Chaucer\'s "The House of Fame": The Cultural Nature 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 The House of