Roman de la Rose

Roman de la Rose
   by Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun
(first part, ca. 1237; second part, ca. 1264–1274)
   GUILLAUME DE LORRIS (fl. 1220–40) created the first part of the Roman de la Rose, leaving it unfinished by ca. 1237. JEAN DE MEUN (ca. 1235/40–1305) continued the fragment by ca. 1264, and completed this first major allegorical verse ROMANCE in Old French several years later. Guillaume’s portion consists of 4,058 verses, followed by a brief conclusion of 78 verses composed by an anonymous poet. Jean de Meun’s portion includes a total of 17,721 verses and offers a much more satirical, at times more realistic treatment of the theme, concluding with a very graphic description of the sexual act. Guillaume develops a beautiful dream allegory in which a young man (the Lover, or the Amant), once he has become a servant of the God of Love, shyly attempts to win the Rose hidden in a garden, but he faces many forces resisting his efforts, such as Pride,Villainy, Shame, Despair, and Faithlessness. This portion of the Roman de la Rose proves to be a virtual Ars d’Amors (or Art of love, v. 28), based on a deep psychological understanding of courtly love. Jean, on the other hand, utilizes this allegorical framework to explore the whole gamut of human emotions involved in erotic passion, and many general philosophical issues as well. Jean examines, above all, the conflicts between love and reason, between free will and destiny, and the conflict between art and nature; then he discusses the impact of the stars on human life, the role of (mis)fortune, and man’s inability to control it—a direct reflection of BOETHIUS’s De consolatione philosophiae (CONSOLATION OF PHILOSOPHY)— and the depravity of human society, which regularly breaks the rules of nature. But then he also investigates the properties of glasses and mirrors, among other issues. At the end the Lover succeeds, with the help of False Seeming, a go-between (Duenna), Venus, Genius, and the God of Love, to break down all barriers, to win the Rose, and to deflower her, but there is no more word of love; instead the entire quest suddenly appears to have been completely sexdriven. Unabashedly the Lover admits that he entirely forgot the recommendations by Reason and that sexuality will always triumph over all religious and philosophical teachings. Once the Lover has awakened from his dream, the Roman comes to an abrupt end.
   The Roman de la Rose was one of the most popular literary texts from the entire Middle Ages, as documented by the vast number of manuscripts (more than 250). In fact no other medieval secular literary text has survived in so many manuscripts. There are also countless literary adaptations, translations into English, Dutch, Italian, and possibly also into German (Hugo von Montfort [1357–1423]), and early-modern printed editions in the 15th and 16th centuries.Most manuscripts are lavishly illuminated and offer beautiful full-page miniatures. A majority also contain rubrics, sometimes in rhymed couplets, helping the reader to follow the thematic and narrative development. The enormous appeal exerted by the Roman is also indicated by the numerous marginal glosses and annotations in the various manuscripts.
   Gui de Mori created a remarkable revision, or remaniement, of the text in the late 13th century, suppressing the allusions to pagan mythology, adding more didacticism, and developing a more straightforward narrative sequence. Both Jean Molinet (1433–1507) and Clément Marot (ca. 1496–1544) published a prose version each, transforming the original theme of foolish (earthly) love into an allegory of divine love. The Roman de la Rose gained the most attention when in 1401 CHRISTINE DE PIZAN (ca. 1364–ca. 1430) entered a public debate about the text’s intrinsic values and protested against its misogynistic orientation. Her opponents were high-ranking personalities, such as the royal secretaries Jean de Montreuil and Pierre and Gontier Col, whereas the chancellor of the University of Paris, Jean Gerson, supported Christine’s criticism of the Roman and published vitriolic sermons against the Roman de la Rose. Many of the most famous late-medieval poets such as DANTE, BOCCACCIO, GUILLAUME DE MACHAUT, Geoffrey CHAUCER, John GOWER, Thomas HOCCLEVE, John LYDGATE, Thomas USK, Gavin DOUGLAS, and Jean FROISSART were deeply influenced by the Roman. Others composed imitations, such as the anonymous author of Echecs amoureux (late 14th century), for which Evrart de Conty provided an extensive prose commentary (ca. 1400). Most 15th-century French poets indicated their thorough familiarity with the Roman de la Rose through references and allusions to the verse narrative, truly a milepost of medieval French literature.
   ■ Arden, Heather. The Romance of the Rose. Boston: Twayne, 1987.
   ■ Brownlee, Kevin, and Sylvia Huot. Rethinking theRomance of the Rose”: Text, Image, Reception. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1992.
   ■ Classen, Albrecht. “Hugo von Montfort: A Reader of the Roman de la Rose,” Monatshefte 83, no. 4 (1991): 414–432.
   ■ Dahlberg, Charles, trans. The Romance of the Rose. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1971.
   ■ Fleming, John F. The Roman de la Rose: A Study in Allegory and Iconography. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1969.
   ■ Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun. Le roman de la Rose. Edited by Félix Lecoy. 3 vols. Paris: Champion, 1965–1970.
   ■ Nouvet, Claire.“Reversing Mirror: Guillaume de Lorris’ Romance of the Rose,” in Translatio Studii. Essays by His Students in Honor of Karl D. Uitti for His Sixty-Fifth Birthday. Edited by Renate Blumenfeld- Kosinski,Kevin Brownlee,Mary B. Speer, and Lori J. Walters. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2000, 89–205.
   ■ Robbins, Harry W. The Romance of the Rose. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1962.
   ■ White,Hugh.Nature, Sex, and Goodness in a Medieval Literary Tradition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.
   Albrecht Classen

Encyclopedia of medieval literature. 2013.

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