AUTHOR:William A. Quinn
SOURCE:The Chaucer Review 43 no2 171-96 2008

    Do you remember those vellum books?... I bring you stupendous news! -- this is the man who wrote them.
    (E. M. Forster, "The Celestial Omnibus")

    The didactic foundation of Chaucer's House of Fame seems firm enough. Chaucer observes (purportedly for the first time) that his success as a lover and/or as a poet is neither predictable nor necessarily enduring. His dream exemplifies the fickleness of mundane celebrity.(FN1) Reduced to such a synopsis, the House of Fame dramatizes a conventional truism. Chaucer's personal experience thus reinforces the authority of his prior reading. But Chaucer's most enigmatic dream vision also seems to voice a peculiarly (post)modern anxiety. Chaucer recurrently worries that his authorial intent is itself elusive and ephemeral because this text's content is merely illusional. His individual uncertainty radically questions a medieval -- that is to say, a common-sensical or, some would say, a naive -- confidence that writing can truly transmit speech.(FN2)
    Unlike the steady progress of Boethius's education, unlike the encyclopedic march of Dante's curriculum, Chaucer's walkabout presents a whirligig of focal points. His observations command reflection upon too many topics, including poesis and politics, philology and psychology, epistemology and eschatology, aesthetics and acoustics, metaphysics and ethics. Despite its moral clarity, most attempts to perceive the House of Fame as a unified whole collapse in frustration or speculation or both because the dream's narrative structure seems so wobbly, itself a "feble fundament" (1132).(FN3) Paul G. Ruggiers sought a "binding principle" in the "progressively universalizing principle which determines its form."(FN4) Nevertheless, most readers see only the conspicuous randomness of Chaucer's sequence of scenes. The design of the House of Fame as a pseudo-trilogy appears to be a considered chaos, a labyrinthine pattern that both demands and denies blueprinting.
    Precisely because it is impossible to discover one floor plan of Chaucer's whole House of Fame, the reader's quest for a firm interpretive footing mirrors the dreamer's meandering sightseeing. Some of this dream vision's apparently deliberate randomness can be attributed to Chaucer's realistic representation of the actual dreaming experience. The instability of Chaucer's narrative may as readily be a book-learned illusion, however. From the start, Chaucer wonders if his peculiar dream should be categorized as a false "fantome" or a true oracle (11). This term phantom haunts the entire House of Fame. Chaucer most frequently uses "fantome" to denote one of Macrobius's five types of dreams -- the phantasma, or visum, defined as an apparition occurring between wakefulness and sleep, which presents "hosts of diverse things, either delightful or disturbing."(FN5) In the House of Fame the term phantom subsequently serves as a synonym for "illusion" (493). In a variety of interpretive contexts, the term phantom or phantasm may also signify "a mental process" or "product," "illusory phenomena" or "a lie."(FN6) All dream images are merely fantasies, of course. But, as Sheila Delany has written, fantasy itself is that faculty of the human imagination that "serves as intermediary between perception and under-standing."(FN7) On the one hand, perceptions of reality that come directly from the senses must be processed as phantasms:

likenesses of particular material things re-realized in physical configurations of the organ of phantasia.... Although the forms presented in the phantasms have been stripped of their original matter, the phantasm-likeness is particularized by its details, the external object's original individuating matter being "represented" by features of the phantasm.(FN8)

    On the other hand, dream-stimulated phenomena seem as real as conscious sensations because "All perceptions... presented to the mind are encoded as phantasmata, 'representations' or a 'kind of eikón.'"(FN9) So, both real sensory perceptions and fictional dream visions generate "impressions" (39). So, too, both the concurrent hearing of spoken words and the subsequent reading of written words present equivalently fantastic representations of the author's presence.(FN10) Informed by this embracing conception of fantasy, the House of Fame threads together (with an admittedly rather knotty clue) Chaucer's memory of several otherwise apparently unrelated scenes.(FN11)
    Chaucer's concentric doubts about the reliability of dreaming, about the retrievability of authorial intent, and even about the perceptibility of a disembodied soul, all prove -- by analogy -- to be one quaestio, and all echo his most immediate concern: the survival of his rehearsal of this dream in script, that is, the translation of his voice into our text.(FN12)
    In the House of Fame Chaucer's uncertainties now seem epistemologic, aesthetic, and hermeneutic -- the dominant anxieties of modern readers. But Chaucer's questions also sound rhetorical, metaphysical, and thus theological. Throughout his transcribed dream vision, the phantom of Chaucer "as fictor... rather than as auctor"(FN13) seems to oscillate between his writerly absence and his viva voce presence. Any clear distinction between text and voice in fact fades once both are perceived as phantasms of the author's original/originative intent. As if to demonstrate this very point, Chaucer prays in the proem to Book II that men may "se" the dream that Thought "wrot" in his brain if Chaucer can "tellen" it again (523-27). Transcriptions (with revisions) of this proto-script preserve some shadow of the poet's own recital.(FN14) Such a text seems at once to record both a reciter's lectio, -- that is, an "audience-directed communication"(FN15) -- and a scribe's "ennaratio, a writing of a reading."(FN16) The House of Fame (the thing, the dream, and the text) explores the terra incognita between an objective signifier and a subjective determination of the signified, between the perception of a res and the interpretation of its signum.
    In addition to pervasive self-referential comments, such as "[t]o my wyt" (3), the text presents frequent impressions of Chaucer talking directly to familiar listeners (56, 65, 109, 509-12, 527, 529, etc.).(FN17) But a reader of any modern edition of "the book also of Fame" (Retr, X 1086) sees instead the signals of Chaucer's prima facie absence: the editorial framing of the text as "Books" and the scribal designations of discrete subtexts ("Proem," "Invocation," "Story"). Such paratextual prompts reinforce a reader's engagement of "the text itself " in lieu of the poet himself.(FN18) Chaucer also explicitly seems to see "[t]his lytel laste bok" (1093) as a physical object for others to read in his absence... unless Chaucer here anticipated displaying his own recital script as a performance prop. Retrieval of the poet's own pronuntiatio(FN19) of that script now seems impossible or delusional to many critical theorists. But medieval readers (including Chaucer) who believed that fantasy has a causality likewise held some hope that a text can present some phantom of the author's voice.(FN20)

    At the start of the House of Fame, that hope sounds rather desperate: "God turne us" (1). Chaucer confesses that he comprehends neither the categories nor the causes of dreams. As has often been noted, Chaucer's initial ruminations display considerable familiarity with the jargon of classical/medieval dream lore, which he comically "refuses to organize... into any coherent system."(FN21) Chaucer's "discussion of
    dreams... simultaneously adopts and departs from the conventional apparatus."(FN22) He considers some dreams to be merely psychosomatic phenomena -- the reflections of physical complexions (21-22). Being too bookish, or "curious/In studye" (29-30), also causes distorted dreams. Lovers' nightmares are informed alternatively by both hope and dread (38). Who can tell? Chaucer-the-therapist focuses primarily on the interplay between a dreamer's predisposition and his experience of the resulting dream -- comments that may readily be translated into the discourse of Freudian psychology or affective criticism. But, as Robert Clifford argues, the logic of Chaucer's binary oppositions, so resonant with "the rhetoric of metaphysical debate," breaks down in the proem.(FN23) At the end of his beginning, Chaucer prays only that the effect of every dream be good (58). With a deferral that anticipates the whole poem's in-conclusion, Chaucer abandons this disputatio to some still absent maestro of causes (13).
    Chaucer then poses a fairly crucial body/soul question -- one that invites contemplation of prediction, predetermination, and interpretive certainty -- although the narrator seems to be merely digressing again:

Or yf the soule of propre kynde
Be so parfit, as men fynde,
That yt forwot that ys to come,
But that oure flessh ne hath no myght
To understonde hyt aryght.

