The Shadow of Faux Semblant: Fiction, Truth, and Deception in Fourteenth-Century Allegorical Poetry (France, England, Italy)
Communication de Marco Nievergelt pour la Magdalene Society of Medievalists de Cambridge.
The Roman de la Rose is not only one of the most influential literary texts of the later middle ages (surviving in over 300 Manuscripts), but it is also one of the most problematic and intellectually challenging texts of the period. Far from being a ‘canonical’ work in the ordinary sense, the Rose in fact invites its readers to interrogate the very notion of literary authorship and discursive authority. Rather than affirming his own identity as author in self-confident fashion, as many readers of this influential poem assume, Jean de Meun’s attitude towards his own poetic craft is in fact deeply ambivalent and ironic. This culminates in the exact centre of the poem, with the appearance of the character of Faux Semblant, the embodiment of hypocrisy and deception. As a personification of the liar-paradox, Faux Semblant thus crystallises a whole range of anxieties concerning the epistemological status of literary fiction, and this concern comes to play a central role in later European literature influenced by the Rose, notably in the work of such figures as Machaut and Deguileville in France, Langland and Chaucer in England, or Dante and his contemporaries in Italy. In this paper I propose an initial sketch for a wider study of a European reception history of the Rose, with particular attention to the ethical function of poetry, and its problematic, unstable relation to truth and deception.