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The Representation of the Love Triangle in The Book of Duchess, The House of Fame and The Parliament of Fowls.
The Book of the Duchess, The House of Fame and The Parliament of Fowls are the first three major works of the poet, Chaucer. Each of these poems is seemingly related to love. One view that reveals itself throughout the three poems is the human ability or inability to balance love on three levels, configured in a triangle as the love of God, man or woman, and country.
Romantic or courtly love seems to be a downfall of the triangle for many of Chaucer?s characters, for example, the man in black in The Book of Duchess and the aristocratic birds in the Parliament of Fowls. Chaucer seems quite aware of the problems associated with courtly love, which may be why he pinpoints romantic love as the specific subject of his poems. Ironically, Chaucer does not claim to know of romantic love from experience, yet he is well learned and cultured in the subject, most likely because of reading the works of Ovid and the Bible. Possibly, Chaucer is trying to alert his audience to the dangers of passionate love, which is very attractive, but also destructive and places its participants at odds with fate and society when it becomes the main focus or obsession. Christian views of sexual love, is seen as selfish and distracts from the love of the individual soul for God. However, courtly love is viewed as an aristocratic behavior that is elegant and graceful, glamorizing the basic needs of reproduction. The act of courtly love is for the lover to plead for the women?s mercy and grace. The women is put upon a pedestal and treated as a goddess until she decides to grant him mercy, which leads to a sexual relationship. Nature has well designed the body to reproduce and want to reproduce, and we as humans have made this desire and natural process into a contest of who will win the best love. The best love is really about having sex with a woman that the man desires because of her beauty and or status. There is no substance or truth to courtly love because it was designed by the hand of man as a way to coerce the woman into having sex.
Love of God, being the focal point of the triangle, is perfect because it is unconditional and pure in nature, always merciful and forgiving. It centers the mind, body and soul by keeping truth at the heart of all matters, and gives tranquility and peace of mind to those who try to bring their lives into alignment with the life of Jesus Christ. Through devoting your life to God and being responsible to the duty of God?s will and plan for you, the promises of eternal life in heaven and freedom from sin await every Christian. The conflict that offsets the balance of the triangle is when the obsession with an object whether its God, romantic love, or duty to country dominates the mind.
In The Book of Duchess, John of Gaunt or the man in black, is grieving over his wife, Blanche, who has died from the plague. His love for Blanche is so great that when she dies, he is blind of everything except for the sorrow and despair he feels. He could not be grateful for the love he had with her or thankful she no longer had to suffer of any sickness caused by the plague. He becomes so selfish and full of pity that he wanted to die himself, for he says, ?Allas , deth, what ayleth the, That thou noldest have taken me? (480-483) It is a sorrowful matter to lose a loved one, but even more depressing when the lover left behind loses his self to the grief, and death becomes death. He becomes of no service to anyone, not God or himself, when he becomes so obsessed upon the loss of wife. The knight has gotten off balance in the triangle for his love for Blanche. He invested all of his hope and love into Blanche, worshiping her like God, and then finding himself in great pain when she dies, because he established his happiness and bliss into an object that not dependable. John of Gaunt views Blanche as perfect, having no flaws and as place where ?Truth himself desired his mansion house to be,? (1003, 1004). Love of God can be learned through loving others, but should not replace the love for God.
The restructuring of the love triangle occurs when the dreamer approaches the man in black and tries to console him for the loss of his wife and counsel him back to wholeness. In line 553, the dreamer says ?For, by my trouthe, to make yow hool, I wol do al my power hool. And telleth me of your sorewes smerte; Paraunter hyt may ese youre herte, That semeth ful seke under you syde.? The dreamer wants to bring the knight out of his despair, and he intuitively knows that if the knight could just openly admit Blanche?s death, acceptance of her death would soon follow and the fixation of his love for her would end. Finally, the dreamer coaxes the knight into telling him the cause of his misery and poem ends.