    (43-45, 49-50)
    Again, Chaucer promptly leaves this fundamental question about the nature of the soul in midair. He pretends to have "noon opinion" (55), prays for the best, and assures us that his own dream was itself the best of its kind, "I trowe stedfastly" (61). Chaucer also promises that he will report his dream -- whatever kind it seems to be -- as perfectly as he can in a contingent universe of the imagination: "as I kan now remembre... everydel" (64-65).
    With a quasi-blasphemous echo of the lesser doxology (82), Chaucer prays to the god of sleep, the Prime Mover of dreams. In the Book of the Duchess, an insomniac Chaucer had first read and then dreamed; in the House of Fame a far more somnolent Chaucer sleeps first as he "was wont to done,/... wonder sone" (113-14), and then reads a translation of the Aeneid "writen on a table of bras" (142). And "next" (162, 174), Chaucer reads "the story" (149) of Aeneas. The dreamer finds himself within a temple of glass (120), and there the writer's reflections mirror Horace's famous simile ut pictura poesis -- literally, yet with an audible pun: "Or
    peyne me my wordes peynte" (246). These portraits (131) of well-known episodes of "the story" must be read aloud, not unlike the inscription on the prefatory table of brass. Each scene is apparently "ther" (198, 209, 212, 219, 253) both as parole -- that is, as an engraved text (193, 253, 256) -- and as peinture -- that is, as a wall illustration or window cartoon. Mary Carruthers focuses on Chaucer's precision in describing litterae as "signs of voces" both audible and legible. Both media "re-present in our memories those no longer immediately present to us."(FN24) The bulk of Chaucer's vision in Book I (140-467) consists primarily of his epitome of Virgil's epic "[t]hus writen" (142). Chaucer's recital presents an audible ekphrasis. By reporting that he dreamt his reading of this writing, Chaucer translates a text into voice again.
    Chaucer's stated "purpos" (377) is to harmonize the textual authorities of Virgil's Aeneid and Ovid's Heroides though, as Jacqueline T. Miller makes clear, "Virgil and Ovid do not simply deliver contradictory 'truths' concerning the Trojan story; their attitudes toward truth itself are entirely disparate."(FN25) The dreamer allegedly accepts a re-vision sympathetic to Dido and so re-presents an impression of her complaint against "wikke Fame" (349) analogous to his own experience. Curiously, however, Chaucer draws particular attention to his lacunae, such as his glossing over the cause of Creusa's death, "not I how" (184).
    Dido herself recognizes that she misperceived the phantom of Aeneas per se,

for he such semed
Allas! what harm doth apparence,
Whan hit is fals in existence!

    Chaucer expresses his pity for Dido with an echoing "allas!" but holds her guilty "how a woman doth amys" (268-69). She should have recalled "Hyt is not al gold that glareth" (272), a truism that Chaucer approves "be Cryste" (271). In the House of Fame Dido remains famous for having been deceived rather than simply betrayed; "[t]herfore" (276) the prima facie impression of any man is untrustworthy -- "et crimine ab uno/disce omnes" (Aen., II.65-66). Every man, by nature (280), will fabricate a contrary-to-fact phantom, finding causes (283) that make the woman seem duplicitous or "unkynde" (284). So only a woman's a priori skepticism can prevent such a "nyce" (276, 287) mis-reading. Chaucer's reading of Dido's text confirms a bromide (289): experience is the best teacher, "this ys no lye" (292).
    Chaucer invites "us" to speak of Aeneas (293) but only reiterates that he betrayed Dido as a premise for remarking that every man seeks to multiply for "fame/In magnyfyinge of hys name" (305-6), for friendship, or for delight, or for profit. These are reiterations of Dido-the-writer's declarations, "Non other auctour alegge I" (314). Dido regrets that any woman has ever pitied any man (332-33). Women know no "art" (335); "for the more part,/Thus we" are served falsely "everychone" (336-37). By quoting Dido's voice directly, Chaucer seems to act as her sex's advocate, though his own pronuntiatio of "receyved" (339) -- rhyming with "deceyvyd" (340) -- can give a particularly provocative, alternative entendre to Dido's intended denotation (i.e., "hospitality").
    Solon-like, Dido advises all future female readers to judge the book on each man only after its closure:

"Wayte upon the conclusyon,
And eke how that ye determynen,
And for the more part diffynen."

    Dido anticipates that "alle myn actes red and songe" (347) will keep her slander alive. Her tale survives in either medium primarily because her own contemporaries could not keep a secret:

"O, soth ys, everything ys wyst,
Though hit be kevered with the myst."

    Having once fallen, Dido fantasizes what they will say:

"Loo, ryght as she hath don, now she
Wol doo eft-sones, hardely."

    Chaucer replies directly to his quotation of Dido's fantasy regarding the people's private talk (360): "But that is don, is not to done" (361) -- the report of her guilt is a fait accompli, and her prolepsis of what people will say has become a matter of record. Chaucer's voice then dispels the latent sympathy of Virgil's text,

Al her compleynt ne al hir moone,
Certeyn, avayleth hir not a stre.

    Dido complains still, blaming her sister "that she cause was" (369). Perhaps empathizing more with Anna as a censured counselor (371) than with her misreading queen, Chaucer quips: "But what! When this was seyd and doo" (372), Dido stabbed herself. Chaucer abandons the didactic "purpos" (377) of the rest of his text. It is his turn to complain; Dido has exhausted his service as her scribe; he is too fatigued (or just too lazy) to repeat "alle the wordes that she seyde" (376):

And nere hyt to long to endyte,
Be God, I wolde hyt here write.

    Future readers can attend instead to Virgil or Ovid directly -- though Chaucer explicitly questions whether Ovid faithfully transcribed "[w]hat that she wrot" and doubts whether Virgil fully recorded all "that she dyde" (380). Chaucer sighs "wel-away, .../... for such untrouthe,/As men may ofte in bokes rede" (383-85). The skepticism voiced regarding faithfulness refers to both lovers and scribes. There are many legends -- "Loo...," "Eke lo...," "eke.../... as the story telleth us" (388, 397, 405-6) -- of bad men. The story of young Theseus provides a notable analogy of infidelity "as the book us tellis" (426). But "[t]he book" (429) on Aeneas -- that is, Virgil's magisterial reading -- would excuse the hero's trespass in Carthage (427-28). Aeneas's name is still quite legible (433, 451-52), even though he went to hell (439-46) -- twice. But "whoso willeth for to knowe" (447) about either Aeneas's katabasis or his damnation:

He moste rede many a rowe
On Virgile or on Claudian,
Or Daunte, that hit telle kan.

    Chaucer reduces Books VII-XII of the Aeneid to a mere dozen lines in a row (451-63). Aeneas succeeds, thanks to Jove's care and to Venus's prayer (463-65). Chaucer prays that Venus lighten "oure" sorrows too (466-67). The artwork of her "temple thus" (469) has produced the "syghte" (468) of Book I, the "ymages.../... graven in this chirche" (472-73). The pictor of these phantoms remains anonymous, however; "not wot I whoo did hem wirche" (474). Chaucer's confession of ignorance again prefigures the text's final failure to identify its man of great authority.
    Book I ends with the dreamer exiting through a wicket (477) into an infernal desert (488). Nearing this textual ending or recital exit, Chaucer perceives a vista of nothing natural (489-90). At first, only the absence of significance seems certain. This void may suggest the anxious opportunity of a blank page. Though Chaucer as reader had briefly lapsed into another
    author's paganism, as a newly terrified hermit he reverts to true Christ, the known Maker (470). Chaucer prays that he be saved "[f]ro fantome and illusion" (493). The term phantom here apparently denotes demonic apparition.(FN26) At this stage/page of the dream, Chaucer is promptly visited by a surprisingly large, golden eagle "as sooth as deth, certeyn" (502).(FN27)

    The text shows a gap between the explicit of Book I and the incipit of Book II, perhaps the shadow of an interim in Chaucer's first recital. The Proem of Book II aspires to purple poeticity but falls into doggerel; it starts with a mere minstrel's tag:

Now herkeneth every maner man
That Englissh understonde kan
And listeth of my drem to lere,
For now at erste shul ye here.

