Guide to The Romance of the Rose,

by Guillaume de Lorris (written 1230-35)
The poem was continued (at great length) by Jean de Meun some time between 1260 and 1280 and is generally said to be written by both (yes, Jean is the one who translated Boethius into French). We will read only selections from Guillaume's (William's) opening. Bear in mind that Our Man Chaucer translated this poem into English (his translation is in your book).

It was an incredibly influential poem in the Middle Ages (at least it influenced courtly poets from all over Europe) and provided a paradigm for the description of love throughout the Middle Ages and well past it.

Keep an eye out for details in this story that survive to the present day, and keep firmly in mind that this is where it all started.

This is a dream vision, one of the most popular framing devices for stories in the Middle Ages (both religious and secular). The name of Macrobius will come up again and again. I'll pass out a bit of his poem to show you why it is important.

(31) Notice that the dreamer (later lover) is young. The appropriate age for love was thought to extend from the late teens until more or less the mid to late twenties. After that, a man would be a fool to indulge is this sort of thing. He was supposed to move on to another stage of life, not exhibit the kind of arrested development our society seems to be enjoying--with white-haired men swooning over young things (or older things) and vice versa; no "mature" love affairs for these folks! (Married love is of course quite another thing.)

Why do we associate roses with women? An old, old tradition.

May--of course. That's when people fall in love--always. All creation blossoms in May, and so do young folk. Do not skip over the description. But notice that the speaker is 25, telling you about something that happened fairly long ago in his short life.

(32-36) Medieval pleasure (we would say flower) gardens are gardens behind walls--always. What do you make of the kinds of figures that are carved on the outside of the wall? Perhaps you want to wait till later to answer this question, but be sure to come back to it.

(37-38) Why is the door hidden, narrow, and tight? Notice the details in his description of the "gatekeeper." Beauty is culturally constructed; if you don't believe it, read the description carefully. Why does she hold a mirror? Notice that a suntan is not desirable. If you are not sure what "diversion" means, look it up.

(39) Can you guess yet to what social class the young man and the young lady belong?

(40-41) "Beautiful people" (line 726) is right! A "carol" is a ring dance (later a "round" song or song with refrain). "Courtesy" contains the word "court" = behaviour appropriate to the court. Samite = a kind of silk.

(42-43) Pay special attention to the God of Love. He has nothing to do with the modern idea of Cupid (the naked baby). What does he look like? How is he dressed? How old do you think he is? What do you make of his weapons?

(44) Notice that all the others are named for virtues or manners, but Wealth is not. Why is she included in the carol?

(47-48) Read the description of Courtesy carefully. Look at Youth--nothing like starting them young! "They were warm, open people, well instructed and beautifully trained." Why?

(48-49) From here on the dreamer becomes the central character. Does the description of the garden remind you of Eden? It should. Medieval gardens were often very extensive, but were never made to look "natural"; on the contrary, it was the "artfulness" of their construction that recommended them to medieval tastes. You might think of an "outdoor living room" rather than a "private forest." Such gardens (if they were large enough--and then they were often called "parks) were frequently stocked with game.

(50-51) What is the God of Love likened to? Look up and read the whole story of Narcissus in your mythology book (the story is from Ovid's Metamorphosis). What "moral" does the narrator draw from this story? Does it make sense to you? What should we expect will happen when he looks into the fountain? What actually does happen?

(52-53) Why does the narrator call it "the perilous mirror"? Pay careful attention to the language (i.e., the individual words) in the first paragraph on page 52. Notice that "among the thousand things" he sees there, he chooses one kind of thing and then one single thing. What is his immediate "problem"?

(54-55) At the exact moment he makes his choice--what happens? What is the exact path of the projectile? What is its immediate effect? Why does it produce no blood? Who is the "physician" who could heal him of the wound? Simplicity = the quality of being single (simple), not double (think of duplicity). How would you describe the dreamer's (now lover's) emotional state?

(56) What is the effect of Fair seeming? Does it really heal?

(57-58) The relation of lord and vassal is usually described as "feudal." Look all three terms up, as well as "homage" and "surety." "I became his man" = I swore to serve him as my liege lord.

(58) We think of the heart as the seat of emotion. Medieval man thought of it as the seat of understanding or judgment. So what does it mean when the God of Love locks the lover's heart?

(59-66) "Villainy" = being like a villain, the medieval meaning of which is "one of low birth, not noble." Now we get the Rules of Love, some of them drawn from Ovid's Art of Love. What do you think of them?

(67-68) The God of Love, ever generous (that's irony), also offers some comfort. What do you think of his "gifts"?

(70-71) Some of the opponents the lover (Amant) encounters are attributes of the lady (like Daunger or Resistance); others are clearly embodiments of guardians of the lady (like Foul Mouth). "Fair Welcoming" is clearly one of the former. What does "give me the rosebud" mean?

(73) Reason is a counterpart to the God of Love. Think about Lady Philosophy as you read her description. How does she differ from the people you have already met? Who do you think "God" is in this case? Is he a fool?

(74-75) Is Reason right? If so, what do you think of the God of Love? If not, why not? Why does Amant respond as he does? Is he right? Is "Friend" someone you have made the aquaintance of? What sort of "friend" is he? The story goes on (you are near the end of Guillaume's part of the work), but this is the portion you will need to know. The Romance is available in paperback, in verse or in prose. If you're interested, I'll give you the details.