Chaucer and the Game of Love: An Analysis of the Book of the Duchess, the House of Fame and the Parliament of Fowles

Stephen Hyginus Murphy, University of Rhode Island


Examining the courtly love tradition as a viable phenomenon in

Middle English literature is an extremely fascinating encounter with

the pulse of fourteenth-century society. There has been a great deal

of scholarly work done on both the meaning of courtly love and Chaucer's

use of courtly conventions. The critics who deal with the courtly love

tradition can be classified into basically four groups: (1) those who

see it as a viable literary tradition; (2) those who view it as a

historical fact; (3) those who say it is non-existent; and (4) those who

see it as a game. The game of love can be considered serious "pleye," and

it is in this sense that I examine Chaucer's use of the courtly love tradition.

While reading Chaucer's "The Book of the Duchess", "The House of

Fame", and "The Parliament of Fowles", I realized that Chaucer was engaging

me as a participant in a game. I also discovered that to concentrate on

the game structures was at least one way of understanding the total meaning

of the poems. The three major game elements explored in these poems

are: (1) the presentation of the fiction of courtly love as a game itself;

(2) the "play" with artistic conventions of presentation; and as a

result (3) the "play" with the expectations of his audience for certain

traditional conventions. "The Book of the Duchess" appears to be a tightly

structured poem where the content and the "pleye" are perfectly suited.

In "The House of Fame" there seems to bea"μlayer" in search of a "game,"

and, as such, the poem remains elusive. In "The Parliament of Fowles"

Chaucer seems to be playing a variety of games and expands the vision he

had in both "The Book of the Duchess" and "The House of Fame". This investigation

suggests that Chaucer as poet was playing with the implications of

the poetic process itself, with his material, and with his audience.