    As a dreamer, Chaucer presumes to surpass both biblical and classical precedents (514-17; compare BD, 280-89). But Chaucer's anxiety that his audience might fail to comprehend "So sely an avisyon" (513) simply because he is speaking English "[n]ow" sounds inherently absurd (and, as such, anticipatory of the humor informing the tale of Sir Thopas).
    Venus and the Muses are again named as the poet's conventional inspiration. Again, Chaucer announces his role as maker (518-20). But now Thought is specifically acknowledged as the auctor who imprinted this dream in Chaucer's memory:

O Thought, that wrot al that I mette,
And in the tresorye hyt shette
Of my brayn, now shal men se
Yf any vertu in the be
To tellen al my drem aryght.
Now kythe thyn engyn and myght!

    The same mental faculty that retrieved this memory of a dream allows the poet to re-present the "vertu" of his fantasy to readers.
    A symbol of Jove or Jupiter or Saint John "of which I have yow told" (529) clutches Chaucer and soars "How high, I can not telle yow" (547) because the dreamer temporarily loses the "vertu" of fantasy when he swoons (550); all phantoms disappear in such a mental desert. But the eagle calls Chaucer by name and commands "Awak!" (556-58). The quasi-dead dreamer (552) senses "My mynde cam to me ageyn" (564) and revives (within the dream). The antonym of fantasy in this dream vision, thus, seems to be oblivion or amnesia, rather than reality or truth.
    The eagle reports that he has been assigned by Jove (661) to convey Chaucer's psyche to the locus of Fame. To a reader of Macrobius, this part of the dream text might look like a trustworthy oraculum (chrematismos), not a meaningless or deceptive visum (phantasma). In a truly oracular dream, "a parent, or a pious or revered man, or a priest, or even a god clearly reveals what will or will not transpire, and what action to take or to avoid."(FN28) But the following vision proves to be far more parodic than prophetic. If Chaucer's own pronuntiatio indulged actual impersonation, his recital's phantom of a real "mannes vois" (556) may indeed have sounded provocatively familiar (561-62) to listeners who knew the target of his caricature -- perhaps, for example, moral Gower.(FN29) Chaucer's rationale for such a performance tone is recorded in the text as the eagle's strategy: he intends comic comfort to revive the imagination (571-72).
    Throughout most of Book II Chaucer plays the role of a passive student, perhaps even a dunce. He speculates (or hopes or fears) he is about to die and become a star (585-86). He wonders "Or what thing may this syg-nifye" (587). Wishful thinking has momentarily caused Chaucer to inflate his reputation in the heavenly court (596) until the eagle puts him "out of doute" (598). Cupid and Venus still refuse to reward his art (619, 628); no such patron has made Chaucer immortal "as yet" (599).(FN30) Jove has taken some pity on the poet's witless drudgery "To make bookys, songes, dytees,/In ryme or elles in cadence" (622-23). But this king (a phantom of Chaucer's absent King) "ys not theraboute" (597) at present. So far, Chaucer has received only a headache (632). The eagle "as I seyde" (641) sees Jove's generosity as a recognition of "other thynges" (643).
    The eagle sounds a bit too courteous or condescending or sarcastic when he addresses the dreamer as "beau sir" (643; compare Rom, 800). Sir Chaucer has heard no "tydynges" of Love's folk (644), neither from abroad (647) nor from next door (649-50). Only dreaming offers this bookkeeper "som disport and game" (664).(FN31) But the newly promised compensation (665) "with som maner thing" (670) is itself of questionable value, a grab bag of "Both sothe sawes and lesinges" (676). The jovial eagle celebrates such discords, novelties, dissimulations, and beardings (685-89). Hawking his fantastic tour, the eagle offers assurances -- "truste wel" (672) -- that provoke doubt: "Unnethe maistow trowen this?" (699). Chaucer's initial reply sounds somewhat skeptical (700). So the eagle spends the rest of Book II defending the plausibility of his advertisement.
    The aquiline doctor would prove first "[b]e reson" (708) the "sentence" (710) of the predicted tour. His major premise is that every natural thing has its proper place (730-61). His minor premise "to confirme my resoun" (761) is that speech is merely disrupted air (762-81).(FN32) His conclusion is that all human speech finds its natural place in the House of Fame (782-821). Quod erat demonstrandum: "Take yt in ernest or in game" (822). But his extended argument from authority only postpones Chaucer's own viewing of the fantastic site.
    The eagle's posited definition of speech itself (780-81) reduces all discourse to the phantoms of "or noyse, or soun" (783).(FN33) This reasoning (753) is supposedly affirmed "of every philosophres mouth" (758). Experience allegedly confirms the eagle's elenchus. Empirical observation of ripples in water (788-806) provides an extended though dubious analogy for the enduring currency of speech.(FN34) The eagle then transfers the burden of proof to imaginary opponents (807-8) and seeks Chaucer's applause for his genius as a teacher. With a rhetorical question, the eagle alleges his contempt for rhetorical flourishes and philosophical patois:

"Telle me this now feythfully,
Have y not preved thus symply,
Withoute any subtilite
Of speche, or gret prolixite
Of termes of philosophie,
Of figures of poetrie,
Or colours of rethorike?"
The eagle's style has been audience-directed:
"Pardee, hit oughte the to lyke,
For hard langage and hard matere
Ys encombrous for to here
Attones; wost thou not wel this?"

    Chaucer, being a lewd man (866), can be instructed only by means of such an astute dumbing-down of the scientific matter. Humbled or merely insulted, Chaucer surrenders with a "Yis" (864),(FN35) conceding only the likelihood of what is intended to sound like an irresistibly compelling argument (872-74).
    The eagle promises that Chaucer's individual experience too (878) will confirm his authority. Once in the House, Chaucer's own ears will hear "every word that spoken ys" (881). Vowing henceforth to (853-59) speak only of "game," the eagle swears lightly "[b]e Seynt Jame" (885-86). This directly quoted couplet seems designed to sound silly, a small acoustical prick that deflates the eagle's rhetorical balloon. By repeating such mild oaths in his own voice (compare "by Seynte Clare" [1066], "be Seynt Gyle" [1183]), the reciter re-presents the experience of his own first hearing. These small acts of direct quotation confirm (in a far less fantastic fashion) the most basic premise of the House of Fame -- the proposition that a real voice may be retrieved. However, the mediating tone of Chaucer's act of speaking (whether imagined or witnessed) subverts the intended tone of the eagle's speech as recollected in the present text. Chaucer the author thus dispels Chaucer the dreamer's intimidation in the presence of such an enfeathered authority.
    Chaucer then dreams of flying (compare SqT, V 122-23). Chaucer has read elsewhere and now views everything below him as a pointless point, no more than a "prikke" (907; compare Tr, V, 1815). The eagle tells Chaucer to look up (925, 935) and see the airish beasts (932, 965) imagined on Plato's authority (931). The eagle points out the constellations that can be perceived only when imagination connects the dots; each sign has a story to recall. Higher still (961), for a transcendent moment, Chaucer looks down on the tumult of air (966-67). He remembers the text of Boece

That writ, "A thought may flee so hye
Wyth fetheres of Philosophye."

    After five lines, however, Chaucer breaks off his direct quotation -- itself a resurrection of translated air. Chaucer leaves it to the reader to recall the rest of this metrum (Bo, 4m1) "and al that y of spak" (978).(FN36) But Chaucer himself falls into doubt, "y wexen in a were" (979).(FN37) He wonders if he too has become a mere phantom:

"Y wot wel y am here,
But wher in body or in gost
I not, ywys, but God, thou wost."

