Chaucer and the House of Fame

QUESTION 7.
DISCUSS THE CULTURAL NATURE OF FAME AND ITS TEXTUAL
EXPRESSION WITH REFERENCE TO ONE OR MORE OF THE FOLLOWING:
ORAL HEROIC POETRY, CHAUCER\'S DEPICTION IN THE HOUSE OF FAME
AND THE MODERN CONSTRUCTION OF THE CANON OF ENGLISH
LITERATURE.
YOU SHOULD FOCUS YOUR ANALYSIS ON THE INTERPLAY OF ORAL
AND LITERARY TRADITIONS IN THESE CONTEXTS.


Many critics have noted the complexities within Chaucer\'s The House of Fame, in
particular, the complexities between the oral and the literary. The differences between
these methods are constantly appearing; Chaucer is well aware of rapidly changing
communicative practises and contrasts the preservation of utterance with the longevity
of literary texts. He achieves this by discussing the nature of "Fame" and the
difficulties that arise from it. "Fame" can both destroy and create. It can result in the
eternal preservation of great works and their creators. However, Chaucer is quick to
note the precarious nature of "fame" noting the unreliable process of attaining it and its
potentially momentary existence. Every creator with their respective work/s naturally
crave and desire "fame"; they want their subjects to remain fresh in the minds of their
audience. Chaucer, while neither totally praising the written nor the oral, reveals how
essentially the written word is far more likely to become eternal as opposed to the oral.
The relative "fame" of any work is dependent on many factors. Many traditional and
classical ideas result in the formation of the English canon, yet as Chaucer indicates,
the "fame" of these works can easily become annihilated. The arrival of new readers
with different ideals and thereby changing tradition, can reject classical or "canonical"
work and their "fame" will melt into nothingness.
Most stories, histories and legends that emerge from oral heroic poetry are to
herald the achievement of the powerful and wealthy so that their histories will not fade
from the memories of the population. The stories of Beowolf are a clear example of
this, as within these stories, (whether embellished or no), Beowolf\'s fame and legend
reaches the modern reader hundreds of years later. Clearly, Beowolf is still very much
dependant on the conventions of oral traditions and written to leave a permanent
reminder of Beowolf, to enforce Beowolf\'s fame. The use of "Hwaet" to mark the
start of an oration, emphasises the continuation of oral tradition. Most oral cultures
(usually illiterate), pass on stories and legends learnt from the previous generation,
basically using the authority of recalled memory, not as an actual witness; rather \'I
have heard it said\' than \'I know this to be true\'.
The importance of the terms \'auctor\' and \'auctoritas\' is noted by A.J. Minnis.
Minnis states the importance of the \'auctoritas\', quoting Aristotle who defines this as
the "judgement of the wise man in his chosen discipline." The great reverence and
respect shown towards writers of antiquity is clearly evident in Chaucer\'s The House
of Fame, yet there remains a definite inconsistency within Chaucer\'s work. While
Chaucer is clearly familiar with many classical writers and their works, such as; Virgil\'s
Aeneid, several works of Ovid , Boccacio and Dante, Chaucer\'s work raises several
questions about the classical writers, the nature of written texts and the complexities
of " fame". The term "fame" had a myriad of meanings in Middle English, it could
mean "reputation", "renown", or "rumour". Chaucer plays on all these meanings and
its implications, yet his ideas are clouded and obscured so it is difficult to define
whether his arguments are mocking, condemning or celebrating. J. Stephen agrees
with Shelia Delany\'s argument in her book, The House of Fame: The Poetics of
Skeptical Fidelism and believes that The House of Fame is indeed "a sceptical poem".
However, Russell is rather extreme in his view, believing that Chaucer is "writing to
deconstruct the tyranny of the written word". It is difficult to agree with this view, and
although there are elements to suggest this may be the case, one would tend to agree
with Delany\'s argument, that Chaucer "preferred to transcend the choice between
traditions rather than to commit himself whole heartedly to a single intellectual
position or a consistent point of view".
Chaucer, in his description of Virgil\'s Aeneid decides to alter the events within
Virgil\'s narrative. There is always the problem of what can be considered "true",the
problems of authenticity and originality remain. These great writers that Chaucer often
references, like Virgil, Ovid, Boccacio, Boethius and Dante are \'auctors\' who carry
great weight and authority, yet , as this is Geffrey\'s dream he is able to manipulate the
events within