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False and sooth compounded in Caxton's ending of Chaucer's House Of Fame.

Si quis abstulerit vel curtaverit folium, anathema sit. (1)

But for the postface, it is always both too early and too late. (Gerard Genette, Paratexts)

God turne us every drem to goode! (Chaucer, House of Fame)

In William Caxton's apology for the many sins of omission and commission in his first edition of The Canterbury Tales (1477) the publisher defensively maintains, "by me was nothyng added ne mynussyd." (2) The formula is a favorite of Caxton's and appears often in his prologues and epilogues, sometimes as an invitation to his noble readers to correct his text as they see fit and sometimes as here it is a self-justification--no matter how corrupt Caxton's editions might be, the corruption was not introduced by him. The phrase also reveals something about how Caxton thinks of texts: they are malleable or elastic objects subject to his manipulations, just as he himself is subject to his customers' demands. Caxton perhaps adapts this conception of textuality from what Thomas Greene calls the "tacitly unfinished" nature of manuscripts, (3) though his attitude is certainly complicated by the printing revolution, one of the great benefits of which was supposedly the multiple and identical production of faithful copies (see Greene 81-88 and Bruns 125-126). The central space occupied by Caxton's print shop between Chaucer's texts and his late fifteenth-century readers is a central concern of this essay, a space, I will argue, where it is Caxton's business to manufacture authority through responses to and the channeling of demand.

The "Prohemye" to the second edition of the Canterbury Tales (1483) which contains Caxton's apology blames the flaws of the first edition on a corrupt copytext riddled with deletions and padded with scribal fillers: "wryters haue abrydgyd it and many thynges left out and in somme place haue sette certayn versys that he [Chaucer] neuer made ne sette in hys booke." Hoping to market the new edition successfully, the publisher assures his customers that he himself has "dylygently oversen and duly examyned" the text "to th'ende that it be made acordyng unto his [Chaucer's] owen makyng." The repetition ("made," "making") while it is typical of Caxton's prose style also intimates something about the parallel roles of poet and publisher. Both he and Chaucer are makers of poetry: the one creates, the other hopes to reproduce this original intention a century later despite the intervention of careless scribes and compositors. However, Caxton's way of making the new edition of the Canterbury Tales accord with his idea of what Chaucer wrote is quite different than the strategy modern editors would employ to establish a text. It seems that when a patron offered him a better text Caxton simply corrected his old edition with the new manuscript. He did not collate the two manuscripts nor did he print the new, superior text, but rather conflated two separate manuscript traditions. (4) Caxton has received a great deal of criticism for the cavalier ways he treated Chaucer's text but such hindsight need not detain us here. What we should note however is the publisher's willingness to supplement faulty or incomplete texts according to models he deems more accurate and complete.

In the same year (1483), no doubt intending to capitalize on the demand that a new Canterbury Tales would create, Caxton printed another of Chaucer's unfinished works, accepting the title given in the Retractions, The Book of Fame, to which he adjoins an extended epilogue. (5) Also published at the same time was yet a third Chaucer folio, the Troilus and Criseyde. Caxton's use of prologues and epilogues is spotty: in all his publications of Chaucer only the Boece, the second edition of the Canterbury Tales and the Book of Fame include extended paratextual remarks. Caxton's Troilus has neither prologue nor epilogue and even lacks a title. About Caxton's three Chaucer publications of 1483, I would like to suggest the following hypothesis, which if accepted would help us fit the pieces of these three works together as forming a revealing example of the mixture of commercial motivation and literary appreciation in Caxton's presentation of Chaucer. As Alexandra Gillespie remarks:
   It is possible ... that Caxton's issue of three Chaucer folios in
   1483 offered readers the opportunity to assemble collections of
   Chaucer's Works, which Leland and Pynson imitated. In a collection
   of works, the anonymous 1483 Troilus would be the logical extension
   of Caxton's representation of the Tales and House of Fame as books
   of Chaucer's "owen making." (173)


It is quite possible too that the production of these folios as Sammelbande includes "traces" of Caxton's marketing design. If as is likely Caxton designed these three poems to be assembled as a "works" anthology of Chaucer, then Caxton's paratexts for these publications can be seen as a marvel of economy and foresight. Binding the collection of Sammelbande in the order Canterbury Tales, Troilus and Criseyde, and concluding with the Book of Fame yields a series beginning with a "Prologue" and ending with an "Epilogue." Both of the paratexts in this series, occupying the places of what Gerard Genette would call a "preface" and a "postface" (cf., 237-294), praise Chaucer as a "laureate poete," reference his worthiness to be read by the nobility, and advertise Caxton's diligent oversight of the preservation and restoration of these texts. If we imagine that such an order was planned, then the unfinished nature of Chaucer's House of Fame exerts special pressure on an editor wishing not only to round out his folio collection of Sammelbande with an appearance of completeness, but also responding with a particular urgency to the matter of the poem itself: poetic fame and the transmission of literature.

Certainly Caxton's intervention at the end of the House of Fame displays an anxiety about the status of an unfinished text not in evidence in his other publications of Chaucer's fragments, such as the unfinished tales or the incomplete Canterbury Tales. With his edition of the House of Fame Caxton openly commits the same kind of additions to his source text for which he had castigated the scribes of Chaucer's Tales in the prologue. He appends "certayn versys" to the poem which Chaucer "neuer made," though he also prints his name in the margin across from the first of these lines to articulate the space between this prosthetic appendage and the crippled body of Chaucer's text.
   They were a chekked both two
   And neyther of hym might out goo
   And wyth the noyse of them (t)wo (6) CAXTON
   I sodeynly awoke anon tho
   And remembryd what I had seen
   And how hye and ferre I had been
   In my ghoost and had grete wonder
   Of that the God of Thunder
   Had lete me knowen and began to wryte
   Lyke as ye have herd me endyte
   Wherefor to studye and rede alway
   I purpose to doo day be day
   Thus in dremyng and in game
   Endeth thys lytyl Book of Fame. (7)


The spirit and the substance of Caxton's ending are modeled on the final stanza of The Parliament of Fowls. Just as Caxton had used another text of the Canterbury Tales to supplement and correct his initial, faulty edition, so too he uses one dream vision to complete another. While the conclusion is clearly not by Chaucer, still it is "made according to his making."
   And with the shoutyng, whan the song was do
   That foules maden at here flyght awey,
   I wok, and othere bokes tok me to,
   To reede upon, and yet I rede alway.
   I hope, ywis, to rede so som day
   That I shal mete som thyng for to fare
   The bet, and thus to rede I nyl nat spare.
   (693-699) (8)


That Caxton fell prey to a temptation that threatens to seduce all editors has not endeared him to his modern counterparts. F.N. Blake is typically forthright in dismissing the printer's imitation of these lines. He judges the conclusion tacked on amateurishly in a hasty attempt to "tidy up the text: he wished to print an entire poem. Yet he was not sufficiently moved by the poem to think how it might have finished; he had neither the talent nor the inspiration for that. His addition is in no sense a continuation; it is simply a way of drawing the poem to an end as quickly as possible" (Caxton and his World 107). This is an unduly harsh and misleading judgment. As I will argue, Caxton's way of ending the poem demonstrates a canny as well as sympathetic reaction to the poem's ubiquitous concern with the transmission of literature.

