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Presentation on theme: "CHAUCER’S HOUSE OF FAME AND THE IDEA OF COURTLY ENGLISH POETRY Why Narrative, Why Art? Fame, Rumor, Gossip."— Presentation transcript:


2 Chaucer’s Literary Internationalism English: lyric, narrative poetry, satire (cf William Langland, Piers Plowman ) French: Romance of the Rose and other “dream poems”; philosophical prose; histories, chronicles, lyrics. Nb: “French” also includes Anglo-Norman, the French of England Italian: Boccaccio’s Decameron and other works, especially neo-classical works (cf Knight’s Tale, Parliament of Fowles ); Dante, Divine Comedy ; Petrarch, sonnets etc. Latin: a) Classical Latin: Virgil ( Aeneid ), Ovid ( Metamorphoses, Heroides ), Cicero (cf Parliament of Fowles ) b) Medieval Latin: huge variety of philosophical, practical, devotional, historical, etc. texts

3 Chaucer’s Personal Internationalism Born in 1340s in London in a family of wine-merchants, Chaucer grows up speaking English and French and learning Latin, as well, perhaps, as some Dutch, German, Italian (merchant languages) As a member of the Duke of Clarence’s household, he is captured in France in 1359 and has to be ransomed. Later, he numbers several French poets as friends (Eustace Deschamps, Jean Froissart). Some of his own first poems may have been in French (Ch.). His earliest long poem, Book of the Duchess (c. 1370) mostly translates French dream poems. During the 1370s he is twice sent on diplomatic missions to Italy, where he meets the elderly Boccaccio and learns how other cities, Florence and Siena among them, are run. He discovers Dante. From House of Fame on (perhaps c. 1380), Dante and Boccaccio become two of his favorite authors: Boccaccio’s poetry lies behind Parliament of Fowles, The Knight’s Tale (early 1380s) and Troilus and Criseyde (mid 1380s) During the 1380s he also works on his Latin, and translates Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy and other works, including religious poetry/prose. As controller of the Customs House, he kept his ties to merchants By the time of the Tales (1390s), then, he’s fully absorbed in multiple literary traditions, some well known to English contemporaries, others less so

4 Chaucer’s Quest for “Fame” and the Situation of English in the Fourteenth Century England had second oldest vernacular literary tradition in western Europe (after Ireland): earliest Old English writing is from c. 600 A.D. Beowulf c. 800 But this tradition disrupted by Norman Conquest in 1066. Old English writing continues until 1200, but after this comes a break. French is used for many official purposes, with Latin From mid-C12 to mid-C14, the dominant literary tradition in England is French; this is particularly true of courtly, high art writing English writing is both less common and regional more than national, not sharing Chaucer’s internationalist aspirations During the fourteenth century, English writing returns in force, including. Partly because of the Hundred Years War with France, English becomes understood as a national language and its written and formal uses steadily increase Chaucer at once inherits and contributes to this developing situation

5 The Belatedness of English Chaucer’s great achievement is partly to transform English into a “high art” literary medium, partly to become the symbol of that transformation. Praised as the “founder” of English after his death (as we’ll see), and as “grant translateur” by his friend, Deschamps Formally, his achievement is stylistic and lexical: many French words, idioms etc., not to mention Latin and Italian, become anglicized in his writing But he also sets a personal tone for English high art poetry, one that acknowledges the belatedness of its literary tradition and the distance of England from the cultural centers of Europe (northern France, northern Italy, etc.) The key ingredient is humor, irony, a sense of serious play

6 Dante, Paradiso I O buono Appollo, a l'ultimo lavoro 13 O good Apollo, for this last labor fammi del tuo valor sì fatto vaso, 14 make me a vessel worthy come dimandi a dar l'amato alloro. 15 of the gift of your belovèd laurel. Infino a qui l'un giogo di Parnaso 16 Up to this point, one peak of Mount Parnassus assai mi fu; ma or con amendue 17 has been enough, but now I need them both m'è uopo intrar ne l'aringo rimaso. 18 in order to confront the struggle that awaits. Entra nel petto mio, e spira tue 19 Enter my breast and breathe in me sì come quando Marsïa traesti 20 as when you drew out Marsyas, de la vagina de le membra sue. 21 out from the sheathing of his limbs. O divina virtù, se mi ti presti 22 O holy Power, if you but lend me of yourself tanto che l'ombra del beato regno 23 enough that I may show the merest shadow segnata nel mio capo io manifesti, 24 of the blessèd kingdom stamped within my mind, vedra'mi al piè del tuo diletto 25 you shall find me at the foot of your belovèd tree legno, venire, e coronarmi de le foglie 26 crowning myself with the very leaves che la materia e tu mi farai degno. 27 of which my theme and you will make me worthy.

7 “Fame” as the Goal of Poetry Not marble, nor the gilded monuments Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme; But you shall shine more bright in these contents Than unswept stone besmear'd with sluttish time. When wasteful war shall statues overturn, And broils root out the work of masonry, Nor Mars his sword nor war's quick fire shall burn The living record of your memory. 'Gainst death and all-oblivious enmity Shall you pace forth; your praise shall still find room Even in the eyes of all posterity That wear this world out to the ending doom. So, till the judgment that yourself arise, You live in this, and dwell in lovers' eyes. (Shakespeare, Sonnet 55) “Exegi monumentum aere perennius” (I have built a monument more lasting than bronze) [Horace, Odes ]

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