The Name of the Rose

William of Baskerville Character Analysis

William is a Franciscan friar from England, where he studied under the scientist and philosopher Roger Bacon. William is a very tall and thin man of about fifty with “sharp and penetrating eyes” and “clumps of yellowish hair.” Very unusually, he wears glasses. William is skeptical about whether some truths can ever be known. He used to work for the Inquisition, prosecuting heretics, but became disillusioned because he found the church’s regime too harsh and was never sure whether the confessions he elicited were true or not. At the same time, however, he hungers for knowledge and longs to uncover the causes of things. He is preoccupied by the relationship between signs and their meanings, which makes him an ideal detective, able to look at the physical evidence he sees in the world and devise plausible explanations. For example, immediately upon his arrival at the abbey, he deduces the location of the abbot’s lost horse based only on the evidence of footprints in the snow and a few broken twigs. William is intellectually brilliant, but also compassionate and sensitive, his tolerance for human fallibility standing in stark contrast to the hypocrisy and judgment of the clergy. William brings Adso to the abbey to attend a theological disputation on the conflict between the Holy Roman Emperor and the pope, but his astonishing powers of deduction and logical reasoning are soon called into a very different kind of service: solving murders. Although William comes up with various ingenious explanations, he ultimately fails to protect the abbey, its monks, and its invaluable library from the murderous Jorge of Burgos. Adso reports that William died soon after the fire, in an outbreak of the Black Death.

William of Baskerville Quotes in The Name of the Rose

The The Name of the Rose quotes below are all either spoken by William of Baskerville or refer to William of Baskerville. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Interpretation of Signs Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Mariner Books edition of The Name of the Rose published in 2014.
"Naturally, A Manuscript" and Prologue Quotes

[The] divine plan will one day encompass the science of machines, which is natural and healthy magic. […] Unheard-of machines are possible.

But you must not worry if they do not exist, because that does not mean they will not exist later.

Related Characters: William of Baskerville (speaker)
Related Symbols: William’s Glasses
Page Number: 17
Explanation and Analysis:
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First Day Quotes

“My good Adso,” my master said, “during our whole journey I have been teaching you to recognize the evidence through which the world speaks to us like a great book.”

Related Characters: William of Baskerville (speaker), Adso of Melk, Remigio of Varagine
Page Number: 26
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“Why,” he asked, “do you insist on speaking of criminal acts without referring to their diabolical cause?”

“Because reasoning about causes and effects is a very difficult thing, and I believe the only judge of that can be God. We are already hard put to establish a relationship between such an obvious effect as a charred tree and the lightning bolt that set fire to it, so to trace sometimes endless chains of causes and effects seems to me as foolish as trying to build a tower that will touch the sky.”

Related Characters: Abo of Fossonova (speaker), William of Baskerville
Page Number: 33
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Second Day Quotes

“The spirit is serene only when it contemplates the truth and takes delight in good achieved, and truth and good are not to be laughed at. That is why Christ did not laugh. Laughter foments doubt.”

“But sometimes it is right to doubt.”

“I cannot see any reason. When you are in doubt, you must turn to an authority, to the words of a father or of a doctor; then all reason for doubt ceases.”

Related Characters: Jorge of Burgos (speaker), William of Baskerville
Page Number: 142
Explanation and Analysis:
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This place of forbidden knowledge is guarded by many and most cunning devices. Knowledge is used to conceal, rather than to enlighten. I don’t like it. A perverse mind presides over the holy defense of the library.

Related Characters: William of Baskerville (speaker)
Page Number: 187-188
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Third Day Quotes

This is the illusion of heresy. The faith a movement proclaims doesn't count: what counts is the hope it offers. Scratch the heresy and you will find the leper. Every battle against heresy wants only to keep the leper as he is.

Page Number: 218
Explanation and Analysis:
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Fourth Day Quotes

“But then,” I said, “what is the use of hiding books, if from the books not hidden you can arrive at the concealed ones?”

“Over the centuries it is no use at all. In a space of years or days it has some use. You see, in fact, how bewildered we are.”

“And is a library then, an instrument not for distributing the truth

but for delaying its appearance?" I asked, dumbfounded.

Related Characters: Adso of Melk (speaker), William of Baskerville (speaker)
Page Number: 306
Explanation and Analysis:
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“This area called LEONES contains the books that the creators of the library considered books of falsehood. What's over there?”

“They're in Latin, but from the Arabic. Aryub al-Ruhawi, a treatise on canine hydrophobia. And this is a book of treasures. And this is De aspectibus of Alhazen...”

“You see, among monsters and falsehoods they have also placed works of science from which Christians have much to learn.”

Related Characters: Adso of Melk (speaker), William of Baskerville (speaker)
Page Number: 336
Explanation and Analysis:
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Books are not made to be believed, but to be subjected to inquiry. When we consider a book, we mustn't ask ourselves what it says but

what it means […]. The unicorn, as these books speak of him, embodies a moral truth, or allegorical, or analogical, but one that remains true, as the idea that chastity is a noble virtue remains true.

Related Characters: William of Baskerville (speaker)
Page Number: 338
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Fifth Day Quotes

[Jesus] did not want the apostles to have command and dominion, and therefore it seemed a wise thing that the successors of the apostles should be relieved of any worldly or coercive power. If the pope, the bishops, and the priests were not subject to the worldly and coercive power of the prince, the authority of the prince would be challenged, and thus, with it, an order would be challenged that […] had been decreed by God.

