The thirteenth-century allegorical poem "The Romance of the Rose" was the most widely read secular text of the Middle Ages and the most influential work of medieval French literature. Begun in the early 1200s by Guillaume de Lorris, the "Rose" was originally shaped as an allegorical love poem intended for an aristocratic audience. Several decades later, the poem was extended by Jean de Meun, whose work broadened the poem's appeal to include academics and the middle classes. No longer simply a poem written in the tradition of courtly love literature, the Rose became a radical questioning of life, embracing complex issues such as the relationship between men and women and the role of religious orders in society. It also presented a timeless, philosophical rumination on the relationship between faith and reason. Read by Dante and Chaucer, among other leading European literary figures, the Rose laid the foundation for the development of a secular literature for the middle classes.
Heather Arden provides readers of this challenging work with a detailed outline and plot synopses invaluable to understanding the poem and the history of its creation. Arden’s discussion of the cultural traditions to which the two authors responded delineates the impact of other writings on courtly love, allegorical works, dream literature, and the philosophical questioning stirred by thirteenth-century Aristotleianism. Drawing on modem literary theory to show how each author uses allegory and personification to construct his poetic vision, Arden relates the literary status of the enigmatic figures Reason, Nature, and Genius to the secular, religious, and philosophical bases of the poem. Reviewing the continuing critical debates on the form and meaning of the "Rose", Arden reflects on the critical principles and assumptions with which today's scholars approach the literature of the Middle Ages, and suggests that the ongoing appeal of the Rose lies in the textual exploration of the role of society and religion in determining the parameters of human experience, wisdom, and love. A chronology, bibliography, and discussion of the publication history of the "Rose" are included.