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Chaucer and Fame: Reputation and Reception

Series: Chaucer Studies
Copyright Date: 2015
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    Chaucer and Fame
    Book Description:

    Fama, or fame, is a central concern of late medieval literature. Where fame came from, who deserved it, whether it was desirable, how it was acquired and kept were significant inquiries for a culture that relied extensively on personal credit and reputation. An interest in fame was not new, being inherited from the classical world, but was renewed and rethought within the vernacular revolutions of the later Middle Ages. The work of Geoffrey Chaucer shows a preoccupation with ideas on the subject of fama, not only those received from the classical world but also those of his near contemporaries; via an engagement with their texts, he aimed to negotiate a place for his own work in the literary canon, establishing fame as the subject-site at which literary theory was contested and writerly reputation won. Chaucer's place in these negotiations was readily recognized in his aftermath, as later writers adopted and reworked postures which Chaucer had struck, in their own bids for literary place. This volume considers the debates on fama which were past, present and future to Chaucer, using his work as a centre point to investigate canon formation in European literature from the late Middle Ages and into the Early Modern period. Isabel Davis is Senior Lecturer in Medieval Literature at Birkbeck, University of London; Catherine Nall is Senior Lecturer in Medieval Literature at Royal Holloway, University of London. Contributors: Joanna Bellis, Alcuin Blamires, Julia Boffey, Isabel Davis, Stephanie Downes, A.S.G. Edwards, Jamie C. Fumo, Andrew Galloway, Nick Havely, Thomas A. Prendergast, Mike Rodman Jones, William T. Rossiter, Elizaveta Strakhov.

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-487-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. List of Contributors
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xi-xii)
    Isabel Davis and Catherine Nall
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-20)

    What did Geoffrey Chaucer really do to Dido (to paraphrase the title of C. S. Lewis’ seminal essay on Chaucer’s indebtedness to and independence from Boccaccio’sFilostrato, inTroilus and Criseyde)?¹ In the fourth book of Virgil’sAeneid, Dido’s entry into the cave of Aeolus with her lover, Aeneas, unwittingly conjures up a monstrous personification ofFama, halfwoman and half-bird with many eyes and mouths, of whom Dido herself is the first casualty. Dido’s sexuality and her ethical conduct thus unleashes the theme of fame in one of the foundational (indeed, one of the mostreputed) texts of Western literature....

  7. 1 Chaucer Joins the Schiera: The House of Fame, Italy and the Determination of Posterity
    (pp. 21-42)

    The House of Famedramatizes Chaucer’s interaction withtrecentoconceptions of the role and the function of the poet, as a number of commentators have shown.¹ This chapter will explore the nature of Chaucer’s response to these conceptions, or re-conceptions (of classical ideas), but will also suggest the way in whichThe House of Fameforms a discursive continuum with The Clerk’s Prologue and the conclusion toTroilus and Criseyde– that is, how together they constitute an intertextual discourse on poeticclaritas and fama.² These works present us with Chaucer’s conversations, if you will, with two models of humanism...

  8. 2 ‘I wolde … han hadde a fame’: Dante, Fame and Infamy in Chaucer’s House of Fame
    (pp. 43-56)

    In the otherworld of Dante’sCommediathere are – as in Book 3 ofThe House of Fame– a number of crowded spaces out of which celebrated or infamous figures emerge. At the entrance to hell inInferno, Canto 3, out of the ‘long line’ of the uncommitted ‘neutrals’ ‘who are not allowed earthly fame’, Dante still recognizes (though of course does not name) the perpetrator of an infamous act.¹ In the following canto, the multitude of anonymous unbaptized who ‘live in hopeless yearning’ are compared to a dense forest, out of whose darkness the light of Limbo’s castle,...

  9. 3 ‘And kis the steppes where as thow seest pace’: Reconstructing the Spectral Canon in Statius and Chaucer
    (pp. 57-74)

    At the close ofTroilus and Criseyde, Chaucer instructs his ‘litel bok’ to go forth into the world as it continues to venerate the traces of the great poets, Virgil, Ovid, Homer, Lucan and Statius, who have come before it (Troilus and Criseyde, Book 5, lines 1789-92).¹ This moment constitutes a classic example of what David Wallace has called a ‘sixth of sixtopos’, a literary device that ‘bespeaks the highest poetic ambition: a desire to complete a sequence of poetic activity conjoining pagan antiquity and the Christian present’.² Chaucer’s tribute to these five authorities establishes him as the recipient...

  10. 4 ‘I nolde sette at al that noys a grote’: Repudiating Infamy in Troilus and Criseyde and The House of Fame
    (pp. 75-86)

    When Boitani published his book onThe House of Famein 1984, he underlined the conflicted nature of that text – how Chaucer’s position concerning ‘the problem of glory and fame’ seemed to oscillate.¹ My objective in this essay is to ponder one facet of that Chaucerian ambivalence concerning fame, as it emerges inTroilus and Criseyde. In a nutshell, what I shall be scrutinizing is a moment in the poem when the heroine is tempted towards the sceptical view that notoriety is not worth worrying about. The moment seems to pass, the explicit reason she gives for scepticism seems...

