The Parliament of Fowls and the ‘Dream Poems’
THE poems dealt with in this chapter may at first strike you as odd. However, just a few preliminary remarks on the kind of work to expect will help you get your bearings. The Book of the Duchess, The House of Fame, The Parliament of Fowls and The Prologue to the Legend of Good Women are all basically court romances: that is, they are all about highly idealised forms of love in a court setting. In this respect they also have much in common with The Knight’s Tale, The Franklin’s Tale and Troilus and Criseyde. All of these texts present life in general and love in particular as an elaborate ritual, and they do so from a largely aristocratic point of view. But that is not all. You will probably know from other Chaucer texts that he rarely sticks to just one type of material, that he usually mixes in others to make his treatment more varied. That is what he does here too. For instance, The Parliament of Fowls is not simply a court romance; it also includes elements of a moral tract called ‘The Dream of Scipio’ (‘Somnium Scipionis’). The subject of this moral tract is ‘the common good5 and it acts as a weighty preface to Chaucer’s main story. The middle of the poem is also interrupted, this time to accommodate a bout of low-life comedy. The result overall is therefore a poem which is richer and more varied than a court romance would be on its own. Similar observations can be made about The Book of the Duchess, The House of Fame and The Prologue to the Legend of Good Women. In all these cases you should expect a read which is varied, capacious and leisurely.
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