This section contains 2,412 words
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The Romance of the Rose Summary & Study Guide Description
The Romance of the Rose Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:
Amans the Narratorappears in throughout
Amans is the narrator of the romance, and the story is told mostly from his perspective. He is a young man about twenty years old who is of noble birth. At the outset of the narrative, he is naive and inexperienced. However, as the narrative progresses, he becomes more sophisticated in the ways of courtly love. He is attractive in manner and looks as Venus describes to Bialacoil in Lines 3731-3777. Very little explicit physical description is made of him, but Venus mentions his red lips and white teeth. It is also possible that he is blond, given the ambiguity in the word "fair."
Although the narrator is on the whole a sympathetic character, especially in de Lorris's original, he has a few character flaws, especially in de Meun's continuation. He is rather foolish and he continually rejects the appeals of Reason to turn away from the sin and folly of Courtly Love. Also, as he becomes more sophisticated, he learns how to be deceptive and to put on a false show of innocence in order to seduce the woman he loves.
The narrator is not precisely the same person as the author. Amans is the author as he was five years ago. Frequently, the author comments on the narrator's behaviour, mostly ruefully. The best example of this is when the narrator approaches the Fountain and is about to look inside. The author seems to shake his head at this point about the naivety of his younger self.
The narrator becomes dedicated to the service of Courtly Love and follows the dictates of his feudal lord, Cupid the God of Love. He maintains this loyalty in the face of Reason and continual disappointment, and this loyalty can be seen as one of the narrator's good points.
In de Meun's continuation, the narrator as a character seems to step into the background somewhat, apart from at the very end where he enters the castle and reaches the Rose. However, the narrator does play the role of a devil's advocate in a discussion of Reason, asking questions that allow new points of the debate to be raised.
Bialacoilappears in Lines 2981 onward
Bialacoil is an allegorical personification of friendliness. The name is French for Fair Welcome. He is described as the son of Courtesy. As befits a personification of friendliness and good nature, he is friendly and welcoming, although somewhat naive and a little timid.
Bialacoil, allegorically, represents the aspect of the woman's character that likes her suitor. This aspect is willing to allow some intimacies (Bialacoil gives the narrator a leaf growing near the Rose) but will not grant full sexual intimacy (Bialacoil is horrified by a request for the Rose and flees, chased out by Daunger.) Bialacoil will soften slightly under the influence of Venus.
Bialacoil is a young man (not a woman) and does not represent the lady herself in de Lorris's original. In de Meun's continuation of the romance, Bialacoil seems to have been confused with the woman herself, and "he" reluctantly accepts gifts from the narrator and is instructed on the womanly arts of love by the Vekke. This has the rather incongruous result of having a male character acting like a woman in an allegory of a heterosexual love affair, which is rather puzzling and jarring.
Bialacoil is imprisoned by Jealousy after conceding too many intimacies and allowing the narrator to kiss the Rose.
We are not given any physical descriptions of Bialacoil, apart from the fact that he is "of good stature and good height."
Cupidappears in Lines 877 onward
Cupid is the classical god of Love, specifically Courtly or Romantic Love. Cupid here is not the "baby angel" that is often portrayed in artworks, especially modern ones, but is depicted as a powerful warrior and a skilled hunter.
Cupid is armed with a bow of gold, with which he shoots golden arrows that make the young man surrender and enter his service. He also has a black bow and iron arrows, which are carried for him by his squire Sweet-Looking, although these dark arrows that make a man fall out of love are not seen in use.
Cupid is shown as a feudal liege-lord, and the relationship he has with the narrator is typical of the feudal era. The narrator, defeated by Cupid's arrows, surrenders, and promises fealty to Cupid. Cupid reads out the duties and conditions that the narrator must follow, and lists the rewards that the narrator will receive for good service. As fitting a good feudal overlord, he also brings military aid to help the narrator when the narrator is unable to take the castle.
Cupid (Romantic Courtly Love) is shown as being separate from Venus (sexuality), although Cupid is the son of Venus. Cupid cannot command Venus to help him, although he can ask for her help. Venus can also take castles without Cupid being present. Allegorically, this is a good description of the roles of Courtly Love and sexuality and how they are linked that needs little explanation. The allegory speaks for itself and makes psychological sense.