  11. 5 The Early Reception of Chaucer’s The House of Fame
    (pp. 87-102)

    Rather paradoxically, for a poem concerned with the dynamics of creating fame, Chaucer’sHouse of Fameseems to have left only a fragmented impression on the consciousness of later writers and other readers. Allusions to it in the three centuries after Chaucer’s death seldom make reference to its concern with the poet’s own fame, and mostly address Fame as a personification, or the mechanics of fame’s transmission. Several factors – some arising from the possibility that Chaucer left it unfinished, others from the absence of scribal attributions – have some relevance to what seem the rather limited written responses to...

  12. 6 Fame’s Penitent: Deconstructive Chaucer Among the Lancastrians
    (pp. 103-126)

    Chaucer’sRetraction, which sums up an impressive span of his literary works while repudiating nearly all of them, fully excepting only ‘the translacion of Boece de Consolacione, and othere books of legends of seintes, and omelies, and moralitee, and devocioun’, has provided readers of all periods with an opportunity both to imagine the penitential outlook that it conveys as Chaucer’s final perspective on literature and life, and to take note of the substantial range, quantity and influence of his opus that thereby required such careful admonitions.¹ Its ‘voicing’ is more of a problem even than usual in Chaucer. In all...

  13. 7 After Deschamps: Chaucer’s French Fame
    (pp. 127-142)

    Eustache Deschamps’balade, dedicated, in the early 1390s, to the ‘grant translateur, noble Geffroy Chaucier’, has weighted status as the ‘first’ of all literary references to Chaucer.² That it was written in French has contributed to the complexity of the poem’s modern reception. In 1925 Caroline Spurgeon wrote of Deschamps’ ‘charming greeting’ that: ‘It is curious that the earliest tribute of praise to Chaucer as a poet should have been written by a Frenchman.’³ The provenance of thebaladehas added considerably to its twentieth- and twenty-first-century appeal. As Derek Brewer put it, some fifty years after Spurgeon: ‘what other...

  14. 8 ‘Fresch anamalit termes’: The Contradictory Celebrity of Chaucer’s Aureation
    (pp. 143-164)

    Both the fifteenth and the sixteenth centuries hailed Chaucer as ‘the Father of English poetry’, and the moniker stuck. Seth Lerer has detailed the terminology of paternalism in the works of the fifteenth-century Chaucerians, and Lee Patterson describes the poetic genealogy developed through the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, as it was claimed successively for (and by) Spenser, Milton and Dryden.¹ This aspect of Chaucer’s fame achieved a tenacious longevity, as well as a contemporary currency: hisWikipediaentry’s opening sentence begins with the statement, ‘Geoffrey Chaucer … known as the Father of English literature’.² What also persists doggedly in this...

  15. 9 Chaucer the Puritan
    (pp. 165-184)

    Despite constructing a narrative of English ecclesiastical history which was saturated with authoritative citations of medieval writers – including Chaucer – John Milton wrote in 1641 that to look to the medieval past for spiritual examples had its risks: ‘Thus finally it appears that those purer Times were no such as they are cry’d up, and not to be follow’d without suspicion, doubt and danger.’¹ Milton’s scepticism towards the putative spiritual and ecclesiastical purity of the medieval past can act as a kind of thumbnail sketch for the portrait of Chaucer’s celebrity in the later sixteenth and seventeenth centuries drawn...

  16. 10 Revenant Chaucer: Early Modern Celebrity
    (pp. 185-200)

    In hisShort History of Celebrity, Fred Inglis makes the claim that celebrity as a concept really only comes into being in the eighteenth century – a product of the invention of the fashion industry, gossip and the new consumerism of the early modern period. He distinguishes celebrity, a selfconsciously modern notion, from earlier forms of spectacle, which he identifies as renown. The difference, he argues, is that renown was accorded to men and women because of their high accomplishments. In his words, it ‘brought honour to the office not the individual, and public recognition was not so much of...

  17. 11 Ancient Chaucer: Temporalities of Fame
    (pp. 201-220)

    ‘Alle thyng hath tyme’ – pliant wisdom, derived from the Book of Ecclesiastes (3:1), that is wielded in Chaucer’s poetry by everyone from an opportunistic fiend to an irreverent merchant to an overzealous go-between.¹ Like these characters, Chaucer as poet contemplates the power of time and appropriates it for his own ends. The present essay is concerned with the makings ofChauceriantime: namely, time as a shaping force of authorship and a conduit of reception. It explores Chaucer’s engagement with the poetic past – ‘olde tyme’ – and his own assimilation into anewpoetic past after his lifetime,...

  18. Bibliography
    (pp. 221-244)
  19. Index
    (pp. 245-250)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 251-253)