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Finding pragmatic common ground between Chaucer’s Dreamer and Eagle in The House of Fame
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Finding pragmatic common ground between Chaucer’sDreamer and Eagle in The House of Fame
Eugene Green, Boston University
Held aloft in the talons of Jove’s plenipotentiary Eagle, Chaucer’s Dreamer finds himself reluctantly compelled to endure a journey to Fame’s House and to talk aloft despite his feeling imperiled. This sudden descent on the dreamer initiates a dialogue that tests whether in straitened circumstances the participants, one overmatched, the other possessed of enormous, physical power, can find common ground. Chaucer draws upon pragmatic devices common enough in Middle and Modern English dialogue to create convincing exchanges between the Eagle and Dreamer. The analysis presented of their dialogue lays out the devices that the poet applies and discusses their influence on the shape and development of the airborne exchanges. The chief finding of this analysis is that pragmatic devices help, perhaps surprisingly, to plot courses of feeling as much, if not more, as patterns of argument.
Like Vergil’s winged Mercury and Boethius’ Philosophy, her height earthly and heavenly, Chaucer’s Eagle descends from on high in The House of Fame to initiate a course of action in human affairs. Sent as agents of the supernatural, these three figures speak respectively to Aeneas, Boethius, and the Dreamer, not as equals, but as imposing powers. The purpose of what is said in each instance, furthermore, has a comparable design: to effect in the human auditors an altered course in thought or action. In short, the supernatural agent...
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