March 10, 2005

The lyf so short, the crafte so longe to lerne

As I posted earlier, I’m also currently teaching Chaucer this year for the first time. This has been a very rewarding, if very busy, experience. It’s been a lot of work, but I’ve now built a Chaucer course, so the dividends should continue to pay off.

As it turns out, those dividends will be paying off this summer, as I’ll be teaching Chaucer again here at U of T as a summer evening course (Tuesdays and Thursdays 6 to 9). I’m quite looking forward to this, since I’ll already have most of the hard work done and can enjoy myself and the texts more. Chaucer students seem to be really good at in-class discussion.

Of Chaucer’s literary works, The Canterbury Tales was what I had the most experience with prior to this course — actually I’ve probably worked most with Chaucer’s translation of Boethius, but one doesn’t usually teach such a text in an undergraduate course. We covered the Tales in the first term and this term we started off with Troilus and Criseyde, a poem which fascinates me greatly, both in terms of its Boethian content and its generic manipulation, as well as for many other reasons. More recently we’ve been working through the dream vision poems. We recently finished The Book of the Duchess and are now in the middle of The House of Fame.

I have to say that The House of Fame is the Chaucer poem that I feel least able to make a final pronouncement upon. Sure I have plenty to say about it, but I don’t know if I have a final statement about it. This may in part be because the poem is in fact unfinished, but it’s also a complex and slippery poem. I guess my take on it is that it is Chaucer’s anxiety attack. Welcome to the wonderful world of Chaucer’s neuroses! In addition to the more minor sources of anxiety such as the classification of dreams — which it must be admitted is likely a merely rhetorical stance on Chaucer’s part — Chaucer seems to be deeply concerned with dealing with inconsistant or potentially ureliable sources. The dreamer/narrator in the poem is taken to the House of Fame to learn “tidings” to use in his poetry, but true and false tidings are mixed up together, and how can one distinguish them? The poem exudes uncertainty and anxiety, and I think this adds to my own uncertainty about it. It’s funny but I find this poem more troubling than some of Chaucer’s longer and ostensibly more complex works such as the Tales or Troilus and Criseyde. I think I’m going to have to live with this one for a bit longer before I fully come to terms with it.

Soon we’ll be on to The Parliament of Fowls, which can be seen as almost a sequel to The House of Fame, as Chaucer continues his quest for some sort of knowledge or information about love for his poetising.

Posted by Mark at March 10, 2005 05:10 PM
Comments

House of Fame is a very difficult poem to pin down, true and very true.

One of the things going on is that Chaucer’s exploding the dream-vision form — he’s used it more classically (though with Chaucerian flair) in things like Book of the Duchess — but House of Fame, like Piers Plowman, take the form and manipulates it.

Always interesting.

Posted by: Anne at March 10, 2005 10:04 PM