We are given a physical description of Cupid, especially of his flower-decorated clothing. It is significant that he is crowned with red roses and this crown foreshadows the later appearance of the Rose itself.
Reasonappears in Lines 3190-3332; 4615-5809; Lacuna 1
Reason is the personification of wisdom and logic. She appears to be based on the Lady Wisdom that appears (also as a personification) in the Bible in the Book of Proverbs (she is also known as Santa Sophia, patroness of the principal church of Constantinople/Byzantium). She is portrayed as a goddess or demi-goddess who stands opposed to Cupid.
Physically, Reason is described as a beautiful woman of medium height and build who is neither old nor young, as she represents balance and moderation. She is notable for her clear eyes, and she wears a crown, indicating her high rank. She lives in a tower, which she descends from to debate with the narrator.
Reason has two main roles. The first role is to try to persuade the narrator to turn away from following Courtly Love, and the second is to discuss various aspects of human love and morally upright living. All her arguments, significantly, accord with standard Christian principles, unlike some of the points of view put forward by, say, Frend or Fals-Semblance. She counsels the narrator to turn from Courtly Romantic love and to follow the ways of friendship and natural love, and to shun covetousness or desire for material wealth.
However, Reason is no prude and is matter-of-fact about the biological aspects of sex, claiming that sexual pleasure is natural and is designed so that the human race enjoys reproducing itself. She frowns on sex that does not have reproduction as one of its aims. She also shocks the narrator by her plain speaking and lack of euphemisms. Unfortunately, this section where Reason calls body parts by their proper names appears in Lacuna 1, and is not available in the English translation.
As a woman, Reason is able to put herself forward as a possible lover for the narrator or even a bride that will bring honor and respect rather than shame and regret.
Daungerappears in Line 3051 onward
Daunger is a personification of one aspect of the lady's psyche. Daunger is described as a rough giant with black spiky hair, burning red eyes, and a permanent scowl on his face. He is armed with a club, and he uses this club to drive the narrator away from the roses when the narrator becomes too forward. Bialacoil is afraid of Daunger, and the giant often chases the young squire away into hiding. However, he often falls asleep as he lied hidden in the grass behind the hedges, allowing Bialacoil to come out from hiding. He is set as one of the guardians of the castle that Bialacoil and the Rose are later imprisoned in.
What Daunger refers to allegorically is difficult to explain. Daunger is similar to pride and coldness, but has a slightly more positive overtone. Daunger is not pride or snobbishness shown to humanity in general, but only pride in a romantic or sexual sense. A woman who is "daungerous" is one who will not be intimate with "just anyone." She has considerable self-respect and power over herself. Daunger is the power to grant or withhold favors, and is offended by a request for more than what is offered. A woman's "daunger" demands respect from her suitors.
In de Lorris's original, Daunger is the primary antagonist and the chief obstacle between the narrator and his goal of the Rose.
Wikked-Tongeappears in Lines 3799 onward
Wikked-Tonge is the personification of Gossip and Scandal. Wikked-Tonge is portrayed as an Irishman with a square tongue that has been filed sharp. He wakes Jealousy and is later set as one of the guardians of the castle. As the castle guard, he is always on the move, spying, and peering everywhere. Wikked-Tonge, is very noisy, and plays his musical instruments, including bagpipes, loudly and out of tune. He plays at inappropriate times such as the middle of the night.
Wikked-Tonge is something of a misogynist, and always twists the truth and exaggerates it to put those he speaks about in the worst possible light at least in de Lorris's original. In de Meun's continuation, Wikked-Tonge is more honest, and admits that he does not know if Bialacoil allowed the narrator to do any more than merely kiss the Rose.
Wikked-Tonge is easily fooled by Fals-Semblance and Streyened Abstinance. He believes the latter to be Abstinence, which he recognizes. After hearing a sermon against slander, he goes down on his knees to confess his sins to the pair, who cut out his tongue and strangle him.
