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The Book of the Duchess is an extraordinarily assured piece of writing. Chaucer may have heard some- thing about Dante from those many Italian merchants who passed through London, or even from the French lyricists he had imitated and admired since his youth. This commemoration was to take the form of a series of lectures, starting on 23 October , to be delivered by Boccaccio himself at the Florentine church of Santo Stefano di Badia.
In any event, it is quite clear that Chaucer did discover Dante at some point in the s, and that this discovery was to have a profound effect on his artistic future. The poem which acts out and meditates upon this discovery is, of course, the House of Fame. But within the comfortable confines of this familiar format, Chaucer is evidently struggling with something new; something so new, in fact, that the narrator himself can barely grasp or articulate what that something might be. News about love; news about fame; news about poetry.
Of these three key concepts — love, fame, and poetry — the most prob- lematical within this English context of the s is poetry. Artow come hider to han fame? Sufficeth me, as I were ded, That no wight have my name in honde. I wot myself best how y stonde; For what I drye, or what I thynke, I will myselven al hyt drynke, Certeyn, for the more part, As fer forth as I kan myn art.
So what are you looking for, within a House of Fame, if not fame? The dreamer struggles to explain. Chaucer, to his credit, does not shrink from such com- parisons. This pattern of retreat into self-parody recurs throughout the House of Fame; Chaucer can- not yet take himself seriously as a poet. And if we juxtapose just a portion of these last two passages we can see why. Entra nel petto mio. Up to this point the one peak of Parnassus has serviced me; but now both peaks are needed as I enter the arena that remains.
Enter my breast. Following a resolute start, his invocation to Apollo shrinks to an appeal for assistance in covering up the defects of a lightweight and recalcitrant medium. Chaucer clearly sees that if such a medium is to become authentically poetic — and hence capable of encompassing themes of Dantean scope and grandeur — a major overhaul is in order.
Interestingly enough, Dante himself had written a treatise on how an illustrious vernacular vulgaris illustris might be forged from existing Italian dialects. This Latin treatise, entitled De Vulgari Eloquentia, makes diligent but not slavish imitation of the great Latin masters poetae magni an urgent priority for the attainment of true vernacular eloquence.
In the second cantica of the Commedia Dante dreams of a golden eagle that swoops down and then carries him up into the heavens. At the same time he begins exploring the complex interrelations of love, fame, and poetry. In the Troilus, the interrelation of our three key concepts might be formulated as follows: love inspires poetry; poetry wins fame for both poet and lovers. But this formulation raises some awkward questions.
Why labour to win fame for one lover who fears infamy and for another who is finally as indifferent to fame as he is to everything else? Why pin your best hopes for poetic fame on a secular tale of pagan love and infidelity? Such questions are not passed over in the making of the Troilus, but are taken up and worried over even as the poem is taking shape. The lively but limited self-assurance of the Duchess, transformed into perplexed uncertainty in the House of Fame, was never to be fully recovered.
Chaucer realized the narrative potential of such a stanza in reading the Filostrato and Teseida, two Boccaccian texts which he may have brought back from Florence in or acquired a few years later. Chaucer put these two texts to very different uses. The Filostrato must have been put aside and mulled over in private moments for many years in preparation for the long labour of the Troilus.
The Teseida was drawn upon time and again as a rich repository of narrative and iconographic motifs in a whole host of works. The mature Chaucer strove not to gild his diction with Latinate qualities, but rather to liberate and organize those natural rhythms and energies that were peculiar to his own native tongue. The classical world of Troilus and Criseyde, which is underpinned by a host of Continental and Latin texts, was to offer Chaucer endless op- portunities for high-flown Latinity: but to study Chaucer at work on his sources in the Troilus is to see him turning down such opportunities by the dozen.
Dante acclaims Virgil as his master, au- thor, and guide, but he never sounds like Virgil; his diction is always Italian, never Latinate. For Dante it is of fundamental importance that a poet should labour to perfect his own voice; he should not seek to borrow a voice from books or from strangers. Love of your homeland and of the language you grew up with is, after all, the most natural thing in the world. This speaker seems more vulnerable and hence more human, and less concerned with striking poetical postures.
He seems, at first, to be unaware of any audience, only pulling himself together in the fourth line to tell us what his main subject is to be. From his opening lines we might have guessed his subject to be art itself: but it is love, a subject which is always intimately bound up with art in medieval writing. And although these opening lines seem so artlessly natural even in talking around or about the subject of art , they are actually highly crafted: the opening line translates the Latin maxim ars longa, vita brevis; the next two lines continue the rhetorical themes of contentio contrast and circumlocutio; and taken together, all three lines add up to an example of interpretatio, saying the same thing in different ways.
This holds true for the Parliament, too. Like the House of Fame, the Parliament offers three differing views of its declared subject, love: the first from a dis- tant, cosmic perspective; the second from within a house of art; and the third from within a more freewheeling, densely peopled or birded milieu.