    Chaucer's understanding likewise dissolves-

For more clere entendement
Nas me never yit ysent

    until he remembers the authoritative testimony of Martianus Capella and Alain de Lille with whom he now agrees because seeing is believing (985-90).
    The eagle recalls Chaucer from his "fantasye" (992). But the eagle's flight cannot escape the realm of air, so Chaucer's vision never fully transcends sublunary perception. Chaucer is now too old to learn astrology (995). He needs footnotes to appreciate poetry (1001). He trusts his sources (1011-14) because the unfiltered perception of such transcendent matter would only blind his eyes (1015-17). Like the ghost of Virgil encouraging Dante to behold Dis (Inf., 34.19-21), the eagle compels Chaucer to "[s]e here" (1023) "the bon hostel" (1022) that is the House of Fame. Chaucer actually hears the deafening site (1025) before he sees it.
    Promising "trewely" that nothing will bite (1044-45), the eagle deposits Chaucer within target range (1048) of the House of Fame. Chaucer lands -- "Y nyste how" (1049) -- on the via to experiencing his own vita; he must enter the house on his own two feet (1050). The eagle warns (1068) Chaucer yet again of a "wonder thyng" (1069, 1083) though "Hyt nedeth noght eft the to teche" (1072). The air of Fame, defined as a product of speech -- etymologically speaking(FN39) -- likewise seeks its elemental state. Chaucer here revives the core idea of an orbe locus medio where Fama dwells from Ovid's Metamorphoses (XII.39-63). Indeed, the eagle had identified Metamorphoses as Chaucer's "oune bok" (712).(FN40) But Chaucer's conceit is even more contrived. Spoken words become again "lyk the same wight" who spoke them first:

Whan any speche ycomen ys
Up to the paleys, anon-ryght
Hyt wexeth lyk the same wight
Which that the word in erthe spak,
Be hyt clothed in red or blak;
And hath so verray his lyknesse
That spak the word, that thou wilt gesse
That it the same body be,
Man or woman, he or she.

    Karla Taylor finds that "the most astonishing aspect of tidings" in Fame's house is their form.(FN41) This revival of each speech as the phantom of its speaker seems Chaucer's own fantastic invention and, as such, more theological than alchemical.
    A. J. Minnis suggests that Chaucer's particular attention to the identifiable sexuality of each "wight" indicates "the theological commonplace that on the occasion of the Last Judgment souls will return to the same bodies."(FN42)
    Though there are several explicit anticipations of the Final Judgment in the House of Fame (e.g., 1284, 1385), Chaucer does not conceive of these voices as resurrected corpses per se; rather, they are envisioned precisely as somatomorphic souls -- that is, phantasms of not yet resurrected persons. Chaucer takes exceptional care to define these voice-phantoms who attend Fame's parliament in Book III as likenesses of the original speakers, not the reanimated persons themselves.(FN43) The inquisitive dreamer does find it hard to believe that the noisy ghosts are indeed not alive:

In sooth, that wil I of the lere-
Yf thys noyse that I here
Be, as I have herd the tellen,
Of folk that doun in erthe duellen,
And cometh here in the same wyse
As I the herde or this devyse;
And that there lives body nys
In al that hous that yonder ys.

    Sed contra, the magisterial eagle answers "Noo" (1066). These perceptible personae are some sort of re-informed constructs, and the dreamer's recognition of their original identities remains only a guess. Most playfully, Chaucer sees these apparently embodied voices as clothed in red or black (1078), suggesting "black-letter manuscripts with red capitals and rubrics."(FN44) In other words, these re-formed phantoms of the speakers are enshrouded by inks or entombed as tomes.(FN45)
    Chaucer apparently posits an analogy between the survival of voice in the text and the immortality of the human soul.(FN46) According to Caroline Bynum, the medieval conception of

The soul of the person starts to look like what we would call today his or her identity-position.... To Aquinas, "me" is carried in soul when body is absent.(FN47)

    The disembodied soul retains its ability to inform matter and to present thereby a perception of the true self. Dante explicitly anticipated Chaucer's implicit concerns regarding the reality of fantasy. Indeed, it may be precisely the auctoritas of Dante's "alta fantasia" (Par., 33.142) that the finale of the House of Fame most successfully fails to achieve.(FN48) In the Purgatorio Statius explains the perceptibility of souls as phantasms:

Tosto che loco l`i la circunscrive,
   la virtù formativa raggia intorno
   cos`i e quanto ne le membra vive.
E come l'aere, quand' è ben p"iorno,
   per l'altrui raggio che 'n sé si reflette,
   di diversi color diventa addorno;
cos`i l'aere vicin quivi si mette
   e in quella forma ch'è in lui suggella
   virtüalmente l'alma che ristette;
e simigliante poi a la fiammella
   che segue il foco là 'vunque si muta,
   segue lo spirto sua forma novella.
Però che quindi ha poscia sua paruta,
   è chiamata ombra; e quindi organa poi
   ciascun sentire infino a la veduta.

    (Purg., 25.88-102)

As soon as space encompasses it [the soul loosed from the flesh] there, the formative virtue radiates around, in form and quantity as the living members. And as the air when it is full of moisture, becomes adorned with various colors by another's rays which are reflected in it, so here the neighboring air shapes itself in that form which is virtually imprinted on it by the soul that stopped there; and then, like the flame which follows the fire wheresoever it moves, the spirit is followed by its new form. Inasmuch as therefrom it has its semblance, it is called a shade, and therefrom it forms the organs of every sense, even to the sight.(FN49)

    For Dante, individual souls remain identifiable in the afterlife. Mutatis mutandis, the phantoms of speech in Fame's house (though unnamed) present the verisimilitude ("verray... lyknesse" [1079]) of each speaker to Chaucer.
    At the threshold of Fame's promised land, the eagle wishes Chaucer "Some good to lernen in this place" (1088), and Chaucer takes his leave (1089) -- a narrative departure that may once have mirrored the reciter's second exit from his performance space. Meanwhile, like Moses or Aeneas or Virgil, the eagle stays behind (1086) within his textual boundaries. When Book III restarts Chaucer's recital, no Beatrice takes the eagle's place. The reader must follow a lost Chaucer as he crosses from a repetition of dialogue "with this word" (1085) to a beholding of letters (1111).

    After hearing so much about acoustics in Book II, Chaucer begins Book III with an apostrophe to the "God of science and of lyght" (1091). Chaucer briefly plays the pagan poet again as he begs Apollo to "helpe me to shewe now" (1102) this "lytel laste bok" (1093). He promises to kiss the bark of Daphne at his very next opportunity if Apollo will "entre in my brest anoon" (1109). The very conventionality of the invocation as a textual gesture displays Chaucer's conception of his own imagination as an imprinted text; the "vertu" of his dream vision already "in myn hed ymarked ys-/Loo, that is for to menen this" (1101-4).
    Chaucer then proceeds alone into "The Dream" (1110). But he addresses the phantom of some company, his perception of an audience (real or imagined). Erasing the distance between his fictional locale and his presentation space, Chaucer promises, "certain, or I ferther pace," that he will devise "the shap" of the House and its site for "yow al" (1112-13). Chaucer's frames of reference seem concurrently oral and textual, domestically familiar and pedantically allusive -- and obscure. Chaucer's visual wonder asks to be decoded in terms of both court and library, two equally in-house contexts. The foundational "roche" (1116; compare Matt. 16.18) of Fame's House is remarkably unstable (compare Dan. 2.31-35), though higher than any hill in "Spayne," a non-dream space which the text refers to as "Hier" (1117).(FN50) Chaucer climbs this mountain simply because it -- that is, its phantom -- is there. He is "ententyf... to see" (1120).(FN51) His curiosity to learn "[w]hat maner stoon" (1123) he sees sounds geological and proto-humanist, but soon proves to be scribal and, some would say, "medieval" because moral.
    Chaucer cannot read many names that now appear only half-engraved (1136) on this monument of ice. These recordings of fame suffer from their southern exposure. Chaucer can decipher only a letter or two (1144) of words about to melt away (1145). But even these all but fully sous rature inscriptions preserve some sign of a forgotten engraver's intent.(FN52) Alternatively, some names still look freshly inscribed (1156) on the verso of the mountain, and these perpetuations of gloria "conserved with the shade/Of a castel that stood on high" (1160-61) do signify that Fame, though arbitrary, can promise the afterlife of a shielded tombstone. Chaucer says he can read these northern names clearly, but reads none aloud in his dream -- a speech-act that would have imprinted their fame in his memorial text and our reading.
    The keep of Fame's castle,

        upon the cop a woon,
That al the men that ben on lyve
Ne han the kunnynge to descrive

    seems either "the medieval, and oral, equivalent of Borges' 'Bibliotheca,'"(FN53) or the brain itself.(FN54) The attractive beauty (1169, 1172) of this place is inimitable (1171). Though memory still stimulates Chaucer's imagination -- "hit astonyeth yit my thought" (1174) -- he cannot re-present the house per se. He must recall instead his own impressions of its phantasmic substance:

The cast, the curiosite
Ne kan I not to yow devyse;
Me wit ne may me not suffise.
   But natheless al the substance
I have yit in my remembrance.

