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

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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 dependent

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...
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