Each of these three major narrative segments builds upon a major Latin or Continental, ancient or modern, source. To com- plicate matters further, the transition between the second and third domains here seems to owe something to another Boccaccian text, a dream vision in terza rima called the Amorosa Visione. He discovers a parliament of fowls, a gathering of birds representing every class and subclass of contemporary London society.
This parliament, loosely governed by Nature herself, is initially monopolized by aristocratic voices. Such high-born birds, operating within the framework of an idealized world, would naturally sympathize with the likes of Helen of Troy, Cleopatra, and Troilus. But this idealizing conception of love is soon exposed to some pungent criticisms by birds of lower degree.
That men shulde loven alwey causeles! Who can a resoun fynde or wit in that? Daunseth he murye that is myrtheles? Who shulde recche of that is recheles? There been mo sterres, God wot, than a payre! O, many a thousand tymes twelve Saugh I eke of these pardoners. But it would be foolish to equate this with a movement from art to life, or from imitative art to art from life, or even from a derivative Englishness to a declaration of English independence.
Chaucer himself warns us against forming such an equation in the latter part of his Parliament. These English birds may sound spontaneous and un- restrained, but they still manage to keep within the bounds of a seven-line stanza rhyming ababbcc. And in concluding their parliament, these boister- ous birds select a choir from within their own number, change their rhyme scheme, and forget their differences in singing a roundel. Such a musical resolution to the vehement conflicts of a London parliament is, of course, a fantasy of art, not a record of life.
This art is not as natural as birdsong; it is a patiently negotiated marriage between English voices and Continental forms. These birds sing in English to a tune that is borrowed not from nature but from Machaut or Deschamps: The note, I trowe, imaked was in Fraunce, The wordes were swiche as ye may heer fynde. Offering no comment whatsoever on his dream, he returns at once to the studious pursuit of reading.
Not until he has worked his way to the end of Troilus and Criseyde does Chaucer dare to post a claim to stand in their company. This wider European context within which the Troilus situates itself is unified by the fundamental and pervasive influence of one key text: the Roman de la Rose. This first effort at learning from the French poem was taken up by a second generation of Italian poets in a number of transitional works.
One of these, the Intelli- genza, paved the way for the Boccaccian Amorosa Visione and, ultimately, for the Petrarchan Trionfi. It is possible that Durante and Dante are one: so Chaucer and Dante might actually have begun their poetic careers in par- allel, as translators of the Rose. The central Book of the Troilus, in taking up this exploration of the uncharted territory between pagan consumma- tion and Christian revelation, borrows from and alludes to all three of these texts in ways that criticism has barely begun to understand.
Certain Dantean figures, often of classical origins, in- spire the most complex and suggestive allusions; certain Dantean moments such as Inferno v Paolo and Francesca or Inferno xxx the juxtaposition of Troy and Thebes cast long shadows over the entire poem. Both Ilario and Lollius are, of course, pious fictions, cultural ciphers expressive of a com- mon commitment to revivifying an ancient past. They disguise the fact that both Boccaccio and Chaucer are actually reworking more modern, vernac- ular texts which they choose not to name.
Boccaccio was barely twenty when he wrote it; his text bears obvious signs of immaturity. Boccaccio entertains himself by striking authorish postures within the Filostrato; he particularly enjoys advising his youthful peers, once his love story is spent, to put a brake on their eager steps towards sexual gratification. The Commedia and the Rose, after all, can hardly be improved upon as poetic sources.
They are completed, universal texts; after hell, purgatory, and heaven there is nowhere much to go. The youthful Filostrato, on the other hand, allowed generous room for improvement. In choosing the Filostrato, Chaucer was making a deliberate, far-reaching decision about the kind of poet he wished to be and, consequently, about the kind of audience he expected to reach.
He did not wish to be the kind of poet who makes things difficult for his readers and ends up by reaching only a favoured few. Petrarch anticipates that very few men will find their way into his Academy; and women are not invited.
Dante is more gener- ous: everyone is welcome at his banquet, his Convivio. Troilus and Criseyde, by contrast, is a generous, inclusive, reader-friendly text that could and did find a home almost anywhere: at court, at the quayside, or even in the convent. It is a text which finds room for cheerful bedside banter as well as for anguished philosophical reflections.
Unlike Petrarch or Dante, Chaucer does not strive for perpetual, ingenious variety in his rhyming. He achieves moments of high drama, demanding close concentration from his readers, but he also budgets for moments when our concentration may slacken. To this end he borrows numerous tags, epithets, oaths, asseverations, and other such resources from popular narrative tradition; the reader or listener may nod for a line or two.
Chaucer seems, then, to assume a double identity within Troilus and Criseyde. He wishes to align himself with the greatest European poets, an- cient and modern. Yet he also wishes, when it suits him, to speak like an English romancer. Taken together, the tail-rhyme of Sir Thopas and the learned, pedagogical prose of the Tale of Melibee do amount to a recognizable caricature of their au- thor: Chaucer as a dog who knows two tricks, romancing and translating.
It is of course in the The Canterbury Tales that Chaucer most boldly mixes and juxtaposes differing social voices and genres within a single po- etic structure. But although there is considerable variety of social content, there is also homogenization of liter- ary form: whereas Chaucer lets his tales establish multiple worlds of generic expectation, in different forms of verse and prose, Boccaccio produces one hundred novelle.
