"Truth, craft, and the real in Chaucer's house of fame"
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Condict, Ellen M.
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Contemporary study of Geoffrey Chaucer's House of Fame has made numerous attempts to categorize the poem under the loosely defined modern category of "literary nominalism," drawing heavily on disputed interpretations of the fourteenth-century philosophical debates about the ontological existence of universals. The approach takes a largely postmodern view towards language, literature, and epistemology, and assumes that the poem is a precursor to the values and prejudices of the modern world instead of a challenge to them. This dissertation studies the House of Fame in light of its intellectual context and its social and literary milieu: it is a poem that draws on a rich tradition of Christian and pagan literary authorities, densely populated with mythical figures, epic heroes, biblical prophecies, and literary allusions, all co-opted into an intricate, imaginatively appealing web of figural representation. It also imbibes the apocalyptic consciousness and the philosophical flux of the fourteenth century. At the foundation of this unwieldy poem lies distinct philosophical assumptions that hearken back to orthodox, realist sources and positions, expressed most relevantly to Chaucer's interests and time period in Boethius's Consolation of Philosophy and Wyclif's defense of realism, in On Universals in particular. Standing on the firm ground of Augustinian realism, Wyclif disputes the modern logicians, who refute the existence of universals and thus chip away at the foundations of the Christian faith. In Boethius's and Wyclif's defense of universals, the themes and concerns of their work align closely with those of Chaucer, in particular in his emphasis on the connection that exists between word and deed, between language and reality. Chaucer is concerned with language and its ability to convey meaning, both as a poet and as a thinker grappling with the philosophical and intellectual currents of his day.