    Art devolves. Orpheus, Arion, Chiron, and Glascurion all played "ful craftely" (1203), but their imitators merely ape (1212) their music; so too, "craft" itself counterfeits "kynde" (1213), but only weakly. Like Marcus Aurelius, rather than Oscar Wilde, Chaucer here concedes "'No Nature is inferior to Art', for the crafts imitate natural things" (Meditations, XI.10; compare PhysT, VI 11-13).(FN55) What Chaucer can recall describes only his phantoms of what "[t]her herde I" (1201) or "[t]ho saugh I" (1214), not the songs themselves.
    Chaucer finally starts his account of the House of Fame itself, a descriptio that putatively preserves his core text.(FN56) The convoluted castle is surrounded by marginalized tale-tellers (1197-1200). Having been granted temporary admission (1307), Chaucer observes the desperate mob of Fame's attendants. Chaucer then identifies, albeit vaguely, the not-yet-named figure of Fame herself (1365). She is accompanied by sycophantic Muses who shoulder Alexander and Hercules. Chaucer notes that Fame's throne is bracketed by auctores of yore, several of whom still squabble over the trustworthiness of Homer (1476-80), and all of whom collectively produce only "a ful confus matere" (1517). Jacqueline T. Miller attributes this confusion to the "lack of any authoritative standard to negotiate among the different songs and stories they deliver."(FN57) Lara Ruffolo, likewise, argues that the referential overload achieved by Chaucer's lists throughout the House of Fame only creates a chaos of authorities.(FN58) And throughout Chaucer apologizes for not amplifying his already overblown rehearsal:

Of which I nyl as now not ryme,
For ese of yow and los of tyme


What shuld I make lenger tale
Of alle the pepil y ther say,
Fro hennes into domes day?


Hyt nedeth noght yow more to tellen,
To make yow to longe duellen


To make yow to longe to duelle


Al to longe most I dwelle


What shulde y more telle of this?

    With an inconsistency apropos of everything, Fame's utterly arbitrary sentences are then read aloud in her own court and so repeated at length (1520-1867) in Chaucer's. This section of text contains the didactic significance of Chaucer's dream wherein his satirical moralitas is neither unclear nor untrue.
    After this empirical demonstration of Fame's fickleness, however, an unidentified stranger "ryght at my bak" (1869) apparently takes Chaucer himself to be just another phantom in the dream court, "an embodied sound."(FN59) This sudden "Frend" (1871, 1873) wants to know Chaucer's name. The question "Artow come hider to han fame?" (1872) may seem rhetorical; Chaucer is presumed guilty. But Chaucer, who has already inscribed his first name into this text (729), protests.(FN60) He denies that any such desire for his own renown had motivated his visit:

Sufficeth me, as I were ded,
That no wight have my name in honde.

    He refuses to court celebrity, he says, and challenges the ability of this strange friend (or future readers) to hold Chaucer in hand:

I wot myself best how y stonde;
For what I drye, or what I thynke,
I wil myselven al hyt drynke,
Certeyn, for the more part,
As fer forth as I kan myn art.

    As the authority regarding his own secrets, Chaucer insists that the "cause" (1885) of his presence in Fame's court was, after all, a misapprehension of his intentions: "For certeynly, he that me made/To comen hyder" promised the sight and sound of "wonder thynges;/But these" random phantoms appear to "be no such tydynges/As I mene of " (1890-95).
    So the stranger "soth to seye" shows Chaucer an even more fantastic sight, though it reads like a somewhat redundant site, a shadow of Fame's castle in the valley below (1917-18). This second "hous, that Domus Dedaly,/That Laboryntus cleped ys" (1920-21) is made of wonder (1922). From outside, it seems to whirl "as swyft as thought" (1924), but from within all seems still (2031-32). Chaucer's description of this cagelike (1985)(FN61) paradox of perdurable pulp (1980-81) is a dizzying display of rhetorical specificity "of which I write" (1977) -- to no real point. Confronted by so many contradictions, Chaucer retreats to his tutor, the conveniently returned (1990) eagle who explains that Chaucer must actually enter the labyrinth even though he does not know the "gynne" (2004). Magnanimous Jove still, "[a]s I have seyd" (2008), pities the poet's debonair distress, "Disesperat of alle blys" (2015).
    So Chaucer is tossed by the eagle "bytweene hys toon" through a window (2028-29). Inside he sees a "congregacioun/Of folk" (2034-35) very like the reality of London's "discursive plenty... with its multitude of contentious voices."(FN62) Chaucer echoes Dante's famous surprise that death has undone so many (Inf., 3.55-57). However, Chaucer-the-accountant does not desire to number the damned. Rather, he wonders that any souls (as imagined by Plato) are left to provide forms for either the living or the dead:

That, certys, in the world nys left
So many formed be Nature,
Ne ded so many a creature.

    The gossip of this most uncomfortably compressed crowd (2041-42) amplifies itself from ear to ear (2044, 2058) and from mouth to mouth (2076) "More than hit ever was" (2067), "encresing ever moo" (2077) until the volatile noise tries to escape through any window (2084, 2091) or chink or hole (2086, 2110). Fame then dispenses a name and duration (2111-17) to each new phantom of news so released. Whereas phantoms of real speech return to Fame's house "representing things already perceived," these phantoms produced within the domus represent "by inference from these, things that could be perceived"(FN63) -- fantastic speculations. The domus seems an organ of cacophony that expels these winged but unpredictable words, "As Eolus hem blew aboute" (2120). Once out, these fabrications seem indistinguishable from objective reports:

Thus saugh I fals and soth compouned
Togeder fle for oo tydynge.

    Chaucer's dream vision ends with not unfamiliar noises: pilgrims, shipmen, messengers, and so on, fill "this hous in alle tymes" (2121). Sometimes their lies come "[e]ntremedled" with news, and sometimes their lies arrive as pure fanatasies "eek allone be hemselve" (2124-25). Chaucer reports that he circulated about doing

       al myn entente
Me for to pleyen and for to lere,
And eke a tydynge for to here.

    Whatever foreign news Chaucer finally did hear will not, however, be repeated here and now:

That shal not now be told for me-
For hit no nede is, redely.

    Chaucer withholds his own report because the folk can sing such gossip better (2138). There is no need for his personal act of rehearsal "[f]or al mot out" (2139). Perhaps, Chaucer's first listeners already knew the news, but modern readers can only feel frustrated by his refusal to speak. The words that follow clearly show the complete confusion created when an authoritative voice is fully expelled from the text. The finale is a mob scene, a "hepe" (2149) of curiosity seekers.
    As Dido advised, the reader must "Wayte upon the conclusyon" (342). But Chaucer's dream ends only in distractions -- "What thing is that?" (2147) -- the last of which seems most significant and most frustrating:

Atte laste y saugh a man,
Which that y [nevene] nat ne kan;
But he semed for to be
A man of gret auctoritee....