And whereas Chaucer, the royal servant, imagines tale- tellers from a remarkable range of professions, Boccaccio lifelong servant of the Florentine Republic gives us a rotating monarchy governed by young aristocrats. The equivalent moment of rebellion in Chaucer, of course, has quite dif- ferent results: the Miller gets to speak and the Tales changes course for good.
It is not difficult to see why Chaucer made more use of Boccaccio than of any other writer. This ambition was first fired by a diligent reading of Dante. Gradually succumbing to the influence of Petrarch and the early humanists, Boccaccio channelled most of his mature energies into Latin encyclopedism. But although he gave up vernacular verse in mid-career, Boccaccio retained a deep personal devotion to Dante. But this opportunity caught Boccaccio in an awkward dilemma.
He wished to honour Dante as the great poet of the Florentine vernacular. Boccaccio struggles with this dilemma throughout the accessus or introduction to his Dante lectures. Finally he proposes that Dante actu- ally began his Commedia in Latin but then switched to Italian, an inferior medium, because few noble and educated men could or would read Latin. Its politics were outdated; its leading figures were long since dead, if not entirely forgotten.
Its theology was outmoded; its zealous championing of vernacular poetry had passed out of fashion. And the Florentine vernacular had settled down. It had become more polished and accomplished, but could hold fewer surprises. English, by contrast, had little to weigh itself down with in The first effects of this discovery, acted out in the House of Fame, were to reduce Chaucer to a state of comically ambivalent, self-conscious agitation.
Chaucer came across the Commedia at precisely the right moment: that moment near the beginnings of a vernacular tradition when a language, although inchoate and unstable, seems in the hands of a genius to be mar- vellously malleable, infinitely adaptive, capable of almost anything. Chaucer learned many things from Dante but the most important was, quite simply, to keep faith with his own language: a vernacular must be revolutionized from within, not patched and amended from without.
And no vernacular could hope to match the authority of Latin: for unlike Latin, no vernacular could shield itself from the effects of passing time. The verna- cular, not Latin, provides the most accurate mirror of the human condition. See The Decameron, trans. Peter Brown Oxford, , pp. The Poet in the Modern Imagination Minneapolis, David Wallace Cambridge, , pp. Chaucer refers to his translation of the Rose in the Legend of Good Women, f —31, g —7. A Parallel Text Edition Oxford, See James I.
Olson Oxford, , pp. Brewer, Chaucer and His World London, , pp. See Esposizioni sopra la Commedia di Dante, ed. Padoan, in Tutte le opere di Giovanni Boccaccio, ed. Vittore Branca, 12 vols. Milan, —98 , vol. Umberto Bosco, 6 vols. Rome, —8 , vol. The Commentary Tradition, eds.
Minnis and A. Scott, with the assistance of David Wallace Oxford, , pp. See W. The word tydynges appears some twenty-two times in the House of Fame. For summaries of recent views, see Riverside Chaucer, ed. Benson, pp. Chaucer and the Making of English Poetry, 2 vols. London, , vol. Petrarch was crowned with the laurels of a Latin poet at Rome in I follow the text of the Commedia established by Giorgio Petrocchi Turin, : my translation.
One of the two peaks of Parnassus that Dante speaks of here was regarded as sacred to Apollo, the other to the Muses. See further The Cambridge Companion to Dante, ed. See the edition with facing Italian translation by A. Marigo, 3rd edn, updated by P. Ricci Florence, , esp. For a convenient translation see Literary Criticism of Dante Alighieri, ed. Robert S. Haller Lincoln, Nebr. Minnis and Scott, pp.
See Inferno i, 83—5. Richards New York, , pp. See Purgatorio ix, 13— Piero Boitani Cambridge, , pp. Bennett, ed. Heyworth Oxford, , pp. See The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, ed. Robinson, 2nd edn London, , p. Limentani, in Opere di Boccaccio, ed. Branca, vol. The Allegory of Love Oxford, , p. From The Life of Our Lady, c.
Havely Cambridge, , which provides the most recent and reliable translation of the Filostrato. See further Thomas C. See The Parlement of Foulys, ed. Brewer London, , pp. See B. See Wallace, Early Writings, pp. The Visione, which attempts to accom- modate the influence of Dante within the French-derived framework of a dream vision, has much in common with the House of Fame: see Wallace, Early Writ- ings, pp.
See Le Roman de la Rose, ed. Lecoy, 3 vols. Paris, —9 , lines —; Inferno iv, 80— ; Filocolo, ed. Quaglio, in Opere di Boccaccio, ed. See Brewer, Heritage, vol. Proceedings, No. Paul Strohm and Thomas J. Heffernan Knoxville, Tenn.
Zygmunt G. Robert M. Correale and Mary Hamel, vol. I Cambridge, , pp. The parliament of courtiers in which this source story appears is immediately preceded by a dream vision assembly of some thirty birds: the same female figure in different sym- bolic disguises governs both gatherings iv, 12— New York, , pp.
