The French poet Guillaume de Lorris (ca. 1210-ca. 1237) was the author of the first part of the "Romance of the Rose, " the most popular work in medieval French literature.
The only place in the Romance of the Rose in which the name of Guillaume de Lorris appears is in the continuation of Jean de Meun, which indicates that Guillaume died some 40 years earlier. Since Guillaume refers to a dream in his twentieth year 5 or 6 years earlier, the date of his birth can be assumed to be about 1210. He was probably born in Lorris, a small town some 30 miles east of Orléans. Just as death prevented Chrestien de Troyes from completing the Perceval, so Guillaume died before he finished the Romance of the Rose; he stops at line 4, 058 (4, 028 in Lecoy's edition). Nothing more is known of Guillaume.
The age of the Arthurian romance, with its pageantry, adventures, and thrills, was passing. Hence Guillaume turned to the moral and psychological aspects, represented symbolically in an elaborate allegory. He is not interested in the plot but rather in an exquisitely delicate analysis of young love. Indeed, he says that his poem sets forth the art of love.
In a dream the author sees himself wandering. He comes upon an idyllic formal garden enclosed in a wall bearing hideous paintings of Hatred, Wickedness, Baseness, Covetousness, Avarice, Envy, Sadness, Old Age, Hypocrisy, and Poverty. Gracious Idleness bids the dreamer enter the garden of Amusement, where he meets fair company. The dreamer, henceforth called the lover, is captivated by a rose and immediately the god of Love pierces him with five arrows and instructs the lover in the 10 commandments of love, a veritable abstract of the courtly love code. His quest to pick the rose is long, helped by such as Hope and especially by Fair Welcome but frustrated by Danger, Slander, Shame, Fear, and Jealousy. After the lover succeeds in kissing the rose, Jealousy has the rose shut up in a donjon along with Fair Welcome, and the lover laments his lot as Guillaume's poem ends.
Guillaume's themes were not new; Ovid, Chrestien de Troyes, the troubadours, and Andreas Capellanus furnished him with much, but the freshness of Guillaume's imagination and the delicacy and elegance of his treatment made the work persistently successful, to which the preservation of some 300 manuscripts attests. The influence is manifest in Geoffrey Chaucer's translation, Clément Marot's edition, and Madeleine de Scudéry's Map of Love, and echoes continue to appear down to the works of Marcel Proust and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.
The best monographs on Guillaume de Lorris are in French. In English, Clive S. Lewis, The Allegory of Love:A Study in Medieval Tradition (1936), and Charles Muscatine, Chaucer and the French Tradition:A Study in Style and Meaning (1957), are useful. □