Chapter 5

A Brief Visit to The House of Fame

IN THE HOUSE OF FAME, the first of his texts to know and to cast a searching eye on Dante, Chaucer poses often as somewhat doltish, certainly diffident, and frequently wide-eyed. But at one point in book 3 he strikes a much somberer pose (lines 1878-82):
"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."
The tonal change is unarguably abrupt and startling: this is the voice of a collected intelligence, of a mature citizen of an obviously untrustworthy world, the voice of a man with a position, as well as poses, and the courage to hold it. This is no bumbling narrator. And if the man of "gret auctorite" (3.2158) is never named, there may be good reason, not far to seek. So far as we know, it is 1378. About seven years later Chaucer will be finishing Troilus and Criseyde.NOTE1 In the intervening years, much doubtless changed, including Chaucer himself, but the courage to take a position, even in the midst of poses, did not change. To be sure, the understanding of what it means to take a position grew and deepened, but this was a change of what remained the same. And it, the understanding along with all the implications that flow from it, became part of the substance and the texture of the greatest of his poems. The hero of this poem is the Narrator because he survives the cruel disillusionment of Troilus and Criseyde's affair to take his stand at the end, his position, with a serenity more convincing than the highest seriousness imaginable. {105}