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Three of Chaucer's Poems The most prominent feature that Chaucer's poems Book of the Duchess, Parliament of Fowls, and House of Fame have in common, is narrators reference to the famous ancient motives, as such that suppose to serve as an insight to the overall meaning of his poems. Chaucer's earliest work Book of the Duchess starts with author referring to the Ovidian story of Ceyx and Alcyone. This shows that he was familiar with ancient Roman literature. Ceyx was the king of Tracks. After he failed to return from his trip to Delphi, his wife Alcyone prayed to the goddess Juno to save her husband. Yet, since Ceyx was already dead, Juno tried to comfort Alcyone by sending her a messenger, disguised as Ceyx.
It is understandable why Chaucer used this story in his poem, if we remember that Book of Duchess is actually an authors description of his own metaphysical reflections on the death of Duchess Blanche, with whom he was in love. Therefore, we can think of this Ovidian story as something, which corresponded to Chaucer's inner anxieties so much that he had to include it in his poem. The poem Parliament of Fowls also includes mentioning one of the famous philosophical works of ancient Romans: Scipios Dream by Cicero. In it, Scipio Aemilianus, meets his father Scipio Africanus, who defeated Hannibal during the Second Punic war. Author uses this story as a base, upon which the storyline of his own poem is built.
In Parliament of Fowls Chaucer also falls asleep and meets Africanus, who leads him into the garden of perfection, where the bulk of poems action takes place. It appears that the real reason behind the inclusion of Ciceros character in Parliament of Fowls lies in the fact that, according to the medieval ethical concept, only the individual of great historical importance can serve as a link between perfect nature and imperfect humanity. Author says that he wouldnt be able to enter the garden of perfection if it wasnt up to this Roman hero, who simply pushes him through the entrance gates in a forceful manner. Also, it is reading Cicero that enables narrator to have such dream in the first place. At the end of the poem, Chaucer says that he will read more books, so that he can have more dreams. We can conclude that Ciceros story was needed by Chaucer as both: source of inspiration and the narrative foundation.
In House of Fame author follows the same writing techniques he used in his other poems. Quite predictably, he falls asleep and it enables him to have the vision of Palace of Fame. Also, just like in his other poems, Chaucer refers reader to the ideas of ancient Roman literature. In case with House of Pain it is the story of Aeneas and Dido, found in Virgil's Aeneid. The narrator sees the images from this famous ancient story on the walls of Temple of Glass. There are many different ways to interpret this Chaucer's poem, just like the other ones, because they are highly allegorical.
Nevertheless, most critics agree that Chaucers original intention in House of Fame was to show the illusory nature of human anxieties, except for love. The story of Aeneas and Dido, where woman kills herself, because the one she loves had left her, still inspires poets and writers with its tragic might. Chaucer was not the exception. The role of Virgil's story in his poem appears to be more important than the poems structural analysis would reveal. Yet, only towards the end of this poem, its ultimate significance becomes apparent.
It is very symptomatic that in all three poems Chaucer refers to the ancient sources as such that have undeniable moralistic properties. Yet, he tries to interpret them from Christian point of view. This, along with stylistic fallacies, greatly undermines the value of his poems. Bibliography: Aers, David Chaucer, Langland and the Creative Imagination. London: RKP, 1980.
Chaucer, Geoffrey The House of Fame. 1995. The Online Medieval and Classical Library. November 6, 2005. web Chaucer, Geoffrey Book of the Duchess. 1995. The Online Medieval and Classical Library. November 6, 2005.
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