The self-confessed forgery shows that the printer was attentive to many of the idiosyncrasies of Chaucer's style and tone. The noise within the dream that startles the dreamer awake, the author's waking resolution to record his experience and his dedication to reading are staples of Chaucer's dream persona that his fifteenth-century readers admired and imitated. Such effects became trademarks of Chaucerianism among poets from Hoccleve, Clanvowe and Lydgate to Dunbar and Skelton. (9) The conclusion certainly highlights Caxton's familiarity with Chaucer's poetry: it is "made according to his making." Despite a few metrical irregularities, the imitation is quite an acceptable addition to the canon of Chauceriana, but the question remains: why was it written? Either a cosmetic ending designed to conceal that the poem was unfinished--such as those favored by the scribes who wrote spurious endings to the Canterbury Tales (10)--or an extended completion frankly authored by Caxton would be readily explicable. But why append such a brief ending and then mark it as allographic? As I argued above the poetic conclusion and the epilogue which follows it may contain traces of an overarching editorial plan. It is likely as well that Caxton felt a completed poem had a greater claim on his readers' attention. And perhaps, like some modern scholars, he felt the poem all but finished. Caxton's name in the margin serves both as a barrier against charges of forgery and as a flag to signal the end of Chaucer's text, thereby shielding the printer against the charges of unidentified additions and subtractions brought against the editio princeps of the Canterbury Tales. Yet this act of editorial rectitude is also a wedge Caxton uses to insert his own poetry as well as his own name into Chaucer's House of Fame. I suggest that this critical act of closure is both more sensitive and more motivated a conclusion than Caxton's own editors have imagined.

Modern scholars have uniformly assumed that the manuscript from which Caxton produced his version must have lacked the final sixty-four lines of the poem as it is printed in modern editions. (11) His edition ends at line 2094 with the contrary voices of "leysyng" and "soth sayd sawe" (12) wedged in a slapstick stalemate at the window frame, "and neyther of hym myght out goo." Scholars have been quick to sympathize with Caxton's plea that he printed the poem just as he found it. Since the House of Fame is incomplete in all the extant MSS, it is easy to believe that the random loss of a folio page accounts for Caxton's copytext being even more incomplete than the two manuscripts (Fairfax 16 and Bodley 638) (13) which end as modern editions of the poem do--with the silent epiphany of the "man of gret auctoritee." But if his manuscript did end at the exact point he claims, the remaining lines provided the editor an almost impossibly fortuitous opportunity to affix the ready-made ending adapted from the Parliament of Fowls. Should not the excellent fit of the Parliamentinspired ending to Caxton's version make us at least a little suspicious? Like the second edition of the Canterbury Tales published that same year, Caxton's Book of Fame may also have undergone a process of addition and subtraction quite different than he leads us to suspect.

It may be that Caxton's honesty about his own contribution to Chaucer's poem is, in part, a screen to hide what he takes away. In his version of Chaucer's House of Fame there is no need to put words in the mouth of the "man of gret auctoritee," no need for the printer to engage in what has turned out to be an endless debate about his identity and his message, no need to unravel the complexities of the dark conceit which few readers, medieval or modern, have felt confident to provide. Caxton avoids the Sisyphean task of having to make sense of all that has gone before. In his version of the House of Fame, as in the Parliament, the decision between contrary voices is simply deferred. And only a ruckus not a resolution is needed to draw the poem to a hasty close. Excising the final 64 lines, the printer escapes the necessity to make order out this most chaotic of Chaucer's inventions and instead offers an ending truer to the spirit of the poem as we have it than perhaps even Chaucer himself was prepared to do. He need only wake the dreamer at an opportune moment, one that freezes in stasis the poem's central agon between truth and falsity. Chaucer's window frame is made to serve as a framing device; in it he displays as the poem's final image the contradictory properties of fame and of language itself: "lesyng" and "soth sawe" deadlocked in an inextricable paradox. Framing the winged rumors in this way presents Caxton's readers with a memorable, telling emblem of the hermeneutic indecisiveness that rules the whole poem.

The "Epilogue" which follows Caxton's poetic conclusion maintains a scrupulous division between poet and printer:
   I fynde nomore of this werke to fore sayd / For as fer as I can
   vnderstande / This noble man Geofferey Chaucer fynysshed at the
   sayd conclusion of the metyng of leysng and sothsawe / where as yet
   they ben chekked and maye not departe / whyche werke as me semeth
   is craftyly made and dygne to be wreton and knowen / For he
   towechyth in it grete wysedom and subtyll vnderstandyng / And so in
   alle hys werkys he excelleth in myn oppynyon alle other wryters in
   our Englyssh / For he wrytteth no voyde wordes/ but alle hys mater
   is ful of hye and quycke sentence / to whom alle ought to be gyuen
   laude and preysyng for his noble makyng and wrytyng / For of hym
   alle other haue borowed syth and taken / in alle theyr sayeng and
   wrytyng. And I humbly beseche and praye yow emonge your prayers to
   remember hys soule, on wyche and on alle Crysten soulis I beseche
   Almyghty God to have mercy. Amen.

