Further reading

Burrow, J. A. "Thomas Hoccleve." In English Writers of the Late Middle Ages, edited by M. C. Seymour, no. 4. Alder-shot, Hampshire, U.K.: Varorium, 1994. Knapp, Ethan. The Bureaucratic Muse: Thomas Hoccleve and the Literature of Late Medieval England. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2001.

Elizabeth Evershed

HOUSE OF FAME, THE Geoffrey Chaucer (ca. 1378-1380) The House of Fame is Geoffrey Chaucer's second dream vision poem, written many years after his first, The Book of the Duchess. Probably written after Chaucer's travels in Italy, it reflects his interest in the works of the Italian authors Dante and Giovanni Boccaccio, as well as the wide range of his reading, from Virgil and Ovid to the Bible, as well as other authors of French and Latin texts.

The House of Fame shares elements of Chaucer's other dream visions: The narrator dreams after reading a book, and there is much interest in dream theory and the nature of love. Written in octosyllabic couplets, the poem is composed of three books, all of which begin with either a proem (preface) or invocation—an address to a deity for aid, a classical literary convention followed in many of the works that are discussed in the poem. The original manuscripts of this text are lost, and the later three remaining copies are all incomplete, leaving scholars with some speculation as to whether Chaucer had finished the work or had intentionally left it incomplete.

Book 1 of The House of Fame opens with a proem discussing dreams and dream theory; this leads into an invocation to the god of sleep to help him tell the tale of his dream. The dream begins with the narrator, Geffrey, finding himself in a glass temple, its walls lined with paintings of the gods and with brass tablets engraved with the text of Virgil's Aeneid. Through this, Chaucer retells the tale, with great attention paid to Dido's plight. Geffrey contemplates the many loves lost and betrayed in classic literature and leaves the temple to find a beautiful golden eagle soaring above him.

In book 2, after pleading to Venus to assist him in telling his tale, Geffrey resumes the story. The golden eagle swoops down and picks up Geffrey in "hys grymme pawes stronge" (l. 541) and tells him that he is to be taken to the House of Fame as a reward for his hermit-like life of reading and writing late into the night after a long day's work. As they travel, they embark on a long discussion of philosophy and the meaning of sound and language; ultimately, they tour the cosmos, discussing the sun, stars, and galaxies. They soon arrive at the house and hear the cacophony of voices within the house, both of "feir speche and chidynges" (l. 1028).

Book 3 begins with the narrator's appeal to Apollo, god of light, to grant him abilities in the "art poetical" (l. 1095), so that he may describe the House of Fame. The dream begins again, and the narrator climbs a high rock to reach the house, which is built on a feeble foundation of ice. The house is an ornately decorated castle, carved with the names of the many who have achieved fame. It is filled with music, talking, crowds, and magicians, lending it a carnival-like atmosphere. Geffrey then enters a court of royalty and the wealthy as Fame arrives: a goddess with many eyes, changing in size and shape, with winged feet. The walls of the hall are lined with portraits of writers, poets, and historians, representing their famous subjects. The crowds within beg the goddess for fame, which is granted arbitrarily by the fickle deity.

Speaking to Aeolus, the god of the winds, Geffrey admits that he does not seek fame but wishes to find tidings, or tales of love, for his books. He leaves the House of Fame and comes to the House of Daedalus, a cage-like house of twigs, seemingly full of the tidings that Geffrey was looking for. But all that is passed on is gossip and lies, blown about by the winds. Frustrated, he finds a group of men talking of love but is left unfulfilled as they run away when he approaches. Geffrey finally finds a man who seems to be of "gret auctoritee" (l. 2158), leading the reader to believe that he has finally come upon someone who can offer "some good to lernen" (l. 1088), but as soon as the man is found, the text ends, left unfinished. It is not known if the work was ever finished, if it was finished and lost, or if Chaucer intentionally left this incomplete ending to prove just how unreliable a text can be.

The House of Fame is a self-conscious literary text, concerned with the poet and the poetic tradition, where even the narrator, Geffrey, dreams after reading late into the night. The dream is about literature and fame, specifically about how to achieve it as an author, and whether fame and renown can be trusted. While adopting the traditional dream-vision forms, Chaucer uses this poem to turn many literary traditions on their heads. Many aspects of the poem parody the revered works of men "of gret auctoritee" (l. 2158), such as Virgil's Aeneid, ovid's Metamorphoses, and Dante's Divine Comedy. Chaucer also pokes fun at himself through Geffrey, portraying him as a bookworm who lives like a hermit, reading into the late hours of the night until he is dazed and as "domb as any stoon" (l. 656).

Analysis of the poem over the years has discussed Chaucer's use of other epic poems and their authors, such as his possible parody of the Divine Comedy, and the significance of the many epic and literary texts that Chaucer acknowledges with The House of Fame. Recent criticism also focuses on discourse, language, and the "voice"—Chaucer's narrative voice and subversive voices within the text, such as the voice of the eagle, an unusual mouthpiece for their debate on discourse, and Chaucer's attention to Dido, giving her a freedom in speech that she never had in the Aeneid.

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