In the House of Fame, Chaucer confronts his own predicaments of wanting to be a poet and how to find subject material that?s true to his virtues. In Book I, Chaucer dreams of the unfaithful love between Dido and Aeneas. Aeneas leaves his lover Dido, who gave freely her love to Aeneas and now feels deceived and betrayed. ?She made of him her life, her love, her lust, her lord? (257, 258). She believed Aeneas loved her, but discovered that this was only the appearance of the truth and he was really a ?traitor? (267). Again, courtly love illustrates its weakness. Chaucer is making a comparison to himself as feeling as though he has lost his love. The story of Aeneas and Dido represents the struggle and internal conflict Chaucer is having about his career as a poet. He obviously desires to be a poet, but is concerned nothing will amount from his poems. I believe he feels as passionate about writing as Dido felt for Aeneas, yet fears he will be rejected, as Aeneas betrayed Dido. Chaucer desires the love of others, which is fame in this case. His motivation to become a great poet is centered on fame and what others think of his poems, not what he truly feels or wants to write. In Book II, an eagle presents himself to Chaucer, and he questions the eagles significance, and fantasizes he has come to make him famous like Enoch or Elijah, Romulus or Ganymede (586-593). The eagle accuses him of writing about love without having the experience of love. To remedy this, the eagle takes Chaucer to the House of Fame to hear ?tydynges? of love. Book III, Chaucer enters the House of Fame where he sees pillars with the names of many famous classical poets on them. Chaucer idolizes these great writers, wanting his name to be on one the pillars. Then, Chaucer observes Lady Fame granting and denying fame to various petitioners and sees that fame is fickle and a joke. A part of Chaucer wants to believe that if he just had fame his life would be complete, but this is not true. Fame is unpredictable; and even though it is attainable, it is short lived. Much like romantic love, fame appears very rewarding; however, it can cause despair and pain when it?s lost.
The Parliament of Fowls is the third love poem that deals with three types of love: love for God, which promotes the common good, romantic or lustful love, which leads to misery and disaster, and natural sexual love which leads to the harmonious process of reproduction. The poem opens with ?The Dream of Scipio? where the advice is given to ?know thyself first immortal, And loke ay besyly thow werche and wyse To comun profit, and thow shalt not mysse To comen swiftly to that place deer That ful of blysse is and of soules cleere? (73-75). Those who break this law are said to ?whirle about th?erthe alwey in peyne? (80). To know your self to be immortal is to know God and heaven exists and that physical death is only a passageway to heaven. Love of God should be the priority over earthly love, because it provides stability, peace and order to life on earth. Those who work for the common profit will benefit not only here on earth, but also in heaven. Those who break this law give into humanly desires, whether its sexual lust, jealously that leads to murder or just wicked behavior. All such actions have consequences and are subject to punishment.
The Dreamer then dreams Scipio leads him to a park where he enter through a gate to the garden of love and sees Cupid, along with many other characters associated love such as ?Merriment, Array, and Courtesy? (219-220). The Dreamer then comes to a temple, where ?doves of Venus, white and fair perched, many hundred a pair? (237,238). At this point in the poem, love appears to be beautiful and bliss, something any normal man or woman would desire. Then the dreamer enters the temple, and sees the god Priapus, ?with his scepter in honed? where men place garland on his head (256). Priapus represents the powerful lustful side of love. Men become obsessed, idolizing this sensual and physical love as a god. The Dreamer then sees the names of lovers, who have died disastrously, which further emphasizes the point that lustful love has a tragic ending.
The poem centers on a debate between three aristocratic birds, eagles, to win the hand of the female eagle, a ?formel.? The birds of the lower class become impatient, because their mates cannot be assigned until the business of the aristocrats is done. The formel eagle decides she is not ready to make the decision. So, Nature finally orders the three eagles to wait a year, and give all the other birds their chosen mates. Nature serves as God?s agent keeping things in order. The idea of courtly love inhibits the natural process of reproduction. Natural love and reproduction are essential for the world to continue; whereas, courtly love is seen as excessive and unneeded.
Chaucer through out each of his first three poems illustrates a traditional idea of the love triangle that identifies three love objects as God, man or woman, and country. He repeatedly shows how difficult it can be to balance the three levels of love. Courtly love, often of the focus of Chaucer?s work, proves itself to be the breakdown of the triangle. Glorified and romanticized lust becomes the obsession of many minds and the result is often disastrous, leading to death. The focal point of the triangle, being God leads to harmony. When God is the center of life, it provides structure, peace and equilibrium to all other aspects of one?s life.
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