Fame and Her House (Chaucer's House of Fame)

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In Chaucer’s House of Fame, the reader is privy to a momentous dream of Geoffrey’s, a poet protagonist dedicated to love. In this dream, he meets an eagle that promises to bear him to the House of Fame as a reward from Jupiter himself. Once there, Geoffrey is told that he will “here…mo wonder thynges…and of loves folk moo tydynges, both soothe sawes and lesinges, and moo loves new begonne, and longe yserved loves wonne, and moo loves casuelly (Chaucer, Lines 672-679).” This excerpt is meant to outline what is to be expected from Chaucer and his text. However, when Geoffrey finally arrives at the House of Fame in the opening of Book III, he learns less about Love’s tidings and more about one of the sisters of Love, Fame, and her followers. This redirection of intent forces the reader to question Chaucer, and reconsider the real purpose of Geoffrey’s journey to the House of Fame. Aside from learning of Love’s tidings, the eagle states that Jupiter intended “this caas thee [for] thy lore and for thy prow (Chaucer, Lines 578-559).” Considering this, one realizes that Geoffrey obviously learned a great deal from his visit, but has to question exactly how Geoffrey, and in turn the reader, profited from it and what meaning, if any, is meant to be drawn from The House of Fame. Paul G. Ruggiers, author of “The Unity of Chaucer’s House of Fame”, claims that the aim of the text is to illustrate the influence of Fame on all things, including those subject to her sister, Love. Considering this, one can further claim that Jupiter’s true reward for Geoffrey, and also Chaucer’s intent for the reader, is detailed knowledge of Fame and her subjects, which serves as a valuable example of Fame’s very nature. Ruggiers begins his argument with the story of Dido and Aeneas, the focus of Book I of The House of Fame. Having learned that Aeneas plans to abandon her to move onto Italy, the reader finds Dido in turmoil. However, instead of cursing Fortune or cursing Love on account of Aeneas’ unrequited love, Chaucer portrays Dido railing against Fame. Ruggiers believes this to be important because her outcry is an accurate “blend of the two phases of Fame’s functions, rumor and reputation (Ruggiers, p.19). This can best be seen when Dido exclaims: O wel-awey that I was born! For thorgh yow is my name lorn, and alle myn actes red and Songe iver al thys lond, on every tonge. O wikke Fame!—for ther nys nothing so swift, lo, as she is! O, soth ys, every thing ys wyst, though hit be kevered with the myst. Eke, though I myghte duren ever, that I have don rekever I never, that I ne shal be seyd, allas, yshamed Be thourgh Eneas and that I shal thus juged be: ‘loo, right as she hath don, no she wol doo Eft-sones, hardely’—thus seyth the peple prively (Chaucer, Lines 345-360).”

The narrator then goes on to say that all of Dido’s cries can’t help her one straw. Within the confines of this passage, Chaucer has Fame punish Dido by smearing her name in spite of her innocence, as she was wronged by Aeneas and his broken promises, and in spite of the intense sorrow it generated. In so doing, the passage serves as a perfect portrayal of the Fame that the reader sees in Book III. All of the traits that Geoffrey describes of the Fame that sits in her house can be found here in the same Fame that afflicts Dido. Ruggiers suggests that Chaucer’s purpose of dedicating so much text to the retelling of the story of Dido and Aeneas is to illustrate how Fame can influence and afflict love, as seen with Dido. One can’t help but to agree with that claim and to further suggest that Chaucer uses the example of Dido in Book I to accustom the reader to the way Fame functions and operates in Book III. When Geoffrey finally enters the House of Fame in Book III, he witnesses firsthand the characteristics and physical features of Fame. As suppliants enter her house asking for glory and repute, Fame either grants, refuses, or inverts their requests based on her whims (Chaucer,...
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