See also Young, Development, pp. See Filostrato, ed. Branca, in Opere di Boccaccio, ed. Maria Simonelli Bologna, , i, i, 2—4. Jackson Oxford, See now The Decameron and the Canterbury Tales. New Essays on an Old Question, eds. See Wallace, Chaucerian Polity, pp. Helen Small Oxford, , pp. See Esposizioni, accessus, 74—6. Ralph Manheim London, , p.
Troilus and Criseyde ii, As is pointed out by Robinson in Works of Chaucer, p. The phrasing of the Convivio passage is, however, closer to Troilus ii, 22—3 than any other source; and it is obviously vastly more suggestive. Limentani Cambridge, , pp. And for an illuminating comparison of the views of Dante and Petrarch on this relationship, see Kenelm Foster, Petrarch. Poet and Humanist Edinburgh, , pp. The God is quite specific in his description of these books: Yis, God wot, sixty bokes olde and newe Hast thow thyself, alle ful of storyes grete, That bothe Romayns and ek Grekes trete Of sundry wemen, which lyf that they ladde, And evere an hundred goode ageyn oon badde.
In his typically light, half-jocose, but erudite manner he will soon mention and borrow from Dante, too , Chaucer seems to be telling us that he owns sixty books. For, at the very beginning of his poem and this time in both versions , Chaucer had launched into a long hymn in praise of books and prefaced his dream of the God of Love with the portrait of himself as a fanatic bibliophile, who puts down his volume only when the overwhelming power of spring prompts him to choose the meadow and its flowers instead: And as for me, though that I konne but lyte, On bokes for to rede I me delyte, And to hem yive I feyth and ful credence, And in myn herte have hem in reverence So hertely, that ther is game noon That fro my bokes maketh me to goon.
The Eagle who carried him to the House of Fame had reproached Geoffrey for exactly the same reason. House of Fame, —8 Neither Richard De Bury, who wrote a Philobiblon to celebrate the might of books and the love we should have for them, nor his friend Petrarch, the greatest non-religious collector of books in fourteenth-century Europe, ever wrote anything like this.
The comic overtone of this picture, the fact that the bibliophile is characterized as a bookworm, should not prevent us from seeing the deep seriousness which is hidden behind it and which is confirmed by the self-awareness implicit in the image. A book is at the beginning and end of each of his poems until he starts composing the Canterbury Tales.
He reads his book, falls asleep, dreams, wakes up with his book beside him, and decides to write a book. For Chaucer, the book literature both causes the dream and exists within it. He is the first European writer to use this formula, which was to become a distinctive feature, if not a topos, of Western culture.
At the beginning of the fourteenth century Dante, in the episode of Paolo and Francesca, had conse- crated the book as an occasion for love, sin, murder, and eternal damnation; now, in the second half of the century, Chaucer consecrates it as the key and integrating element of the dream experience — one of the fundamental activities of the human psyche — and of the creative process itself.
Books can be used as sources, as pure references, or as a mixture of the two. However, he never explicitly acknowledges his verbal indebtedness to, say, Machaut, Froissart, or Boccaccio. Later in the House of Fame he does not point out that the description of Fame is indebted to Virgil and that of the House of Rumour to Ovid. What emerges from all this is a fairly clear strategy of hide and seek.
They would be sent off on research of their own when they heard the poet say that he saw Homer, Statius, Virgil, Ovid, Claudian, and others stand on the pillars of the hall of Fame. From the beginning, then, Chaucer plays with his audience a game of intertextuality, raising expectations, stimulating cultural awareness, puzzling and overwhelming his readers with displays of erudition and at the same time relieving them with clues and a light tone.
In the House of Fame he tells his readers that if they want to know more about hell, they should turn to Virgil, Claudian, and Dante — In this double pattern there is an extraordinary circu- larity and an equally staggering direct pointedness: when Chaucer dreams, a book inevitably produces another book.
Ovid becomes Chaucer. The transformation of private occasion into public concern is effected by Chaucer through a series of operations basically centred on the fictionalization of certain motifs. But this nucleus, to which we shall soon return, is preceded by an introduction that makes the fiction much more complex. Apparently, this is love. This bok ne spak but of such thinges, Of quenes lives, and of kinges, And many other thinges smale.
The sleepless reader, amazed and rather sceptical, decides to offer a feather-bed to Morpheus and Juno if they will put him to sleep. Hardly has he formulated his vow when he falls asleep over his book and begins to dream. The two fictionalized nuclei of the poem, preceded by the introduction, are thus thematically linked at a deep level.
On the surface, they are joined to each other by an intermezzo where the logic of dreams reigns supreme. Here, as soon as he falls asleep, the dreamer finds himself, on a May morning, lying in bed naked, with birds singing all around him, in a room whose walls are covered with frescoes depicting the Roman de la Rose and whose windows are storiated with scenes from Trojan history and its heroes. Suddenly he hears a horn, shouts, dogs, and horses.
