The Book of the Duchess and Other Poems

The Book of the Duchess and Other Poems Essay Questions

  1. 1

    Who is the writer of The Book of the Duchess?

    Answer: Chaucer wrote the poem, but he should not be identified with the narrator. Even so, the morals and ideas promoted in the poem are often likely to be Chaucer's as well. A good area of analysis is to consider the degree to which readers learns about the narrator as a key character versus seeing him as merely a literary device to tell the other parts of the story.

  2. 2

    Discuss the use of color in The Book of the Duchess.

    Answer: The poem frequently mentions the color white and suggests a relationship between the real-life Duchess of Lancaster and events in the poem. Meanwhile, the Black Knight appears to be set up as a direct contrast. Consider in what ways he is dark.

  3. 3

    Presume for the sake of argument that The Book of the Duchess is not actually about the death of Blanche of Lancaster at all. In that case, what is the poem about?

    Answer: The dream-poem does seem to be an allegory in any case. Answer this question by considering the themes in the poem, particularly love and loss.

  4. 4

    Why are there so many classical allusions in Chaucer's works in a thoroughly Christian culture?

    Answer: Greek and Roman mythology, as well as classical philosophy, can be introduced by a Christian writer to show erudition and poetic sophistication. This material was already well-known by the most educated readers who, after all, should have known Latin, the language of the Church. Moreover, as St. Augustine wrote 1,000 years earlier, even pagan wisdom can be used thoughtfully by Christians, mutatis mutandis.

  5. 5

    What is the poetic form of The Book of the Duchess?

    Answer: The poem uses an eight-syllable, end-rhymed couplet form. This form arguably lends itself well to Chaucer's tone and subject--consider why rhymes are satisfying and why short lines seem appropriate. Also, the dream-poem genre was common at the time, offering a recognizable platform for introducing a variety of ideas in the form of allegory, just like many dreams.

  6. 6

    What were Chaucer's literary influences?

    Answer: Chaucer draws on biblical and classical works (philosophy as well as drama and epic) for many allusions and themes. For elements of Stoicism, he draws on Boethius and ancient Stoics who prioritized philosophy over worldly cares. He also draws on Dante, especially Dante's Inferno, and on Boccaccio. He drew on courtly love poetry from French medieval sources, and he made use of common literary genres and themes in his dream-poems.

  7. 7

    What do the different buildings in The House of Fame represent?

    Answer: In the first house, the dreamer reads the story of the Aeneid, one of the most famous books in Western literature. The House of Fame itself is rich in themes regarding fame and reputation. Whereas The House of Fame is the locus and representation of speech and reputation, the whirling wicker house at the end of Book III represents the flawed human processes of gossip and the like through which so much of speech and reputation must pass before one's fame is solidified.

  8. 8

    What seems to be the overall tone of The House of Fame?

    Answer: Like many poems about human interactions, Chaucer's seems to make light of the petty human troubles that people engage in when they seek fame or judge others. Thus, much of the poem reads as satire. The poem thus suggests that much more important things lie beyond the realm of speech and opinion--namely, reality and truth. The pursuit of anything less is somewhat laughable.

  9. 9

    What do the various birds represent in The Parliament of Fowls?

    Answer: The different species are hierarchical, representing the English class structure. Individual birds might represent political figures, but overall the parliament of fowls is a stand-in for the relatively new English parliament. Each species of bird seems to know its place, in contrast to a democratic notion of social equality. Also, the male and female birds generally seem to act like male and female humans.

  10. 10

    Why does Africanus become the dreamer's guide in The Parliament of Fowls?

    Answer: Chaucer is directly invoking Cicero's "Dream of Scipio," in which Africanus provides a statesman's and grandfather's wisdom. Note that Chaucer's poem about a parliament thus draws on Cicero's work on politics and republics. England was still under the rule of a king and was not a republic, and while Chaucer was more of a social critic, one can sense his political interests to some degree in the poem's use of Africanus as guide.