   Emprynted by Wylliam Caxton


Caxton's obsessively conjunctive periods might lead us to snicker at the lack of self-consciousness in his praise of Chaucer for writing "no voyde wordes," but beneath the repetitiousness of the style lurks a genuine concern about the printing of an unfinished text. The next to last sentence could easily be passed over as just another in the long list of fifteenth-century tributes to the poet, yet it is also possible to read these words as an apology for Caxton's own verses. As a poet Caxton employs the combination of imitation and reverence that characterizes the Chaucerian tradition. As an editor, he has "borrowed" language from one of Chaucer's poems to restore another, like a stonemason rebuilding a vaulted architrave with stone of equal weight and size, taken from another building. But in order to make the restoration he has had to knock a jagged edge from the ruin. Caxton sacrificed the end of the fragment in order to make it conform to a pattern of closure for which there existed a ready-made example in the conclusion to the Parliament of Fowls. Paradoxically, the last 64 lines of Chaucer's poem are 'edited' in order to accommodate a conclusion that is recognizably Chaucerian. Caxton's Book of Fame is then circumscribed by the editor's understanding of symbolic form. A poem that seems to promise answers but fails to deliver becomes, like the Parliament, a finished but indecisive poem that dramatizes irresolution. In Roland Barthes' terms the movement is backwards, from "text" to "work," in that Caxton attempts to close down the openness of Chaucer's text by fixing its meaning in a comic image of indeterminacy itself. (14) And again in Barthes' terms, this perhaps regressive movement from text to work is performed in the service of bestowing "authority" upon the writer.

The publisher's explanation specifies with admirable precision the exact line at which his text of Chaucer's poem ends. The "Epilogue" also reveals a subtle appreciation of the resonance of this image for the poem. Caxton wryly updates the location of "lesyng" and "soth sawe," claiming that they remain "as yet" right where Chaucer left them. And we may glimpse behind the clever joke about Caxton's editorial rectitude a profounder point about the mixture of fidelity and distortion in acts of textual reproduction. As Paul Strohm reads the episode in his masterful Social Chaucer, the selfish bargain ultimately struck by lying and truth-telling (not in Caxton's version) may represent a satire of the "essentially opportunistic" agreements that are "a source of social havoc" (96). Caxton's own resolution of the conflicts aroused by the poem's ending--or rather lack of one--then duplicates the very temporizing kind of alliance of truth and falsehood that Chaucer himself attributes to the rise of commercialism. However, in choosing to end his Book of Fame with the trapped birds Caxton may also be recuperating a traditional mnemonic trope often found in the borders of manuscripts. (15) By stopping forever Chaucer's contentious birds of rumor Caxton signals to his readers what they should remember about the Book of Fame, that it is a comic poem about the duplicities inherent in the transmission of any message, particularly in the reception and commercial reproduction of literary texts.

Caxton's choice of "lesing" and "soth sawe" as the ending of the vision may derive from his recognition of the importance of the concept in the representation of Fame and dreams in ancient literature. In Book Four (line190) of the Aeneid, Fama herself 'sang equally of things done and undone' (pariter facta atque infecta canebat), as she does in Ovid's Metamorphoses 12. 54-5 (mixta cum veris ... commenta). In this most variable of goddesses, one characteristic remains constant: she mixes truth and falsehood. But in choosing the confounding of truth and lying to end his version of the House of Fame, Caxton recalls an even more important subtext for the dream vision genre--the Gates of Dreams in the sixth book of the Aeneid:
   Sunt geminae Somni portae, quarum altera fertur cornea, qua veris
   facilis datur exitus umbris, altera candenti perfecta nitens
   elephanto, sed falsa ad caelum mittunt insomnia manes.

   (There are twin gates of Dreams, one is said to be of horn through
   which an easy exit is given to true shades, but by another shining
   gate of brilliant ivory the spirits send forth false nightmares to
   the upper air.)

   (lines 893-899) (16)


The last image of Aeneid 6 becomes mutatis mutandis the last image of the Book of Fame. Typically, Chaucer has comically deflated and transformed what is a founding text of medieval dream interpretation without robbing the image of its resonance or gravity. He leaves truth and falsity only one exit and Caxton fixes them there, provocatively entangled for all time.

It is a commonplace of medieval dream literature that dreams are very difficult to interpret. Indeed, Chaucer's House of Fame begins with an extended dubitatio about the categorization, causes, significance and validity of dreams. Caxton's conclusion brings about not a resolution of this difficulty but rather a disorderly sense of closure, of things having come full-circle. The ending returns us to the epistemological havoc of the beginning and confirms its proposition, that dreams are ambiguous. And the ring structure created by Caxton's new ending is faithful both to the poetics of the House of Fame itself and the experience of reading the poem, which, as McGerr's summarizes, "takes the reader on a textual path that repeatedly circles back on and mirrors itself, as though to return the reader to its beginning" (62). Donald R. Howard has argued ingeniously that the closing of Chaucer's poem is to be taken as a kind of shaggy dog story in which the silent "man of grete auctoritee" represents the message of Chaucer's poem, that there is no message (232-259). (17) By expunging this man from the end of the poem, Caxton leaves us without an expectation of a deus ex machina who will appear to make sense of it all. In essence this new ending takes from the poem its most provocative "lack" (in Middle English both a physical or moral defect, as well as a desideratum). Carol A.N. Martin notes the difficulties later Renaissance editors (like Speght) had with the poem's "paradox-oriented dialectics" as against the "truth claims of the more usually employed dialectics of scholastic philosophy" (40), evident in Boccaccio's treatment of the issue in the final two books of Genealogy of the Gentile Gods and in Sidney's Apology for Poetry, for instance. If Renaissance editors had a problem with Chaucer's House of Fame that caused them to marginalize the poem and attempt to mute its skepticism about poetry as a vehicle of fame and truth, as Martin maintains, then Caxton's ending suggests that he too may have found the poem troubling, but that he was sufficiently concerned to offer a less dismissive resolution to the problems it poses. The message of Caxton's version--that poetic messages are themselves ambiguous --is hardly a conclusion that either Boccaccio or Sidney would have disputed. Incidentally, this is also very much in keeping with the conclusions about the House of Fame come to by most recent critics of the poem. (18)

Chaucer's poem dramatizes what happens to books when they enter a mind already cluttered with other books: some of them memorized verbatim, some barely and imperfectly recollected, some hopelessly muddled, and others (like the infamous "Lollius") present only by reputation. When a book enters the messy, cramped space of a brain full of other books it is accommodated to what is already there, just as these books have to give up space--or share it--with the new arrival. Chaucer's poem is a comedy about the cluttered space of readerly intellection, a carnival celebration of the imagination ruminating on memories of books. Through this menacing funhouse of folly and delight we venture forth into the uncertain future of a mind making itself up as it goes along. Books truncate and supplement each other in the dreamer's vision. Just as the story of Troy is reduced to a set of tableaux by Virgil in the reliefs which adorn the Temple of Juno in Book One, so too the Aeneid itself is reduced to a combination rebus and picture gallery in the Temple of Glass in the first book of the House of Fame. This ekphrasis is instructive for the way it presents the difficulties implicit in the transmission of literature. The temple it seems is also a house of translation. The table of brass is inscribed with an idiosyncratic metaphrase of the beginning of Virgil's epic, suitably adapted to the tentative Chaucerian style: "I wol now synge, yif I kan/ The armes and also the man" (143). The multiform changes that language undergoes as it passes through time are foregrounded. After taking six lines to translate two plus a dactyl of Virgil's opening, Chaucer turns to paraphrase, but this paraphrase itself quickly slips into narration and includes pieces of direct address that have no classical source and seem to come from Chaucer's sympathetic participation in the markedly Ovidian pathos of the events he transcribes.