The protagonist mounts a horse, rushes out, and hears that the emperor Octavian is going on a hunt. He follows the company and ends up near a tree with a small dog. Apparently, this intermezzo has nothing to do with the first and third parts of the poem the story of Ceyx and Alcyone and that of the Knight and his lady. In fact, it picks up at least two themes common to both. In the third part, this will be taken up by both Knight and dreamer.
Here, the Knight makes clear that Blanche was never the type of lady who sent her faithful cavaliers off to the ends of the earth, as happens in the romances — Literature, sensibly put in its place in this passage, ties up the three parts of the poem.
Against Nature and Love fight the forces of grief, Fortune, and death. The themes of love and nature, at the centre of the three-part-plus- introduction structure of the Book of the Duchess, are even more overtly prominent in the three-part-plus-introduction structure of the Parliament of Fowls. We have no Knight and no lady with a story of love and death, but, instead, a dreamer-reader led by the protagonist of his dream-book, Scipio Africanus, to a garden-park of nature and love, to a temple of Venus, and to the hill where personified Nature herself presides over a parliament of birds.
And finally, as is implied by the reference to ars longa, vita brevis, love is the art of poetry itself, and often the object of literature: Yit happeth me ful ofte in bokes reede Of his myrakles and his crewel yre.
Clearly, this is not sensual love — it is, rather, love directed towards the bonum commune, love that goes beyond the individ- ual, whose object is society and the state. The latter should be understood in the Roman sense, to which the Somnium obviously refers, and which was partly incorporated into the language of the English Parliament.
Love is the salvation and aggrandisement of the res publica — or, in a wider sense, of the whole of mankind. It is not exactly this kind of love that he was looking for. Here is the eternal joy the reader found in the vision of the Somnium 49 and , here is immortality 50—6 and , perennial day, constant spring, the plenitude and variety of the vegetable and animal kingdoms —5 and We enter the human cosmos, an artificial world where myth and courtesy — civilization as distinct from nature — are in full bloom.
The phallic image provides a prelude to the inner recesses of the temple, where the darkness thickens. Planet and goddess, courtly and sensual, Venus also represents tragic love. All around her lie the broken bows of the virgins of Diana who have sacrificed their chastity in her service, and the walls of the temple are frescoed with the stories of love and death consecrated by literature and mythology — Semiramis, Dido, Cleopatra, Helen, Tristan and Isolde, Troilus himself.
Love, which is part of life — desire, which is necessary to nature — is also the negation of life, the reversal of nature. The gold that surrounds Venus is far from the flowers of white, blue, yellow, and red, far from the red fins and silvery scales of the fish in the garden.
So far, love has appeared as service of the bonum commune, Edenic pleni- tude, supreme moment of sensual infatuation. It has been described by means of a book, a vision, a series of images. Now, the poet introduces a lively de- bate between birds, an animal parable. But the implications of this are as vast as those of the preceding sections. The specific case — that of the eagle loved by three birds at once — is a courtly contest par excellence, but it is broadened by the introduction of Nature and the extension of the discussion to all the birds, including the less noble ones.
For some of the lower birds suggest solutions that contrast with the code thus the goose maintains that the rejected suitor should choose another mate; the cuckoo recommends that all three should remain celibate; the duck scornfully rejects the whole code, —95 , but all of them indicate, first by their noisy impatience —7 and then by flying away satisfied, the basic irrelevance for them of the problem itself and the socio-cultural convention it represents.
For her, the social order, and hence the courtly culture which it includes as an aspect of the ideal of the upper classes, is but a part of the natural order. That is to seyn, the foules of ravyne Weere hyest set, and thanne the foules smale. Love is now complete. The solution might look simple to us, but is at once novel, realistic, and sensible in a fourteenth-century context:. Delay is a characteristic of all parliaments that cannot decide. And the birds, singing a roundel in honour of Nature, fly away.
Reading a book can be unsatisfactory. The reading of the Somnium produced the dream, the first part of which mirrors, with the presence of Africanus, the book itself —8. Soon, however, this is forgotten, and the dream de- velops as a visit to the park of love and the temple of Venus. This, too, is somehow unsatisfac- tory, in that it offers only a partial solution to the problem it poses.
Hence, more reading is required. We have here two interrelated fundamental mecha- nisms. One is that of the endless quest, the search for an ever-receding object that the reading of books implies. The cave of sleep described in the Metamorphoses story of the Book of the Duchess is the first image we encounter in the House of Fame 66— The garden-park is present in both Book of the Duchess and Par- liament of Fowls.
A temple of Venus appears in both Parliament and Fame. The Book of the Duchess ends with the view of a castle, the castle of Fame dominates the first part of the third book of the House of Fame. Frescoes on the walls feature in all three poems. We are obviously in the presence of an imagination constantly at work on the same images.
The self-consciousness with which Chaucer embarks on this adventure is witnessed by at least four highly significant features of his poem. First comes the discussion of the nature and causes of dreams in the long Proem to Book i. Here, in an ap- parently light manner, the author examines the very medium of his poetry — the dream as mode of apprehension of reality and as type of discourse, the world removed from everyday concerns yet somehow representing their sub- limated or distorted projection.
