The Book of the Duchess and Other Poems

The Book of the Duchess and Other Poems Summary and Analysis of The House of Fame, Book II

A very short introduction of twenty lines tells the reader that the continuation of the dream is as wondrous as any in the Old Testament or the classics.

The eagle from the end of Book I begins to descend. He swiftly takes up the dreamer in his talons. The golden eagle then speaks to the narrator in the voice of a human being. He calls the dreamer by name and tells him to come out of his dazed and frightened state to pay attention to him. The bird reassures the dreamer that he will not be harmed and that he will actually benefit from this adventure.

The dreamer will not die, for he has been singled out by Jupiter (also called Jove). This is because he is a poor maker of love verses in service to Jupiter's grandson Cupid (also called Love). Jupiter therefore decreed that the dreamer is to be borne to a place called The House of Fame. This will be for the dreamer's amusement as compensation for his devotion.

In The House of Fame, says the eagle, the dreamer will hear every manner of love story, reconciliation, and tragedy that takes place on earth. This is possible because the location of Fame's house is at the center of earth, sea, and the heavens, the confluence of the flow of all the sounds from beneath it. The eagle explains how this is possible in an extended spate of medieval logic based primarily on the idea that all things have a point at which they are ideally conserved. For spoken words (as well as words that are thought), that point in space is The House of Fame, which functions as a sort of clearing house for all the words on earth.

The dreamer says that he sees the logic of the eagle's argument; probably all this is so. The eagle announces that they will now speak only for their own amusement. The dreamer is to point out anything that he recognizes below, and the eagle will tell him the distance to it. The dreamer cannot do this himself, for they are high in the air and in the sphere of the aerial beasts.

They see the various constellations, and the narrator muses on the writings of various astronomy texts that he has read. The eagle flies up, and the narrator is filled with a sense of the glory of God and his creation. The dreamer recalls Boethius, who wrote that "A thought may flee so hye/Wyth fetheres of Philosophye/To passen everych element,/And whan he hath so fer ywent/Than may be seen behynde hys bak/Cloude" (lines 974-978). He may be as high as thoughts may go, with clouds at his back.

The eagle mockingly asks him if he wants to learn about the stars, but the narrator claims he is too old to learn. They hear a great roar as they near The House of Fame. The eagle informs the narrator that the sound is of all the speech on earth, rushing to its proper destination. The narrator learns, too, that each speech on earth appears in the House as the speaker who spoke it, clothed in red or black. The dreamer is deposited on a street near the House and sent on his way.


The fashionable love poems in Chaucer’s time were often addressed to the god Cupid in the form of a prayer or invocation, or they referred to the god of love in the text. That Chaucer, as a poet, is in "hys servyse" (line 626)—in the service of Cupid—is a poetic way of saying that Chaucer is a writer and practitioner of love poems.

The discussion of some of the ideas of Aristotle's theory of motion (about lines 720-760) takes liberty with this ancient Greek philosopher's thoughts. It is a poetic take on how phenomena (such as sound) come to exist and to move. Aristotle would not have seemed out of place in the discussion, for the Middle Ages was a time when science, or "natural philosophy," was hardly specialized. Aristotle was greatly admired among the classical philosophers and was held in high esteem in Chaucer's time, so much so that some teachers argued that all the science of the earth had already been understood essentially by Aristotle, so that no further inquiry was necessary—the transmission of this wisdom to future generations was enough. Most learned people, including most of Chaucer's readers, would have had at least a cursory understanding of the ideas of Aristotle, and they would not have found such a discussion of them amiss in a poetic text. Chaucer includes the natural philosophy rather lyrically (compare Lucretius’s The Nature of Things), making it part of the explanation of the location and existence of the House of Fame. The precise truth of the scientific theory regarding the creation and motion of sounds would not have been of much concern to the majority of Chaucer's readers.

Other Aristotelian and Ptolemaic philosophy appears in language about how the universe is constructed. These ideas are salient in the references to the various spheres (such as those of the stars and the aerial beasts) through which the eagle and the dreamer pass. They are heading to a particular point in space, The House of Fame, toward which all sound on earth passes. The dreamer and the author know this and know the various astronomical philosophers (Martian and Anticlaudianus)—they are showing their knowledge. The House of Fame seems to be also a House of Information, for each speech passes through it in the form of the speaker, clothed in red or black.

When Boethius is brought up again, it is in a rather poetic passage from The Consolation of Philosophy, which Chaucer once translated into English (Boece). The material is a variation on ideas about the purity of the thought, how an all-powerful Philosophy can send thoughts higher than the clouds. This worship of the metaphysical, the focus on spiritual rather than earthly things, is characteristic not only of Boethius but of medieval philosophy (and a fair amount of ancient philosophy) in general.

It is with some trepidation that the dreamer sets out toward The House of Fame. He does not know exactly what he will find there, but he is prepared to see a series of talking people, the representation of their own speech duplicated visually in the House. This is the ultimate allegory brought down to a personal, specific level; each person's speech makes a double of his or her own body, which utters those words aloud in The House of Fame. This is a tricky, very imaginative idea. It creates a way for the dreamer to experience something other than disembodied sound, and the representations–in red or black–foreshadow some kind of judgment or distinction between two kinds of speeches. Moreover, this pattern is another variation on a medieval theme, common in religious bestiaries, that everything has its double or opposite; everything in heaven is somehow represented on earth.