The dreamer re-members the events of the Aeneid out of proportion to Virgil's presentation of them and in chronological order (the rhetoricians' ordo naturalis rather than ordo artificis) so that the iliupersis and the odyssey (Books 2 and 3) of Aeneas are narrated before the events of Book 1. The first image on the wall described is that of Sinon whose name (Yes/No) and character form a human counterpart to the compounding of truth and falsehood later in the dreamer's voyage. In this temple sacred to Venus, Chaucer's narration of the Dido episode swells to many times the size of his retelling of the rest of the Aeneid and his account of Dido's tragedy is complicated by a different point of view on the love affair, contaminated by Ovid's Heroides. Chaucer's memory and discernment are also at issue, he thinks or pretends to think that Iulus and Ascanius are the names of Aeneas' two sons (177-178). The narrator also demonstrates that personal bias and sympathies have a role to play in the reception of a text: at one point he breaks off his tale to complain, in direct address, to Juno for her cruelty to his Trojan forebears--a mise en abyme of recrimination that takes its clue from similar sentiments expressed in Book One of the Aeneid, first by Virgil himself and later by Aeneas. And too his synopsis of the last half of the Aeneid is so hasty that only eight lines are used to cover the final six books. Wittingly or not, Chaucer has given us a model of how a courtly poet attends to classical, martial epic: the topic of love is brought to the forefront and magnified while events like the destruction and foundation of civilizations recede to form a dim and confusing backdrop--not unlike the ratio between the history of Troy and the sorrows of Troilus in Chaucer's own (romance) epic. (19) Chaucer's treatment of the Aeneid demonstrates that as texts are received they are supplemented and truncated according to the predispositions of the reader. Likewise, Caxton's encounters with Chaucer's poetry, his additions and subtractions, prove that he had learned from his master how to reproduce a text that bears the distinct traces of having been read at a particular time and place.

If Chaucer's great themes in the House of Fame are the posterity of literature and its capacity to grant renown to both its creators and their subjects, these themes are decisively undercut by the consistent insinuation that literature is distorted by transmission and that Fame is indeed a capricious goddess. Fame not only inspires literature to be written but also influences details of its production, an allegory in fact of the apprehension of a past reconstructed through error, bias, distorting paraphrase, annotation and outright fabrication. Such a view of literary transmission and the vagaries of posthumous reputation betray a profound suspicion of the future. While the dreamer is on a magical mystery tour through the afterlife of language in "Fames hous," the bathos suggests (to me at least) that Chaucer is whistling in the dark. Twice after writing the House of Fame, he is on record about the transmission of his works, most memorably in his curse of "Adam Scriveyn":
   Adam Scriveyn, if ever it thee befalle
   Boece or Troylus to wryten newe,
   Under thy long lokkes thou most have the scalle,
   But after my makyng thow wryte more trewe;
   So ofte adaye I mot thy werk renewe,
   It to correcte and eke to rubbe and scrape,
   And al is thorugh thy negligence and rape.


Despite the subtle humor of this comic curse on the carelessness and pretentiousness of scribes, the poem also betrays a profound wish--that like Christ, the poet might always be there to repair the sins of Adam and to keep his word(s) inviolate. The curse suggests that perhaps Chaucer did try to control the dissemination of his texts. But it also self-parodically encodes the futility of a mere mortal who wants his words to endure uncorrupted by human frailties. Caxton, like Adam, will make Chaucer's works anew and Caxton's appeals for correction will be addressed--unlike earlier writers in the Chaucerian tradition-- not to Chaucer himself but rather to an audience of noble patrons. (20) Taste, commercialism and social deference not fidelity to an originary act of composition have become the new arbiter of what Chaucer wrote.

In the envoy to the Troilus and Criseyde--at the time of its completion the poet's greatest claim to the kind of fame granted to classical auctores like "Virgile, Ovide, Omer, Lucan, and Stace"--Chaucer prays directly to God to save his poetry from the wastes of linguistic change and he prays too that it will be understood (5. 1793-1799):
   And for there is so gret diversite
   In Englissh and in writing of oure tonge,
   So prey I God that non myswrite the,
   Ne the mysmetre for defaute of tonge;
   And red whereso thow be, or elles songe,
   That thow be understonde, God I biseche.


As we know, in the centuries that followed his death Chaucer's prayer was left unanswered. The writer of the House of Fame, who had not yet achieved the stature he would earn as the translator of the Consolation of Philosophy and the Troilus and Criseyde, was more wary and trenchant. He curses even his readers and sentences those who misjudge his work to a public execution (90-109):
   And send hem al that may hem plese,
   That take it wel and skorne it noght,
   Ne hyt mysdemen in her thoght
   Thorgh malicious entencioun.
   And whoso thorgh presumpcioun,
   Or hate, or skorn, or thorgh envye,
   Dispit, or jape, or vilanye
   Mysdeme hyt, pray I Jesus God
   That (dreme he barefot, dreme he shod),
   That every harm that any man
   Hath had syth the world began
   Befalle hym therof or he sterve,
   And graunte he mot hit ful deserve,
   Lo, with such a conclusion
   As had of his avision
   Cresus, that was kyng of Lyde,
   That high upon a gebet dyde.
   This prayer shal he have of me;
   I am no bet in charyte!


The curse contains a clever conceit that aligns dreaming and reading. Those readers who misjudge the dreamer's recounting of his vision are condemned to wake from the poem as Cresus woke from his "avision": to death on the gallows. While he has been praised by much modern criticism for his jovial and good-natured self-mockery, Chaucer also perhaps discloses beneath the broad comedy of works like the House of Fame and the Canterbury Tales evidence of a poet dramatizing what was for him, perhaps even more than for most writers, deep fears of antagonistic, frivolous readers and of an uncertain posterity. I would argue that both works evince an ambivalent skepticism about how Chaucer himself and his works will be received. It is no surprise that Alexander Pope, that most venomous castigator of his critics, found congenial sentiments in the House of Fame.