With a stroke of genius, Chaucer chooses as his central theme that of Fame, a concept which Western tradition develops throughout antiquity and the Middle Ages as omnicomprehensive. A series of triads, following the tripartite structure of the House of Fame, will illustrate the development of these themes in the poem. The clearest sequence connects Love, Nature, and Fame. And the dreamer, going out of the temple, finds himself not in a garden, but in an- other locus classicus of the imagination — a waste land, a sterile desert where Nature is totally absent — But Fame, too, is not totally positive.
In her judgement of nine companies of people, she denies, grants, and changes fame in a completely erratic, fickle, and unjust manner. A principle of de-composition and re-composition seems to work through- out the House of Fame. Fame is glory, ill-repute, and rumour. The truth, the philosophical and scientific reality of Book ii, does not withstand the action of fame, which magnifies everything —2. The precise laws of nature which rule the propagation of sound are completely upset by the castle, whose foundations rest on ice.
Fame herself is a mutable monster, infinitely small and infinitely great, and her Triumph is contradicted by her Judgement. Book ii, with its quotation of Scipio and Alexander, is more clearly a visio, but, with its reminiscences of Dante and St Paul, comes close to a beatific vi- sion. In Book iii, elements of the apocalyptic vision —5 merge with those of the Triumph. Finally, with the apparition of the man of great au- thority, the poem breaks off with what may be seen as the overture to an oraculum.
On one more level — that of poetry and literature — an oscillating and circular movement is a fundamental feature of the House of Fame. In Book ii the Eagle gives Geoffrey an explanation of the physical nature of language — sound — and of the ambiguity that distinguishes meaning, that is, the relationship between a word and what it signifies and between a word and the speaker —81, — But myth is literature.
The scientific culture shown off by the Eagle agrees with the philosophical and didactic poetry of Boethius, Martianus, and Alan. These in turn go back to Fame to be ordered by her and find themselves inserted in the great cycles of poetry. Mean- while, through the cave, temple, desert, flight in space, castle and labyrinth of the House of Fame, the world has become a book.
The whole passage, g —, is absent in the f redaction of the Prologue, supposedly written earlier than g. La myse en abyme nei poemi onirici di Chaucer Rome, Minnis, The Shorter Poems Oxford, Duby, The Age of the Cathedrals, trans. Levieux and B. Thompson London, , ch. See G. The Roman de la Rose ed. This double pattern is mirrored in what R. Two very different approaches to the dream poems are to be found in L.
Chance, The Mythographic Chaucer. For speculations on this point, see L. Benson and S. Wenzel Kalama- zoo, Mich. See J. Derek Brewer London, , p. Summa contra Gentiles ii, xlv, 6. Eliot published in The Sacred Wood and For this and several other aspects of the House of Fame discussed in the fol- lowing paragraphs, see P. Havely Durham, A dif- ferent approach can be found in S.
See P. Paradiso xxxiii, 86—7. Josipovici, The World and the Book, 2nd edn London, , chs. Nor is the art of the Troilus only an art of detail, of charming cornices and miseri- cord carvings: Troilus and Criseyde has a large, clear architectural plan; it is a structure of emphatic bilateral symmetry. It is also a work which knows, and makes sure the reader knows, that it has important thematic concerns: fortune and the good things of this world; human love; fidelity.
The Troilus, in short, has the elements of a well-made work of serious literature. But perhaps the most subtle of the things which make it not merely a worthy but a truly great poem, a poem both exhilarating and disturbing, is the way these elements are combined with and related to one another. Texture does not merely echo, enhance, unproblematically enrich the meaning suggested by thematic statements and by structure.
In the present essay I shall be discussing some of the salient features of narrative technique in the Troilus and also trying to show some of the ways in which texture, theme, and structure are related. I shall also want to speak of the place of the poet-narrator — who, like the reader, will have trouble responding properly to the story — in the Troilus. There is also, of course, no Chaucerian indirection: no frame of dreaming or reading or setting out on a pilgrimage to suggest that an attentive reader may choose to align in a number of different ways the various things the poet is telling him or her.
It should be noted that the two things are related: that is, self-commitment which proves successful, the kept promise, is itself a thing of bilateral symmetry: even-song and morning-song accord; what I said I would do, I have done. Thinking further about the relationship of telling the story and the ma- terial of the story, love which goes bad, or is not strong enough, we find a special poignancy in something Chaucer reveals shortly after his first stanza has displayed its elegance.
We are made to realize that the narrator has un- dertaken this difficult literary task out of a generous impulse; the poem is to be a gift of love, an act of charity:. We should also recall this general goodness of heart when, late in our reading of Troilus, we are disturbed to find that our responses to the story have ceased to be entirely generous.
It is in the presentation of this city that Chaucer shows his astonishing mastery of atmosphere and texture. Minor characters are important here. Physically, this Chaucerian Troy is of course walled, enclosed; it is under siege, but the state of siege serves to heighten by contrast the life of peace within cf.