    Like the famous names inscribed on ice but still unspoken, this authority figure is and is not presented by the text. Chaucer admits he cannot name this person. This conspicuously explicit omission has only tempted readers to guess the identity of this ambassador of insight.(FN64) Critical confabulation thus continues to amplify the noise of the text's apparently truncated conclusion. Walter Clyde Curry wondered "how is one to know whether it is... a revelation, or an illusion, or a phantom."(FN65) T o Delany, Chaucer's "literary statement about the unreliability of literary statements" essentially predetermined that the House of Fame remain an "unfinishable work."(FN66)
    Chaucer never gets a chance to wake up from Book III. Perhaps Chaucer once truly meant to say in propria persona that there is "noon auctoritee/... in this world" (WBProl, III 1-2). But a choir of authorities have found such unmitigated skepticism far too dreadful for Chaucer himself to have expressed.(FN67) A somewhat eagle-like contention might insist that, if Chaucer ever did lose all faith in the faculty of speech, he should have remained silent about it; ergo, the extant record of his dream vision would now be blank. Instead, his record of the memory of an experience preserves something of Chaucer's presence. The surviving text of the House of Fame speaks as a phantom of Chaucer's recital. Chaucer hopes (by wondering aloud) that the transcription of his composition "hath so verray hys lyknesse" (1079). If so, the text of the poem provides an outline for the imaginative reconstruction of the thereby immortalized poet. Seeing Chaucer's voice so embodied in the House of Fame should inform all perceptions of both his authorial intent and his recital presence. But this interpretive speech-act calls for the arrival of the text's only real person of great authority, the present reader.
    William A. Quinn University of Arkansas Fayetteville, Arkansas (