The self-ridicule of the Prologues to the tales of Sir Thopas and Melibee, when looked at in this way, dramatize the poet's fear of rejection and humiliation by his audience. Harry Bailey reduces the poet to an effeminate doll and his poetry to excrement, valuing his "drasty rymyng" below a "toord." The Chaucer that Harry describes is a brooding, haughty, yet absurd spectacle to which the tavern keeper draws unwanted attention. Perhaps we should take this Chaucerian self-portrait with more "high seriousness" than we have done heretofore. The early fifteenth-century frontispiece of Chaucer reading his Troilus to an assembled gentry who converge on him from all corners of the picture to hear his poem is, I think, more an idealization of the way later generations of Chaucer's readers would see him than it is of the self fashioned by his poetry. The truculent, suspicious baggage of the House of Fame and the abashed, deferential doll of the Canterbury Tales, like many self-caricatures, display profound self-doubts. Harry's abuse depicts a man who shuns the companionship of the other pilgrims and is, in turn, mocked and rejected by them. Although there are obviously many things to recommend the traditional view of Chaucer as a congenial man of the world, his self-portraits suggest a more guarded stance toward his audience and may represent Chaucer's perception of himself as an indignant author whose poems are often unfinished because his audience doesn't like them.

Whether or not we can see glimpses of the man behind the poses, the character "Geffrey" who journeys through the marvelous worlds of the House of Fame wishes to exempt himself and his poems from judgment. Interrogated by what one critic has seen as a satanic tempter about whether he has come to seek Fame, Geffrey hastily responds that he is only there to seek gossip about others, "Somme newe tydyngs for to lere" (1886). He refuses to identify himself to his unknown questioner, begs for complete anonymity and vows to be the sole judge of himself and his works (1871-1882):
   ... "Frend, what is thy name?
   Artow come hyder to han fame?"
   "Nay, for sothe, frend," quod y;
   "I cam noght hyder, graunt mercy,
   For no such cause, by my hed!
   Sufficeth me as I were ded,
   That no wight have my name in honde.
   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 far forth as I kan myn art."


The outburst strikes one as a blend of stubborn resolution and suspicious withdrawal from the judgment of others, it is as though Chaucer has closed himself off a fist in a gesture that is part pique, part burgeoning self-reliance. Chaucer understood at the time of writing the House of Fame that his own reputation among the great poetae was, as yet, far from established. (21)

Indeed, Derek Brewer characterizes the tentative, provisional nature of the Chaucer's style at this early point in his career with a wonderful quip about "a poem that seems doubtful even of its own existence" (110). This fear of judgment and ambivalence about the transmission of his art are exactly what Caxton's printing of Chaucer deliberately works to assuage. Yet, ironically, Caxton mimes the capriciousness of Fame herself in granting to the poet and his to work a renown he could not bear to seek. Caxton's re-making of the House of Fame 'according to Chaucer's own making,' (22) engages the text on its own terms. His conclusion is a cagey and celebratory rejoinder to the matter of the poem. The House of Fame--the most ebullient, even reckless meditation on the nature of literary transmission written in the Middle Ages--is exposed to the strange mixture of teleology and caprice that Fame herself represents. The press in Westminster at the Sign of the Red Pale becomes a House of Fame which grants immortality to Chaucer and which processes his book according to the whimsical rules for literary transmission inscribed by the text itself. Caxton's Book of Fame confronts us with the strange and fascinating hermeneutic circle of a book that has come under its own influence.

Perhaps it was Koonce who offered the most profound commentary about the relationship of Chaucer's poem to literary tradition. In constructing a consistent and continual pattern of references in the House of Fame to the Divine Comedy, Koonce noted that Chaucer's poem parallels Dante's treatise on the state of souls after death with a comic exploration of the state of language after its production in speech or writing. As I have been arguing, following critics like Delany, Chaucer's view of the afterlife of language is a profoundly skeptical, perhaps even cynical one. Indeed, despite his recurrent allusions to Dante's journey from the Inferno to Paradise, the three books of Geffrey's travels do not provide him with any progressive illuminations or inspirations of the spirit, he ends in the most infernal place of all, the house of twigs replete with the noisy, self-seeking and chaotic justice of the mortal world. The poem moves from the pathetic images in the Temple of Glass to a place where reputations are tortured by malicious Rumor. Perhaps Chaucer thought of his narrator as journeying in the opposite direction of Dante's, from the wilderness of illusion (see lines 480-495) to the bustle and confusion of his own contemporary world.

Many explanations of the unfinished ending of Chaucer's poem assume that the poem was to take a final turn toward current matters of state and that the "man of gret auctoritee" was set to announce a marriage in fulfillment of "love tydyngs," which the poet had entered the whirling wicket of rumor to hear. If such an occasional turn was planned, and I think it was, Caxton, a hundred years or so hence, was in no position to supply it. If the publisher did break the poem off short it was because the kind of occasional ending which the House of Rumor seems to demand had been rendered moot by the lapse of time. Even if he could have produced it, Caxton's readers during the reign of Henry VI would not have been likely to appreciate stale gossip about the marriage negotiations of the deposed and discredited Richard II. And Caxton is not the sort of man who would have finished Chaucer's poem by supplying his readers with a piece of contemporary gossip. But he and his audience did share with Chaucer a common experience that encouraged them to find shadows of their own world in the House of Fame.

Laura Kendrick, in an impressive piece of detective work, has demonstrated with some precision that many of the architectural features of Chaucer's poem derive from the Palais de Justice in France, which the poet may have seen on one of his many embassies to the continent. Pointing out a number of architectural similarities, she identifies Fame's house with the Great Hall of the palace and suggests that the adjacent Gallery of the Haberdashers provided the model for Chaucer's House of Rumor. She also allows for the intriguing possibility that St. Chapelle with its vaulted ceiling, starry heaven and its huge relic of a vulture's claw and talons suggested to the poet his inter-stellar voyage in the claws of the pedantic eagle. While I admire greatly the work of Kendrick and others who have sought out the material sources for the architectural oddities of the poem, I think it is also important to note that Chaucer probably expected his readers to equate the three buildings with major structures on their own soil. Here, I stress the importance of the environment within which the poem was read and reproduced. Chaucer used his French sources here as he often did in the dream visions: he translated the elements of continental ornamentation into his own environs. While his audience may have delighted in the strange and wonderful details imported from France and Italy, when they heard of a voyage from a church to a palace to a madhouse of tumultuous folly they would surely have imagined its location within the precincts of Westminster. They would have situated the Temple of Glass in the vicinity of Westminster Abbey perhaps in the Lady Chapel, itself influenced by St. Chapelle; they would have equated the House of Fame with Westminster Hall, the site where the (equally capricious) Richard II gave his dooms; and in the adjoining abode of rumor and trampling ambition they would probably have seen an allegory of their own parliaments.