The fighting itself is essentially off-stage, summarized rather than narrated. This city is peculiarly one of commodious, welcoming, well and discreetly staffed households: we have scenes set in the homes of Troilus, Criseyde, Pandarus, Deiphebus, and, later, Sarpedon.
It is a city where a kneeling hero will have a friend ready and solicitous enough to fetch him a cushion and that cushion which Pandarus brings for Troilus iii, —6 , almost as touching as it is absurd, might be the very emblem, as Pandarus is the most extraordinary representative, of Trojanness.
This Troy is a city — or this Troilus is a poem — where characters, especially the hero, retreat to bed remarkably often; bed as a place of Eros is, in the Troilus, ambiguously related to bed as the place of infantile refuge. More generally, heroic love, the grand passion Troilus and Criseyde would seem to be about, is made to appear at once quite different from warm-hearted decency, and something which grows from and is nurtured by such instinctive benevolence.
When we began this narrative of double sorrow and weeping verses, we expected to hear about the intensity of love, and of course we do hear about it. Still, this story is not quite what we had anticipated: we have had to learn to experience intense love within the peculiar setting of the first books, heroic love in the context of niceness.
Texture as rich as the texture of the Troilus does not simply enhance our response to theme and structure: it inevitably changes that response. In Troilus and Criseyde, talk is vitality. The association is strongly, delightfully made in the first half of the work, and variously played upon in the second half.
Tempo and speech-size are worked with adroitly. A sunny, comic scene may make much use of rapidly exchanged short speeches, while a sombre interview is built primarily of large blocks of speech. Compare the Pandarus—Criseyde delivery-of-letter section at ii, ff, with the Pandarus—Troilus duologue at iv, ff. But fully to appreciate the expressive movement of talk in Troilus and Criseyde and, indeed, fully to appreciate the expressive rhythm of narra- tion in Troilus and Criseyde means to consider the particular form in which Chaucer cast his narrative: the Troilus is a story in verse and, more particu- larly, a story in stanzaic verse.
The basic point is this. When an author elects to tell a tale in seven-line stanzas, one expects life in that tale including speech to be articulated as series of seven-line and multiple-of-seven-line units; in other words, the maker of stanzaic narrative is more conspicuously committed than is the couplet-writer or, of course, the prose writer to find- ing a certain shape in experience again and again.
In those longer speeches, Chaucer is having a good deal of what is in two senses liminal fun with stanza boundaries. Again and again we will have thought a given seventh line concluded a speech, only to discover a couple of seconds later that it was merely a section of that speech which so ringingly terminated.
In its technical aspects, the longwindedness of Pandarus is more amusing than the longwindedness of the Wife of Bath. Chaucer, in moving from speech by one character to speech by another, to narration, and perhaps back to speech again — sometimes all within seven lines — gives us effects one would have thought outside the range of stanzaic verse.
For Goddes love, what seith it? Is it of love? O, som good ye me leere! The listener receives not something in place of what was expected, but something beyond what was expected. The rhymes of easy speech do not distort the structural logic of the rhyme scheme, but unconstrainedly emerge in the stanzaic form; talk can be both talk and well-shaped rhyme royal. Here one discovers that there is more to her than necessary conditions for double sorrow, more to her indeed, than her lover or anyone else in the poem can quite appre- ciate.
She is wonderfully shrewd, agile-witted; and though we know from the beginning the one salient moral fact of her story, that she will forsake Troilus, we are endlessly interested in the nuances of her character. And we should notice also that in this interview scene and after it, our pleasure as audience involves a sort of conflict of interests, not just a combination of interests.
But we do find ourselves, for all the good we wish Troilus, taking pleasure in the fact that Criseyde is not all that easy for her uncle to manipulate, is a worthy, resourceful adversary in these verbal skirmishes. As a good first-half scene, it will, of course, manage to be both.
In these last pages I have been chiefly stressing the various ways in which the first half of Troilus and Criseyde gives its audience more than could have been expected from a poem which began by being markedly explicit about its particular concerns and insistent about its lachrymose mood: the concerns have turned out to be broader than we thought they would be, and the weeping verses proved to be not steadily weeping verses. Now a work of art is always teaching us things about ourselves while revealing things about itself, and this is certainly true of our poem: we find how easy and pleasant it is to contemplate all these unexpected, unheroic things; how responsive we are to the texture of narrative.
Chaucer is quite willing to explain, and, for comic effects, sometimes overexplain, why something is happening and what we ought to think about it. But he also knows when to leave things unexplained — sometimes because ambiguity is desirable, at other times and this is what particularly concerns us so that the audience may feel it understands more than the narrator, or at least does not need comments from the narrator. There has been, thus far, no great reason to think Criseyde will be more difficult for Pandarus to manipulate than Troilus himself had been in the complementary extracting-of-the-secret scene.
It is exhilarating to discover that we do not need more explanation; and it is altogether typical of Chaucer that he leaves us here feeling not that a clever author is flattering the intelligence of a fit audience, but that the writer somehow failed to notice that anything just here in his story required explanation: we are made to believe, as I have said, that only we are capable of fully appreciating Criseyde, of relishing her cleverness in falling back, playing the good, dutiful niece, in order to gain her end.
