The House of Fame

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The House of Fame is a poem by Geoffrey Chaucer, probably written between 1379 and 1380, making it one of his earlier works.


The House of Fame is over 2,000 lines long in three books and takes the form of a dream vision composed in octosyllabic couplets. Upon falling asleep the poet finds himself in a glass temple adorned with images of the famous and their deeds. With an eagle as a guide, he meditates on the nature of fame and the trustworthiness of recorded renown. This allows Geoffrey to contemplate the role of the poet in reporting the lives of the famous and how much truth there is in what can be told.

The poem is regarded as the first of Chaucer's Italian-influenced period and there are echoes of the works of Boccaccio, Ovid, Virgil's Aeneid and particularly Dante's Divine Comedy. The three part structure and the reference to various personalities suggests to some that the poem was meant as a parody of the Divine Comedy. The work shows a significant advancement in Chaucer's art from the earlier Book of the Duchess. A reference at the end of the work to a "man of great authority" reporting tidings of love has been interpreted as a reference to the wedding of Richard II and Anne or the betrothal of Philippa of Lancaster and John I of Portugal but such great events are treated so irreverently to make this unlikely. Other scholars have put forth the alternative hypothesis that the man of great authority is Elijah or another of the Hebrew prophets. As with several other works by Chaucer the poem is apparently unfinished, although whether the ending was indeed left incomplete, has been lost, or is a deliberate rhetorical device is uncertain.

The poem contains the earliest known uses in the English language of the terms galaxy and Milky Way:

"See yonder, lo, the Galaxyë
 Which men clepeth the Milky Wey,
 For hit is whyt."

—Geoffrey Chaucer The House of Fame, c. 1380.[1]


In 1609, Ben Jonson and Inigo Jones appropriated the image of "The House of Fame" for their "Masque of Queenes" commissioned by Anne of Denmark, James VI and I's queen consort, who performed in the masque. In the eighteenth century, it was adapted by Alexander Pope as his The Temple of Fame. John Skelton made an earlier emendation to Chaucer's vision of Fame, Rumour and Fortune with his A Garlande of Laurell.


  1. ^ "Online Etymology Dictionary". Retrieved 2007-01-03. 

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