The emphasis put on overcoming Wikked-Tongue in the continuation is in keeping with one of the tenets of Courtly Love. This is the need for secrecy when conducting a love affair.
Fals-Semblanceappears in Lines 5847
Fals-Semblance is a master of disguises, able to look like anybody he pleases. He is the son of Guile and Hypocrisy. However, he most often appears as an itinerant priest or hermit who preaches poverty and chastity. However, beneath this holy exterior, Fals-Semblance is corrupt, winking at sin in exchange for a hefty penance, refusing to give "spiritual help" to poor people and using his worldly power to bring down those who speak against him. Fals-Semblance has a certain comic air to him, thanks to his brazen acknowledgment that he is a rogue, a hypocrite, and a fraud.
Fals-Semblance bears more than a passing resemblance to the figure of Pope-Holy portrayed on the wall of the garden, indicating that this vice is supposedly excluded from the world of Courtly Love. Certainly, Cupid is astonished to find Fals-Semblance among his warriors when they go to storm the castle. However, Cupid admits him to the service of Love. This shows some cynicism on the part of the author, who seems to imply that a Courtly Love affair required deception and fraud to succeed, as secrecy is a key tenet.
Fals-Semblance also acts as a mouthpiece for putting forward a number of ideas. The most significant of these is the expose of corruption within the church, which is preceded by a disclaimer that true holiness does exist and not all priests are corrupt. The other is the discussion of sufficiency. Fals-Semblance defines this virtue more fully, and also discusses the laws on begging.
Fals-Semblance has the most important role in the taking of the castle, as he fools Wikked-Tonge into a vulnerable position before cutting out his tongue and strangling him. The means of death is significant: both the tongue and the throat are vital for speech. Thus Wikked Tonge is both silenced as well as killed.
The Vekkeappears in Lines 4285 onward
The Vekke is a wrinkled old woman who is set as a guardian to keep Bialacoil in prison. Unlike many of the other characters, she is not an allegorical personification but is an old woman who is given as a chaperone to the lady courted by the narrator.
The Vekke was once a beauty in her youth and she knows all the wiles that a suitor can use, making her hard to fool. However, because of her experience in the ways of love, she is not totally unsympathetic towards the narrator. Once Wikked-Tonge has been overcome, she acts as a go-between between the narrator and Bialacoil, and gives Bialacoil (rather incongruously and inappropriately) advice on womanly wiles.
Shameappears in Lines 3034 onward
Shame is the personification of sexual morality within the woman courted by the narrator. She is dressed and veiled like a nun and is the daughter of Reason and Trespass, although she is conceived immaculately, as Reason would never be intimate with anyone (or anything) as hideous as Trespass.
Shame has been sent by Chastity as the keeper of the rose bed, but she is continually attacked by Venus (sexuality.)
Shame has the role of awakening Daunger when prompted to do so by Jealousy, but she also speaks on behalf of Bialacoil, claiming that he meant no harm and only does as his mother Courtesy taught him. This implies that morality does not require a woman to be completely cold and stand-offish towards a suitor; morals can allow her to be just friends with him or to allow him some intimacies but not all.
Jealousyappears in Lines 3858 onward
Jealousy is a personification of forces external to the woman courted by the narrator. This character is not described physically, but it is clear that Bialacoil is even more afraid of Jealousy than of Daunger. It is after Jealousy appears, wakened by Wikked-Tonge, that Drede appears. This character commands the tower to be built to imprison Bialacoil and the roses and appoints the guardians around and within it.
Jealousy represents the woman's family. It is possible that Jealousy is originally intended to represent the woman's husband, as Courtly Love relationships often involved adultery. However, this is not completely certain. It is arguable that Jealousy represents instead the woman's protective and possessive family, most probably her father or her guardian. De Lorris is not clear on this point, but de Meun's continuation makes the "father and family" interpretation more likely. The description of how the narrator plucked the Rose in the Lacuna makes it clear that the woman is a virgin, with the Rose representing her virginity.
This section contains 2,412 words
(approx. 7 pages at 400 words per page)