And one should go on to stress that our discovery of this Criseyde, our clever, resourceful Criseyde, is really the type of our discovery of all the richness of texture in the poem, and particularly in the first half of the poem: we feel that there is more in the work than we could have expected to find, and also more in ourselves; that our experience keeps broadening and growing richer.
The great question now is whether even-song and morning-song accord: match and symmetry are here the signs of moral health; surprises, the source of delight in the first part of the poem, are now inherently suspect or culpable.
The shift here is of course in the underlying patterns of tale-telling and response rather than on the surface of the story, but it is nonetheless a very difficult shift to make, and our difficulty in making it indeed our inability to make it completely is part of what Troilus means. In his self-effacing way, Geoffrey Chaucer does have the daring of a great poet. To enrich our understanding of his matter, he will take chances, will have us feel dissatisfied: the poetry of contract is also the poetry of contraction.
One may say that if the first half of Troilus and Criseyde is remarkable for the mastery, the ease of its narrative technique, the second half is remarkable for the riskiness, the strange moral courage of its narration. Chaucer does of course feel and want his readers to feel that, on the simplest human level, what Troilus did was right and what Criseyde did was wrong.
But he also wants us to feel that on that simplest human level that is, without any consideration of larger philosophical ques- tions there would be something deeply impoverished in a response that was limited to this judgement and a feeling of pity for Troilus. Human experi- ence should be richer, human response more complex, than such a judgement allows. That unease becomes a thing of splendour in the final leap to a Christian vision — which of course means a contract-cancelling vision.
But we find that Chaucerian unease at its most disturbing in some aspects of the tale-telling. Our awareness of how Chaucer disturbs the reader, complicates our responses, is enhanced by a consideration of Book iv of the Troilus as a structural unit, a block in the composition. The author calls on Mars and the Furies for assistance: This ilke ferthe book me helpeth fyne, So that the losse of lyf and love yfeere Of Troilus be fully shewed heere. Let me summarize in a way that will bring certain patterns out clearly.
After the decision to exchange Criseyde for Antenor is made, Chaucer presents scenes with the two grieving but, in these early episodes of Book iv, separated lovers. Each of the two wishes for and is associated with death cf.
Then comes the climax of Book iv: hero and heroine are brought together, and their individual death- wishes, death-associations, combine into a structurally and archetypically important near-death, or pseudo-death, or symbolic death. Realizing what has happened, she says — not, perhaps, quite realistically cf.
This, then, is the averted ending to the story: a Romeo and Juliet, Pyramus and Thisbe ending. And this averted ending does make the real one look somewhat arbitrary, at least where the hero is concerned: he, at least, could have died in bittersweet sorrow rather than an entirely bitter sorrow. To understand our exasperation with the hero himself a little better, we must look at this pseudo-death scene in a somewhat different way.
Here I would invoke the axiom that in narrative a near-death usually is a ritual death, a moment of major transition. One might think of Dante in this connection, but it is just as useful to recall Great Expectations or Our Mutual Friend: the question is one of archetypal narrative patterns, not particular influences.
Now if we do feel that this climactic incident of Book iv of Troilus is a ritual death, we will also feel that, in a kind of countercurrent to what is happening on the surface, Criseyde is afterwards moving back to life again. Her plan is, it might be said, to be not a romance heroine, but a romance hero, a Gawain or a Lancelot, undertaking a classic out-and- back adventure. Her plans, of course, are not very good, but soundness is not the only issue here.
Filostrato iv, There is one interesting moment, in fact, where Criseyde seems pushed to- ward despair not by her inability to remain faithful to Troilus, but by her difficulty in keeping to the ten-day agreement, and her certainty that Troilus will interpret the small failure as the great infidelity: And if so be that I my terme pace, My Troilus shal in his herte deme That I am fals, and so it may wel seme: Thus shal ich have unthonk on every side — That I was born, so weilaway the tide!
Pandarus prevails; Troilus is, as one would have expected him to be, a man of his word, and stays the full week. During his visit to Sarpedon, Troilus begins to impose another kind of shape on his misery: he ritualizes his grief by returning to the things associated with his time of joy.
Having doubled, symmetrized the happy part of his love, Troilus goes on to his more recent, unhappy experiences, and moves physically to the city gates. More disturbing and meaningful are the moments when he attempts to get through his self-imposed, charity-imposed obligation to deal with this final misery by emotionally disengaging himself; disengaging himself by recalling that he does, after all, know what is going to happen e.
Love and art require fidelity; but also room to grow and change. As a love story, Troilus and Criseyde overtly celebrates — and exem- plifies — fidelity; covertly, it makes us feel something of the claustrophobia which comes with fidelity rigidified, gone wrong.
NOTES 1. Mary Salu Cambridge, , pp. See also C. Tracey Allen has read 1 book toward her goal of 75 books. To Be Read Pile. About Me. Follow by email. Australian Blogger Directory. Blog Directory. NetGalley Professional Reader.
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