A Golden Age of English Poetry
Edited By Gerald Morgan
BRENDAN O’CONNELLThe Poetics of Fraud: Jean de Meun, Dante and Chaucer 261
Brendan O’Connell The Poetics of Fraud: Jean de Meun, Dante and Chaucer In a memorable formulation Helen Cooper has argued that the House of Fame ‘is powered by two massively strong responses to Dante on Chaucer’s part: first, that he was awesomely, mind-blowingly great as a poet; and second, that he was wrong’.1 The strength of her analysis lies in the extent to which it situates the dif ferences between the poetic projects of Dante and Chaucer within a primarily ethical framework. In highlighting Chaucer’s reluctance to pass of f his own opinions as eternal divine judgment Cooper addresses a fundamental point: Chaucer’s sense of what it means to be a Christian poet dif fers profoundly from Dante’s. In this essay I shall argue that a number of the dif ferences between Dante and Chaucer can be traced to their very dif ferent responses to the vision of poetic representation and authority found in Le Roman de la rose. In particular both poets recognise and respond to Jean de Meun’s exploitation of the discourse and vocabulary of fraud and falsification in his consideration of the problems of represen- tation and poetic authority. While Dante’s indebtedness to Le Roman de la rose remains a controversial matter, his account of the falsifiers in the Inferno strongly suggests direct inf luence and establishes (as I shall call it) a ‘poetics of fraud’ enabling him to distinguish legitimate modes of rep- resentation from illegitimate. In the House of Fame Chaucer exploits the language of...
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