Mirthful faces in The Name of the Rose



This paper explores the ‘mirthful face’ in Umberto Eco’s novel The Name of the Rose and Jean-Jacques Annaud’s film adaptation. Debates over the political and moral significance of the mirthful face are at the center of both texts’ interpretations of laughter and humor in medieval culture; but the novel’s withholding of facial description sits in stark contrast to the film’s embrace of contemporary perceptions of what ‘medieval faces’ would have looked like and how they might be read. Comparing Annaud’s visual language of ‘historical physiognomy’ with those of filmmakers Werner Hertzog and Michael Haneke, the essay situates both film and book within a late-twentieth-century use of the Middle Ages to comment on contemporary authoritarian and radical politics.



The research for this paper is supported by an Australian Research Council Future Fellowship for the Project ‘Comic Medievalism and the Modern World’ (FT120100931).


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© Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EnglishMacquarie UniversitySydneyAustralia

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