Caxton's version also furthers the impression that the poet's vision is to be located in Westminster. The notion that an author's fame and the propagation of his works were dependent on the judgment of the Westminster cognoscenti must have been an attractive one for the publisher and his clientele. Caxton's business at the "Sign of the Red Pale" was within the abbey almonry and the shop he rented was on the path between the monastery church and Westminster Hall. (23) It is from this spot in Westminster, not far from the poet's tomb, where Caxton decides, on his own authority ("me semeth"), that Chaucer's House of Fame is "crafyly made and dyngne to be wreton and knowen" and that the poet himself is worthy of "laude and preysyng for his noble makyng." The real House of Fame in England now resides at the sign of the Red Pale, and its proprietor Caxton, decides what works and authors will be granted the immortality of the printed page. The "textual environment" of the House of Fame has become Caxton's shop in Westminster and this environment helped to determine how the publisher and his audience would read and reproduce the poem.

Indeed the print shop and what Caxton does to texts there appears to mirror many of the distinctive features of Fame's House. Books move to the print shop, just as all speech moves to the House of Fame according to a magnetic force called "kyndely inclynyng" where words "may best in it conserved be" (732). Caxton's prologues contain many wonderful stories about how this or that manuscript found its way into his hands. In the House of Fame words miraculously take on the appearance of the man who spoke them, and so, analogously, does Caxton in his allographic imitation and signature assume the persona of Chaucer within his print shop in order to end his poem: "And hath so verray his lyknesse/ That spak the word, that thou wilt gesse/ That it the same body be" (1079-1081). Like Fame too, he adds a little on to the end of what he receives before he passes it along to others (see lines 2065-2067). And, as I have been arguing throughout this essay, the text that Caxton produces, like all that is created in "Fames Hous," is a mixture of "fals and soth compouned" (1029 and 2108).

Caxton's Book of Fame is a provocative example of the ways that texts radiate out to new environments and new readers. Books are adapted to the tastes of changing audiences but they also help to set the paradigms by which they will be consumed. This is to say, in contradiction to the tenor of much reception criticism, that texts also determine their environments, albeit in unexpected ways. Chaucer curses interpreters and seeks to avoid the parlous futurity to which he knows all writing is subject, yet the House of Fame becomes the model for a printer a hundred years hence who wants to exalt Chaucer as the greatest of English poets and to make an incomplete poem appear (all but) "fynnyshed" and thereby worthy of his customers. Caxton himself steps forward at the end of the poem as the "man of gret auctoritee," thereby transforming the dream vision from a pessimistic search for authority and a fear of recognition to a confirmation of Chaucer's worthiness for fame. If, as many have thought, Chaucer's House of Fame is a search through the materials of literary history and the tumultuous present for a matter that would make the poet famous on the scale of the ancients or the admired Italians, then Caxton's ending transforms this search for fame into a vehicle for conferring upon the poet the "clere laude" he has earned. That a work such as the House of Fame could be made to represent a self-mocking laureation of the poet is something which later writers like Gavin Douglas and John Skelton gleaned from the poem, very likely from Caxton's edition of it.

In stepping forth at the end of the House of Fame as the authority the poet had been seeking Caxton emphasizes the extent to which the reputation of Chaucer and his poem are in his hands. While the printer may have imitated the processes of mutable Fame in disposing Chaucer's case, he finally emerges as a savior of the poet's spiritual as well as textual immortality. After recommending to his readers the value of Chaucer's work, he exhorts them to "remembre hys soule" in their prayers. The "Prologue" to the second edition of the Canterbury Tales also concludes with such a reminder, as does the only other text of Chaucer's to which Caxton appends a paratext, the Boece. Yet this time Caxton directs his readers not only to pray for Chaucer's soul but also to visit his tomb, to which he provides explicit directions: "the body and corps lieth buried in th'Abbay of Westminstre beside London tofore the Chapele of Seynte Benet." In guiding his readers to these precincts, he of course also directs them to the site where the printer defeats Chaucer's death by reproducing his words. The corpse lies buried in the tomb but Caxton has seen to it that an epitaph by the Italian "poete laureat," Steven Surigonus decorates the "sepulture" and to this too Caxton appends a conclusion:
   Post obitum Caxton voluit te vivere cura
   Willelmi, Chaucer clare poeta, tui;
   Nam tua non solum compressit opuscula formis
   Has quoque sed laudes iussit hic esse tuas.

   After death Caxton wanted you, Chaucer, famous poet, to live on in
   his keeping, for he not only printed your dear works on his press
   but he also commanded that your praises be set down here.


Of course this epilogue also testifies most bravely to the circular nature of Caxton's literary judgments and his marketing strategies. It casts Chaucer's readers as pilgrims to his tomb, which incidentally lies fast by Caxton's own shop.

Caxton's paratexts manifest the ways in which he makes himself responsible for the poet's physical and literary remains (see Lerer 147-175). Both Chaucer and his works have found a savior whose love and whose justice are immutable. Chaucer's words and his memory--thanks to Caxton--are now eternal: his works "shal endure perpetuelly and therefore he ought eternelly to be remembrid," which in turn is followed, as in all of Caxton's writings on Chaucer, by a plea that his readers pray for the poet's soul. Indeed publishing and reading Chaucer have come to seem acts of devotion, which confer an immortality that is the humanist equivalent of the eternal blessedness of heaven.

Works Cited

Barthes, Roland, "From Work to Text" in The Rustle of Language. Trans. Richard Howard. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1986. 56-64.

Benson, Larry D., gen. ed. The Riverside Chaucer. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1987.

Blades, William. The Biography and Typography of William Caxton, 2nd ed. London, 1882.

Blake, N.F. Caxton and His World. London: Andre Deutsch, 1969.

--. Caxton's Own Prose. London: Andre Deutsch Limited, 1973.

--. William Caxton and English Literary Culture. London: The Hambledon Press, 1991.

Boccaccio, Giovanni. Boccaccio on Poetry: Being the Preface and the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Books of Boccaccio's "Genealogia deorum gentlium libri." Trans. Charles G. Osgood. New York: Liberal Arts Press, 1930.

Boitani, Piero. Chaucer and the Imaginary World of Fame. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1984.