1. For the alternative conviction that art immortalizes the artist, see Ernst Robert Curtius, European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages, trans. by Willard R. Trask (Princeton, 1953; repr. 1973), 476-77 (excursus ix, "Poetry as Perpetuation"), 485-86 (excursus xii, "The Poet's Pride"). See too Ann C. Watts, "'Amor Gloriae' in Chaucer's House of Fame," Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies 3 (1973): 87-113.
2. Manuals of rhetoric affirm the author's ability to transmit intentio. As A. J. Minnis explains, an author is defined in Aristotelian terms as the text's efficient cause by means of which a right reading retrieves his final cause (Medieval Theory of Authorship, 2nd edn. [Philadelphia, 1988], 5).
3. All quotations are from The Riverside Chaucer, ed. Larry Benson, 3rd edn. (Boston, 1987).
4. Paul G. Ruggiers, "The Unity of Chaucer's House of Fame," Studies in Philology 50 (1953): 16-29; repr. in Richard J. Schoeck and Jerome Taylor, eds., Chaucer Criticism, 2 vols. (Notre Dame, 1961), 2:261-74, at 262.
5. Macrobius, Commentary on the Dream of Scipio, trans. William Harris Stahl (New York, 1952), 90. See Sheila Delany's ground-breaking sixth chapter, "Phantom," in Chaucer's House of Fame: The Poetics of Skeptical Fideism (Chicago, 1972), 58-68.
6. Piero Boitani, Chaucer and the Imaginary World of Fame (Cambridge, U.K., 1984), 181.
7. Delany, Chaucer's House of Fame, 60. Compare Vincent J. DiMarco's explanatory note to KnT, I 1374-76, in the Riverside Chaucer (831-32) on the "celle fantastic." In MLT the expression "fantome is in myn heed!" (II 1037) refers to a memorial impression.
8. Eleanor Stump and Norman Kretzmann, The Cambridge Companion to Aquinas (Cambridge, U.K., 1993), 140. See John S. P. Tatlock and Arthur G. Kennedy, A Concordance to the Complete Works of Geoffrey Chaucer and to the Romaunt of the Rose (Washington, D.C., 1927) svv. fantasy (23 uses); fantasies (5 uses); and fantastic (1 use). See also Beryl Rowland, "Bishop Bradwardine, the Artificial Memory, and the House of Fame," in Rossell Hope Robbins, ed., Chaucer at Albany (New York, 1975), 41-62; Beryl Rowland, "The Artificial Memory, Chaucer, and Modern Scholars," Poetica 37 (1993): 1-14; Frances Yates, The Art of Memory (London, 1966); Susan Schibanoff, "Prudence and Artificial Memory in Chaucer's Troilus," ELH 42 (1975): 507-17; Jacqueline T. Miller, Poetic License: Authority and Authorship in Medieval and Renaissance Contexts (Oxford, 1986), 34-72 (and compare her "The Writing on the Wall: Authority and Authorship in Chaucer's House of Fame," The Chaucer Review 17 [1982]: 95-115); Alistair J. Minnis, "Langland's Ymaginatif and Late-Medieval Theories of Imagination," in E. S. Shaffer, ed., Comparative Criticism: A Yearbook (Cambridge, U.K., 1981); Joseph Strayer, ed., Dictionary of the Middle Ages, (New York, 1983), s.v. "Memory, disorders of"; and Carolyn P. Collette, Species, Phantasms, and Images (Ann Arbor, 2001). Ruth Evans offers a post-Derridean analogy between the medieval understanding of artificial memory and computer archiving in "Chaucer in Cyberspace: Medieval Technologies of Memory and The House of Fame," Studies in the Age of Chaucer 23 (2001): 43-69.
9. Mary J. Carruthers, The Book of Memory (Cambridge, U.K., 1990), 17.
10. Regarding significatio and the relationship of any verbal sign (be it written [scriptus], oral [prolatus], and mental [conceptus]) to reality, Brian Stock explains, "The imagination and the intellect perceive through a copy or imitation of the thing (res effigies), even though the reality may not be present... the words by which such images are designated must not be mistaken for their objects.... They are so to speak signs which operate between things (intersigna rerum)" (The Implications of Literacy [Princeton, 1983], 379).
11. Boitani, Chaucer and the Imaginary World of Fame, 74.
12. A. C. Spearing describes the dream vision as "a device for expressing the poet's consciousness of himself as poet" (Medieval Dream-Poetry [Cambridge, U.K., 1976], 6). Miller similarly sees that "The nature of authority was an issue built into the dream vision" (Poetic License, 36). And Steven F. Kruger makes clear that medieval readers of a dream vision were also "prepared for a poem that, examining dream experience, might also examine its own status as poetry" (Dreaming in the Middle Ages [Cambridge, 1992], 135).
13. A. J. Minnis, with V. J. Scattergood and J. J. Smith, eds., Oxford Guides to Chaucer: The Shorter Poems (Oxford, 1995), 248. Minnis provides a summary of poststructuralist readings of HF, 220-23. Citing Judson Boyce Allen's The Ethical Poetic of the Later Middle Ages (Toronto, 1982), Judith Ferster claims "It should be no surprise that the pre-Cartesian Middle Ages has much in common with modern anti-Cartesian philosophy" (Chaucer on Interpretation [Cambridge, U.K., 1985], 13). See too Eugene Vance, "Chaucer's House of Fame and the Poetics of Inflation," Boundary 2 7 (1979): 17-37; and Katherine Zieman, "Chaucer's Voys," Representations 60 (1997): 70-91. R. A. Shoaf reads Chaucer's dream vision as voicing Chaucer's most fundamental anxieties regarding the "inexorable belatedness" of retelling tales (Chaucer's Body: The Anxiety of Circulation in The Canterbury Tales [Gainesville, Fla., 2001], 44).
14. Although Richard Firth Green does not explicitly address HF in A Crisis of Truth: Literature and Law in Ricardian England (Philadelphia, 1999), Chaucer's peculiarly anxious dream vision bears witness to an increasing distrust of oral testimony in fourteenth-century courts of law and a concomitant preference for written documentation.
15. Ebbe Klitgård, "Chaucer's Narrative Voice in the House of Fame," Chaucer Review 32 (1998): 260-66, at 261.
16. Paul Strohm feels that Chaucer, "While confident in his manner of address to his immediate hearers[,]... seems less certain about the nature of his reception by those unknown persons who will be readers of his works in manuscript form" ("The Social and Literary Scene in England," in Piero Boitani and Jill Mann, eds., The Cambridge Chaucer Companion [Cambridge, U.K., 1986], 1-18, at 13). Katherine Terrell shares a similar impression that the dreamer, "so closely aligned with Chaucer himself," sounds especially anxious about his loss of interpretive control ("Reallocation of Hermeneutic Authority in Chaucer's House of Fame," Chaucer Review 31 [1997]: 279-90, at 281).
17. See Ruth Crosby, "Chaucer and the Custom of Oral Delivery," Speculum 4 (1938): 413-32; and Leslie K. Arnovick, "'In Forme of Speche' Is Anxiety; Orality in Chaucer's House of Fame," Oral Tradition 11 (1996): 320-45.
18. Gérard Genette, Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretations, trans. Jane E. Lewin (Cambridge, U.K., 1997).
19. See Beryl Rowland, "Pronuntiatio and Its Effect on Chaucer's Audience," Studies in the Age of Chaucer 4 (1982): 33-51.
20. H. Marshall Leicester, The Disenchanted Self: Representing the Subject in The Canterbury Tales (Berkeley, 1990), defines the narrator as a "subject" rather than a "self": "The speaker is a subject created by the text itself as a structure of linguistic and semantic relationships.... This kind of voiceness is a property of any text" (10). All other narrative elements (plot, character, etc.) are the discourse of this text-generated "I." Shoaf sees that "The desire to express an 'I' is also the desire to locate and stabilize the subject in a world increasingly marked by the instability of uncontrolled circulation" (Chaucer's Body, 4-5). Yet, as Martin Irvine makes clear, "Reading meant reproducing with one's own voice the elementa from the figurae on the manuscript page, thereby reactivating the articulate expression of the author" ("Medieval Grammatical Theory and Chaucer's House of Fame," Speculum 60 [1985]: 850-76, at 857).
21. Kruger, Dreaming in the Middle Ages, 57.
22. Miller, Poetic License, 49.
23. Robert Clifford, "'A Man of Great Auctorite': The Search for Truth in Textual Authority in Geoffrey Chaucer's The House of Fame," Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester 81 (1999): 155-65, at 158.
24. Carruthers, The Book of Memory, 225. Karla Taylor reads Chaucer's conception of the imagination in Book I as "not only the image-receiving faculty... but also the image-creating faculty" (Chaucer Reads "The Divine Comedy" [Stanford, 1989], 29).
25. Miller, Poetic License, 54.
26. Compare "fantoum and fayryge" in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, line 240. Walter Clyde Curry explains that Chaucer's terminology "is scarcely equivalent to the Latin" (Chaucer and the Sciences, 2nd edn. [London, 1960], 202); the dreamer's fear of a demonic visitation represents medieval popular lore and so a less authoritative understanding of the nightmare (209). Kruger observes that inlusio can denote such a "downright deceptive" and demonically inspired type of dream (as defined by Gregory the Great) (Dreaming in the Middle Ages, 47).
27. Taylor suggests that, in addition to alluding to the dream of Ganymede's raptus (Purg., 29.19-33), Chaucer "complicates his eagle by combining elements drawn from elsewhere in the Commedia as well" (Chaucer Reads "The Divine Comedy", 22).
28. Macrobius, Commentary, trans. Stahl, 90.
29. See John M. Fyler's explanatory note to HF, 561-62, in Riverside Chaucer, 982. The alternative suggestions that Chaucer mimicked Christ or Lady Philosophy seem less likely. The possibility that Chaucer's recital entailed an impersonation of his own wife or some servant seems more performable, and perhaps hilarious, but less relevant to the text of HF than his viva voce mocking of some familiar man of great authority.
30. J. L. Simmons has suggested that the author's initial intention may have been to publish a "plea for patronage" ("The Place of the Poet in Chaucer's House of Fame," Modern Language Quarterly 27 [1966]: 125-35, at 126).
31. Chaucer's complaint about all his "rekenynges" (653) seems an autobiographical detail. See Riverside Chaucer, xvi and 983 (Fyler's note to HF, 652-53). C. David Benson interprets the entire passage (HF, 644-60) as Chaucer's complaint that "the poet's life in the city has provided him with no literary material" ("London," in Steve Ellis, ed., Chaucer: An Oxford Guide [Oxford, 2005], 66-80, at 71). Stephen Knight emphasizes the significant relevance of Chaucer's reference to his own social reality: "No contemporary reader would think, as modern critics tend to do in their anti-historical and asocial way, that this poem is about poetry, or is just a fanciful literary exercise. Feudal society and its cultural support system are under searching imaginative attack" (Rereading Literature: Geoffrey Chaucer [Oxford, 1986], 20-21).
32. Chaucer has the Summoner similarly define the "rumblynge of a fart, and every soun" as "but of eir reverberacioun" (SumT, III 2233-34).
