example, the eagle can be interpreted as just a random creature that Chaucer picked, or it can be seen as one of the most free-spirited animals out there, making it seem as though Chaucer wanted to be guided by such a brave and “trusting” animal. All in all, I think the House of Fame is one of my favorite readings so far, even though I cannot compare it to any other work I’ve read.

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  7. The House of Fame and Canterbury Tales have two things in common, they are both written by Chaucer and they are both unfinished. Chaucer gives a lot of detail in the referral of dreams and how we understand or misunderstand them. It makes us think about what causes our dreams. Chaucer touches about certain circumstances that could affect how dreams occur. Since I had already read the Canterbury Tales, I didn’t have much of a reaction reading it for a second time, but this reading I had more appeal since I had never read it before. I’m fascinated by dreams, and Chaucer’s touch on them throughout this work made it interesting.
    Jenna Cipriano

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  8. I found that The House of Fame and the Canterbury Tales were similar in that they both have very different, unique way of trying to portray a message. The House of Fame in particular is closely linked to Chauer's other work, such as Troilus and Criseyde because of it's comedy and is and foreshadowed. I overall really like the writing style in The Huse of Fame. It is dreamy, and shows fame as something that is otherworldly, and comes with a sort of power. It is hard to know exactly what Chaucer wants us to interpret, but it surely is up for several different interpretations.

    - Crystal Agyemang

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  9. In a dream vision, the author presents the story under the guise of a dream. It’s a framing device that is commonly used to display truth under the guise of unreality, so I find it interesting that Chaucer used this technique in The House of Fame in order to explore themes of religion and death. If he is going to explore a mystical world and wants the listeners to accept what the speaker believes to be true, or allow the speaker to question concepts under the protective cover of a dream, this device is clever way to excuse the nonsensical events (traveling with an eagle, etc.) that this poem navigates. I agree with my some of my classmates that this eagle is a guide for the narrator, and how this narrator also feels trapped as well.- Arrissa Tavares

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  10. After reading "The House of Fame," I agree that this is one of Chaucer's best writings. Although he never got the chance to finish it, he emphasizes on religion and dreams. I like how Chaucer started the story off with a prayer to God, requesting to only send dreams with good results to humans. It highlights on where dreams could come from and why some are fulfilled while others aren't. His stories are always descriptive and makes you feel as though you are there.
    -Leony Lopes

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  11. In The House of Fame, I feel as though Chaucer is confused as to why all people don't have good dreams. He speaks of people having visions and truth in dreams but for the most part people dream nightmares. With so much harshness in the world Chaucer feels why should people not get a break and dream of wonderful things. Crystal Ruger

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  12. I enjoyed reading and researching The House of Fame and following the voyage of Chaucer through his dreams. This poem does strike similarities to many other poems i have studied in other classes, and even has the reciting of the Aenied. I like how he has the eagle who leads him through his voyage to the House of Fame. I like how you pointed out that the Domus Dedali sounds alot like the internet! This is a great comparison and to thing that a poem of this age could have such an idea incorporated into it. Great poem to read and research and I much enjoyed it.

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  13. I do throughly enjoy the house of fame poem, although I do not think it’s Chaucer’s best work. I love it because it was so descriptive and well written, I felt as though I was going on the journey with him. I also thought the concept was really creative, the whole dream idea is very nostalgic and Chaucer does a great job dipcting it in this poem. I also thought the idea of the eagle leading him through the dream as a good addition, because sometimes it seams as through birds are aimless. They kind of just go anywhere with no real destination, but this eagle was there to guide him. At first I had a bit of trouble understand the poem, but once I got into it I couldn’t stop reading it. I really enjoyed this piece.

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