Boyd, Beverly. "William Caxton" in Editing Chaucer: The Great Tradition. Paul Ruggiers, ed. Norman, Oklahoma: Pilgrim Books, 1984. 13-34.

Brewer, Derek. The Life of Geoffrey Chaucer: A Critical Biography. Oxford: Blackwell, 1992.

Bruns, Gerald L. "The Originality of Texts in Manuscript Culture." Comparative Literature 32 (1980): 113-129.

Carruthers, Mary. The Book of Memory: A Study of Memory in Medieval Culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Crotch, W.J.B. The Prologues and Epilogues of William Caxton, EETS, O.S. 176. London: Oxford UP, 1928.

Delany, Sheila. Chaucer's House of Fame: The Poetics of Skeptical Fideism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1972.

Doob, Penelope Reed. The Idea of the Labyrinth from Classical Antiquity through the Middle Ages. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1990.

Douglas, Gavin. Virgil's Aeneid, Translated into Scottish Verse, 4 vols. ed. David F. C. Coldwell. Edinburgh: William Blackwood, 1964.

Drogin, Mark. Anathema!: Medieval Scribes and the History of Book Curses. Totowa, New Jersey: Allanheld, Osmun & Co. Publishers, 1983.

Ebin, Lois. Illuminator, Makar, Vates: Visions of Poetry in the Fifteenth Century. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1988.

Edwards, A.S.G. "The Text of Chaucer's House of Fame: Editing and Authority" Poetica 29 (1989): 80-92.

Genette, Gerard. Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation. Trans. Jane E. Lewin, Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1997.

Gillespie, Alexandra. "Following the Trace of Mayster Caxton: Some Histories of Fifteenth-Century Printed Books." Caxton's Trace: Studies in the History of English Printing. Ed. William Kuskin. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2006. 167-195.

Greene, Thomas. The Light From Troy: Imitation and Discovery in Renaissance Poetry. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1982.

Haydock, Nicholas. "Remaking Chaucer: Influence and Interpretation in Late Medieval Literature." Diss. University of Iowa, 1994.

Howard, Donald R. Chaucer: His Life, His Works, His World. New York: Fawcett Columbine, 1987.

Jordan, Robert M. Chaucer's Poetics and the Modern Reader. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987.

Kendrick, Laura. "Chaucer's House of Fame and the French Palais de Justice." Studies in the Age of Chaucer 6 (1984) 121-33.

Koonce, B.G. Chaucer and the Tradition of Fame: Symbolism in the House of Fame. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1966.

Krier, Theresa M., ed. Refiguring Chaucer in the Renaissance. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1999.

Kuskin, William, ed. Caxton's Trace: Studies in the History of English Printing. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2006.

Lerer, Seth. Chaucer and his Readers: Imagining the Author in Late-Medieval England. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1993.

McCormic, William. The Manuscripts of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales: A Critical Description of Their Contents. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1933.

McGerr, Rosemarie P. Chaucer's Open Books: Resistance to Closure in Medieval Discourse. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1998.

Nixon, H.M. "Caxton, his Contemporaries and Successors in the Book Trade from Westminster Documents." The Library 5th ser. xxxi (1976): 305-326.

Painter, George D. William Caxton: A Biography. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1977: 131.

Penninger, Frieda Elaine. William Caxton. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1979.

Prendergast, Thomas A. and Barbara Kline, eds. Rewriting Chaucer: Culture, Authority and the Idea of the Authentic Text, 1400-1602. Columbus: Ohio State UP, 1999.

Reed, Jr., Thomas L. Middle English Debate Poetry and the Aesthetics of Irresolution. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1990.

Robinson, F.N. The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1957.

Rosser, Gervase. Medieval Westminster: 1200-1540. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989.

Sidney, Sir Philip. Apology for Poetry, ed. Geoffrey Shepherd. London: Blackwell, 1965.

Sklute, Larry. Virtue of Necessity: Inconclusiveness and Narrative Form in Chaucer's Poetry. Columbus: Ohio State UP, 1984.

Stevenson, Kay. "The Endings of Chaucer's House of Fame." English Studies 59 (1978): 10-27.

Spearing, A. C. Medieval to Renaissance in English Poetry. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1985.

Trigg, Stephanie. Congenial Souls: Reading Chaucer from Medieval to Postmodern. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2002.

Virgil. P. Vergili Maronis, Opera, ed. R.A.B. Mynors. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1969, 1980.

(1) The phrase is a well-attested formula in book curses and appears mutatis mutandis throughout the middle ages. For examples from the eighth through the fifteenth centuries see Drogin102-106.

(2) All of Caxton's original writings are quoted from the edition of Blake, which includes Caxton's poetic ending to The House of Fame. The prose is also available in Crotch.

(3) See as well Lerer 149-150, which has an engaging discussion of these matters, although, as will become clear my reading of Caxton's Book of Fame departs from his general presentation of Caxton as humanist who stresses in his editions the gap between writer and reader. The ending of the Book of Fame would suggest that there is little space indeed between a text and its reception.

(4) Scholars have ascertained that the two manuscripts descended from different manuscript traditions. The first derives from the b text to which Caxton made additions and corrections from a manuscript of the a text. See Blake, Caxton and his World, 102106 and Boyd, 21-27.

(5) Caxton calls the work, The Book of Fame, according to the format for titles established in Chaucer's Retracciounes. Only his editions of The Book of Fame and Boece have printed titles. I have referred throughout to Caxton's edition as The Book of Fame and to Chaucer's poem, apart from Caxton's publication of it, as the House of Fame. Caxton's publications of Chaucer cluster around the dates of the two editions of The Canterbury Tales: the first period (1477) saw editions of The Parliament of Fowls and other pieces, Anelida and the False Arcite with Chaucer's Complaint to his Purse and an edition of Boece; in the second period (1483) appeared Troilus and Criseyde and The House of Fame, along with the new edition of the Tales. The sequence and dates of publication were established over a century ago by Blades and are still widely accepted. See Blake, William Caxton 150 and Boyd 16-17.

(6) The Caxton print reads "And wyth the noyse of themwo." Along with his modern editors I believe the emendation is justified: it is probably what Caxton intended the compositor to set up. There are numerous mistakes and dropped lines in Caxton's version but these should not be attributed to Caxton himself. Besides minor errors of syntax and spelling, there are six significant omissions in Caxton's print: lines 6566 which interestingly enough include the promise that the poet will tell his whole ("everydel") dream, lines 280-283 which exist only on Thynne's 1532 edition of the poem, lines 793-796, an oversight which makes nonsense of the Eagle's lecture on sound waves, lines 826-864, the second largest of the omissions was, I suspect, a conscious abbreviation of a rather windy avian monologue, lines 1540-1542 and lines 2095-2158--another omission which I think intentional and which I discuss at length later in this essay. Edwards (80-92) argues that Caxton's exemplar (probably closest to MS Pepys 2006 among the surviving 3 MSS of the poem) was defective at many points and that "Caxton's sense of his editorial role extended to filing such lacunae--just as he felt it appropriate to add his own ending to the incomplete text" (89).