33. To Minnis, the eagle's logic "seems to relish the element of reductio ad absurdum" (Oxford Guides, 204). Kathryn L. Lynch also senses that the eagle's equation of speech and sound is a "charming absurdity" (Chaucer's Philosophical Visions [Cambridge, U.K., 2000], 72). Irvine substantiates the theoretical validity of this tonal impression; grammarians were primarily concerned with the translation of significance, not merely with the sub-semantic acoustics of speech, and Chaucer, as instructed by commentaries on Priscian's Institutiones grammaticae 1, De voce, would have clearly heard the eagle's lecture as an oversimplification of voice in terms of its "natural substance and genus -- air and sound" ("Medieval Grammatical Theory," 857).
34. R. A. Shoaf explicates the analogy between the enduring value of transmitted words and circulating money: "For Boethius, a 'vox,' comparable because of similarity to any and all other sound, becomes a 'verbum' by being 'imposed' to or for a significance, just as copper impressed with a figure is so impressed that it might as currency become the price of some specific and obviously different thing" (Dante, Chaucer, and the Currency of the Word [Norman, Okla., 1983], 11).
35. Donald K. Fry proposes that Chaucer could have voiced "Yis" (864) with boredom rather than what is commonly assumed to be a tone of fright ("The Ending of the House of Fame," in Rossell Hope Robbins, ed., Chaucer at Albany [New York, 1975], 27-40, at 33).
36. Chaucer is thought to have translated Boethius in the late 1370s or early 1380s, and to have composed HF while he was comptroller from 1374 to 1385, perhaps at age thirty-five. See Riverside Chaucer, 977 (by Fyler), 1003 (by Ralph Hanna III and Traugott Lawler). If Chaucer presented Bo first, his reference to speaking what Boethius wrote might have seemed highly self-referential to a familiar audience or readership.
37. An improbable and, as such, amusing pun on "wexen" suggests that Chaucer's fall into doubt is somewhat Icarus-like; both fail to escape the labyrinth of phantasms fully. Laurel Amtower proposes that "For both Bakhtin and Chaucer, the dependence of both history and authority on culturally-driven structures of speech precludes any possibility that the content of their canonical texts might possess transcendent value" ("Authorizing the Reader in Chaucer's House of Fame" Philological Quarterly 79 [2000]: 273-91, at 276).
38. Howard H. Schless explains that Chaucer's idiosyncratic allusion to 2 Cor. 12.1-4 avoids a theological controversy regarding the actuality of Paul's vision "by maintaining a light, almost whimsical touch" (Chaucer and Dante: A Revaluation [Norman, Okla., 1984], 65).
39. See OED, sv. fame n.1 < L. fari, Gr. phi´{Begin Greek}auai, {End Greek}'to speak.'
40. The eagle's synopsis of Ovid's description is so inadequate and irrelevant that Joseph A. Dane reads it as Chaucer's parody of a theory of translation no less absurd than the eagle's definition of speech ("Chaucer's Eagle's Ovid's Phaëton: A Study in Literary Reception," Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies 11 [1981]: 71-82). Isaiah 55.10-11 offers a contrasting description of the fruitful return of the words from God's mouth.
41. Taylor sees that "Tidings are thus at the heart of Chaucer's 'impersonated' poetic practice, with its full-bodied (and often comically substantial) narrative personae" (Chaucer Reads "The Divine Comedy", 33-34).
42. Minnis, Oxford Guides, 198. Thomas A. Prendergast likewise reads that "Chaucer makes the connection between 'voice' and bodily presence of those who rise from earth to Fame's House" (Chaucer's Dead Body [New York, 2004], 6).
43. Catholic doctrine acknowledges that Christ, Mary Enoch, and Elijah (HF, 588) presently retain their original bodies. Only pagan fantasies stellify Romulus and the court-toy Ganymede (HF, 589-92). Even Livy admitted the questionability of Romulus's apotheosis (Titus Livius, Ab urbe condita, ed. Robert Seymour Conway and Charles Flamstead Walters, 5 vols. [Oxford, 1914], 1:16). J. A. W. Bennett notes that Enoch and Eli should not be thought of as "stellified" and that Ganymede's credentials are obscure at best; he suggests that the anxieties of an ascending Chaucer echo those of a descending Dante (Chaucer's Book of Fame [Oxford, 1968], 58-60).
44. Taylor, Chaucer Reads "The Divine Comedy", 34.
45. Alternatively, the two colors can refer to the bindings of books; compare the twenty books "clad in blak or reed" owned by the Clerk (GP, I 294). In either case, the tenor of the conceit is that speech becomes text.
46. Conception offers yet another analogy; as Taylor explains, "Natural generation, inspiration and poetry are all bound together in one image of the Incarnation" and that this conviction justifies "Dante's claim to write divine, incarnational poetry" (Chaucer Reads "The Divine Comedy", 44). As Boitani observes, "The similarity between God's creation of the human soul and Dante's creation of poetry can be no accident" (Chaucer and the Imaginary World of Fame, 44).
47. Caroline [Walker] Bynum, "Why All the Fuss about the Body? A Medievalist's Perspective," Critical Inquiry 22 (1995): 1-33, at 21-22; see too her "Faith Imagining the Self: Somatomorphic Soul and Resurrection Body in Dante's Divine Comedy," in Sang Hyun Lee, Wayne Proudfoot, and Albert Blackwell, eds., Faithful Imagining: Essays in Honor of Richard R. Niebuhr (Atlanta, 1995), 81-104; and Etienne Gilson, "Dante's Notion of a Shade, Purgatorio XXV," Medieval Studies 29 (1967): 124-42.
48. Nicholas R. Havely proposes that John Lydgate's "famously obscure reference to Chaucer" (Fall of Princes, Prol. 303) as "'Dante in Inglissh' may indeed refer in some ways to Chaucer's House of Fame" ("The Italian Background," in Steve Ellis, ed., Chaucer: An Oxford Guide [Oxford, 2005], 313-31, at 327). See also Werner Friederich, Dante's Fame Abroad, 1350-1850 (Chapel Hill, 1950); and Roberta L. Payne, The Influence of Dante on Medieval English Dream Visions (New York, 1989). All citations and translations of Dante follow The Divine Comedy, trans. Charles S. Singleton, 3 vols. (Princeton, 1970-75).
49. For other (mutually analogous) antecedents, see Fyler's explanatory note to HF, 1068-82 (Riverside Chaucer, 985); and Nicholas R. Havely, ed., Chaucer, The House of Fame (Durham, U.K., 1994), 163-64nn1073-83.
50. See Jesús Luis Serrano Reyes, "John of Gaunt's Intervention in Spain: Possible Repercussions for Chaucer's Life and Poetry," SELIM [Journal of the Spanish Society for Mediaeval English Language and Literature] 6 (1998):117-45; Jesús Luis Serrano Reyes, "The Chaucers in Spain: From the Wedding to the Funeral," SELIM 8 (2001): 193-203; and Antonio R. Léon Sendra and Jesús L. Serrano Reyes, "Chaucer and Montserrat," SELIM 9 (1999): 123-42.
51. Perhaps by recalling that he climbed Montserrat, Chaucer intended to top Petrarch's ascent of Mount Ventoux; however, as Boitani has observed, "Chaucer does not proclaim -- and he never will -- that he should be crowned with the laurel" (Chaucer and the Imaginary World of Fame, 156).
52. The textual witnesses of HF themselves preserve only a very fluid record of Chaucer's intent. A. S. G. Edwards remarks that "The editor is... often adrift in a sea of indeterminacy, lacking satisfactory means to resolve questions of textual authority" ("The Text of Chaucer's House of Fame: Editing and Authority," Poetica 29-30 [1989]: 80-92, at 81).
53. Boitani, Chaucer and The Imaginary World of Fame, 210; see also Piero Boitani, "Chaucer's Labyrinth: Fourteenth-Century Literature and Language," Chaucer Review 17 (1983): 197-220.
54. Kathryn L. Lynch thinks that the very division of HF into three books (though it may have been Caxton's design) reflects not only the architectonics of the Divine Comedy, but the "the tripartite structure of the human mind" (Chaucer's Philosophical Visions, 62).
55. See The Meditations of the Emperor Marcus Antoninus, ed. and trans. A. S. L. Farquharson, 2 vols. (Oxford, 1944), 1:220 (Greek), 1:221 (English).
56. Fyler, headnote to HF (Riverside Chaucer, 347).
57. Miller, Poetic License, 63.
58. Lara Ruffolo, "Literary Authority and the Lists of Chaucer's House of Fame," Chaucer Review 27 (1993): 325-41.
59. Fyler, explanatory note to HF, 1871-72 (Riverside Chaucer, 989).
60. Though Howard Schless defends (against J. S. P. Tatlock's objections) the identification of "English Gaufride" as Geoffrey of Monmouth, he concedes "it would be quite in keeping with Chaucer's sense of humor to name himself among the authorities on Trojan affairs" (Chaucer and Dante, 38). Havely notes that the noun name itself "occurs more frequently in HF than in any other of Ch's works... partly because it provides a rhyme with fame" (Chaucer, House of Fame, 144n306).
61. Mary Flowers Braswell recognizes the House of Rumor as a real medieval birdcage ("Architectural Portraiture in Chaucer's House of Fame," Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies 11 [1981]: 101-12, at 111).
62. Benson, "London," 72.
63. Delany, Chaucer's House of Fame, 60.
64. Nominees for the identity of the man of great authority include John of Gaunt, Richard II, Boethius, Boccaccio, a master of Christmas revels, an Italian ambassador, and Christ (Fyler, explanatory note to HF, 2158 [Riverside Chaucer, 990]). Both Fry ("The Ending of the House of Fame") and Larry D. Benson ("The 'Love Tydynges' in Chaucer's House of Fame," in Julian N. Wasserman and R. J. Blanch, eds., Chaucer in the Eighties [Syracuse, 1986], 3-22) speculate that Chaucer's recital of the text ended with a successfully histrionic closure. But, on the basis of manuscript evidence, Edwards doubts that the text's incompleteness is such a "conscious act" ("The Text," 82). Furthermore, Chaucer recurrently failed or habitually refused to finish his poems in a variety of ways; see Larry Sklute, Virtue of Necessity: Inconclusiveness and Narrative Form in Chaucer's Poetry (Columbus, Oh., 1984); and Rosemarie McGerr, Chaucer's Open Books: Resistance to Closure in Medieval Discourse (Gainesville, Fla., 1998).
65. Curry, Chaucer and the Sciences, 218.
66. Delany, Chaucer's House of Fame, 108-9.
67. Miller, for example, finds HF's final "silence... not entirely hopeless.... [I]t keeps before us this figure's potential power to carry the full weight of the authorial position" (Poetic License, 71). Steve Ellis, who does read the poem as Chaucer's "satire on what one might call Dante's procedures of damnation and on his Virgilianism," does not "see Chaucer's attitude to Dante's metaphysics as consistently sceptical; there is obviously an urge to transcendence" ("Chaucer, Dante and Damnation," Chaucer Review 22 [1988]: 282-94, at 289). Irvine likewise concedes that HF does not end with "an affirmation of authority" but that Chaucer does offer "an anticipation of the conclusions to Troilus and Criseyde and The Canterbury Tales" ("Medieval Grammatical Theory," 876).