(7) These lines are most readily available in the "textual notes" section of modern editions of Chaucer (a testimony to their enduring adhesion to the poem). See, for example, Robinson's edition (901).

(8) All quotations of Chaucer's works, hereafter cited by line number within the text of this essay, are taken from Benson.

(9) On the Chaucerian tradition see particularly Ebin; Spearing; Lerer; Trigg; Prendergast and Kline, eds. and Haydock.

(10) See, for example the moralizing conclusion to the abortive Cook's Tale in MS Rawlinson 141: "And thus with horedom and bryberye/ Together they vsed till they honged hye/ For who so euel byeth shal make a sory sale/ Ands thus I make an ende of my tale" (quoted in McCormic (328 and 426).

(11) See Blake (Caxton and his World, 106-107) and Blake (William Caxton and English Literary Culture), as well as Penninger (106), Painter (131) and Boyd (31-32).

(12) Fairfax 16, Bodley 638 as well as Thynne's edition (1532) have the reading "sad soth sawe."

(13) It is interesting to note that Caxton's conclusion is affixed even to more complete versions of the poem, although in both cases the conclusion is not identified as Caxton's. Fairfax 16 includes Caxton's verses, although these are obviously set down by a much later hand. Thynne's printed version adapts the first two lines of Caxton's ending to make it fit the appearance of the man of great authority: "And therwithal I abrayde/ Out of my slepe halfe a frayde."

(14) Responding to a much earlier version of this argument in my 1994 doctoral thesis, Stephanie Trigg maintained: "Haydock's thesis goes against the received wisdom that all of Chaucer's words were treasured, in the early editions, but it does have the attractive merit of imputing Caxton with a more active editorial role, concerned to produce ontological and narrative closure, as well as textual completion of the text at hand" (118). In reply I would only quibble with Trigg's evocation of "received wisdom." It is modern scholars who "treasure" Chaucer's "words" not early printers like Caxton, who treasured his works considerably more. So much so in fact that they multiplied them with apocryphal texts and filled gaps in Chaucer with scribal continuations or those they themselves composed or inherited from earlier printers. Caxton's own edition of the Book of Fame includes a number of dropped lines and perhaps another intentional abbreviation not missing from the MS that most closely resembles his exemplar, Pepys 2006 title (see note 6 above). Also it is clear that Caxton hurriedly proofread what his compositors set up. In comparing Caxton's first and second editions of the Canterbury Tales, Blake comes to the following conclusion: "The fact that he was willing to edit Chaucer's work in this way shows he did not have that tender regard for Chaucer's style and language which some scholars have claimed for him. The second edition was made hastily and without proper care ... in general he was inspired more by commercial than by academic considerations" (1969 105-6). As I hope to demonstrate, however, in Caxton's Book of Fame stylistic, even "academic considerations" can be shown to have worked in concert with commercial motivations. The most recent study of the MS tradition of the House of Fame by Edwards also suggests that Caxton "could be seeking to fill lacunae (i.e., of single lines) by his own invention" (88).

(15) On caged or penned birds as a mnemonic trope see Carruthers (33-37, 246-248 and figure 27).

(16) Quoted from Mynors' edition of Virgil's works.

(17) Stevenson reviews the numerous modern attempts to solve the mystery of this man and his message, and concludes herself that the "most inconsequential conclusions to the House of Fame are least apt to trivialize" (27) Chaucer's poem. I agree for the most part with her evaluations of the history of this scholarship and endorse whole-heartedly her conclusion--which is why, in fact, that I prefer Caxton's ending of the House of Fame to any of those suggested by modern readers. As a matter of record, I also prefer Caxton's version to Chaucer's.

(18) See especially: Delany, Jordan, Sklute, Boitani, Doob and McGerr. For the notion that the debate genre itself evolves toward a poetics of irresolution, see Reed. Penelope Doob's conclusions about the poem perhaps most succinctly sums up this trend: "The functional inseparability of truth and falsehood caused by our imperfect perspective and perceptions is the central epistemological theme of The House of Fame ..." (313).

(19) I would also note the connection between the narrator of Chaucer's poem and Aeneas himself in Virgil's: both are overwhelmed, even dazed, by the pictures they see adorning the walls of the temple. Aeneas is dumfounded and entranced by the wonders (miranda) he sees there (stupet obtutuque haerent defixus in uno, line 495)--a state certainly echoed in Chaucer the dreamer's rapt affect throughout Book One of the House of Fame. Another late medieval reader of Chaucer's House of Fame, Gavin Douglas, took Chaucer to task for his personal reaction to Virgil's tale. But the Scot excuses Chaucer's distortion of the Aeneid with an indulgent identification of his bias: "He was evir, God wot, all womanis frend" ("Prologue" to Book 1 of the Aeneis). It is interesting to note as well that Douglas was less kind to Caxton. In the same Prologue he condemns the printer for sending out into the world an inferior version of the story of Aeneas (Caxton's Eneydos) and castigates him severely for trying to pass off this translation of a French redaction as the real goods.

(20) Chaucerian poets of the earlier fifteenth century often lament that Chaucer himself is no longer present to correct the flaws in their own works. Caxton's anxieties are consistently directed toward the appreciation of his aristocratic patrons.

(21) Derek Brewer speculates that the poem "suggest(s) a time in his life when Chaucer was debating the value of poetry, or, more painfully, the value of his own poetry, (but) there is also a sublimely carefree confidence that makes the poem, with all its oddities, unmistakably Chaucerian" (110).

(22) I take Caxton's line to be equivalent to and imitated from Chaucer's line in Adam Scriveyn: "But after my makyng thou wryte more trewe."

(23) I am indebted here to Nixon and especially to Rosser (211-215) who remarks on the symbolic centrality of Caxton's publishing works "strategically situated" between church and palace, which "may stand for the place of the book trade in Westminster: surrounded by the merchant residents of the sanctuary, while at the same time poised between court and cloister" (213).

Nickolas Haydock

University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez

Puerto Rico
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Date:Dec 1, 2006
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