Related Characters: William of Baskerville (speaker)
Page Number: 376-377
Explanation and Analysis:
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The good of a book lies in its being read. A book is made up of signs that speak of other signs, which in their turn speak of things. Without an eye to read them, a book contains signs that produce no concepts; therefore it is dumb. This library was perhaps born to save the books it houses, but now it lives to bury them.

Related Characters: William of Baskerville (speaker), Benno of Upsala
Page Number: 422-423
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Sixth Day Quotes

This crypt is a beautiful epitome of the debates on poverty you have been following these past few days. And now you know why your brothers make mincemeat of one another as they aspire to the position of abbot.

Related Characters: William of Baskerville (speaker)
Page Number: 453
Explanation and Analysis:
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“He wants me to leave tomorrow morning, does he? Very well, it’s his house; but by tomorrow morning I must know. I must.”

“You must? Who obliges you now?”

“No one ever obliges us to know, Adso. We must, that is all, even if we comprehend imperfectly.”

Related Characters: William of Baskerville (speaker), Abo of Fossonova
Related Symbols: The Forbidden Book
Page Number: 482
Explanation and Analysis:
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Seventh Day Quotes

The Devil is the arrogance of the spirit, faith without smile, truth that is never seized by doubt. […]And now I say to you that, in the infinite whirl of possible things, God allows you also to imagine a world where the presumed interpreter of the truth is nothing but a clumsy raven, who repeats words learned long ago.

Related Characters: William of Baskerville (speaker), Jorge of Burgos
Page Number: 511
Explanation and Analysis:
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“I have never doubted the truth of signs, Adso; they are the only things man has with which to orient himself in the world. What I did not understand was the relation among signs. I arrived at Jorge through an apocalyptic pattern that seemed to underlie all the crimes, and yet it was accidental. […] Where is all my wisdom, then? I behaved stubbornly, pursuing a semblance of order, when I should have known well that there is no order in the universe.”

Related Characters: William of Baskerville (speaker)
Page Number: 527
Explanation and Analysis:
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William of Baskerville Character Timeline in The Name of the Rose

The timeline below shows where the character William of Baskerville appears in The Name of the Rose. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
"Naturally, A Manuscript" and Prologue
Religion and Politics Theme Icon
...to wander Italy alone and without guidance, Adso’s father placed him in the service of William of Baskerville, an English Franciscan. Adso was appointed to work as William’s scribe and servant.... (full context)
Knowledge and Secrecy Theme Icon
Adso describes William’s unusual physical appearance: he is about fifty years old, very tall and thin, and wears... (full context)
First Day
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William and Adso approach an unnamed abbey somewhere in northern Italy, where William plans to attend... (full context)
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William and Adso encounter Remigio of Varagine, the cellarer, who is searching for the abbot’s lost... (full context)
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William was able to accurately describe the horse’s appearance (small head, sharp ears, big eyes) because... (full context)
Judgement and Hypocrisy Theme Icon
William and Adso arrive at their destination. As they enter through the courtyard, Adso notices that... (full context)
Knowledge and Secrecy Theme Icon
Abo appears somewhat disturbed by William’s arguments. Nevertheless, he requests William’s expertise as a detective and inquisitor in solving a mystery:... (full context)
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William agrees to help, provided that he is given the authority to move freely throughout the... (full context)
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William introduces Adso to Ubertino of Casale, a Franciscan who has taken refuge at the abbey... (full context)
The Interpretation of Signs Theme Icon
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William and Ubertino greet each other warmly and seem to be old friends. Ubertino tells William... (full context)
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Ubertino accuses William of weakness in his prosecution of heretics: he believes that William was overly lenient when... (full context)
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William and Adso meet Severinus of Sankt Wendel, the herbalist, who gives them a tour of... (full context)
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William and Adso also meet Berengar of Arundel, Malachi’s assistant. They also meet Venantius of Salvemec,... (full context)
The Subversive Power of Laughter Theme Icon
Judgement and Hypocrisy Theme Icon
...are “nonsense,” and that they turn the “masterpiece of creation” into the subject of laughter. William argues that marginal images provoke laughter for useful purposes, keeping people interested and engaged in... (full context)
Knowledge and Secrecy Theme Icon
Judgement and Hypocrisy Theme Icon
...involving his “dear” friend, alluding to a particular closeness between Berengar and Adelmo. Jorge warns William and Adso that the Apocalypse is at hand, and that they should not squander the... (full context)
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Before they leave the scriptorium, Malachi tells William and Adso that there are no doors between the kitchen and the scriptorium: thus it... (full context)
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Afterwards, William hypothesizes that Adelmo’s death had something to do with his intimate relationship with Berengar. He... (full context)
Judgement and Hypocrisy Theme Icon
At dinner that night, William and Jorge argue again about laughter. Jorge asserts that Christ never laughed, so neither should... (full context)
The Interpretation of Signs Theme Icon
Judgement and Hypocrisy Theme Icon
Abo says that the librarian locks all the doors to the Aedificium at night. William asks him how the librarian gets out, but Abo “glares at him” and says stiffly... (full context)
Second Day
The Interpretation of Signs Theme Icon
...before someone threw his body in the barrel. Looking at the footprints in the snow, William deduces that the body was dragged from the Aedificium, so he suspects that Venantius died... (full context)
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Meanwhile, William questions Benno, who recounts a strange interaction that occurred in the scriptorium a few days... (full context)
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William then interrogates a distressed and guilty Berengar, who claims that he saw the ghost of... (full context)
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Religion and Politics Theme Icon
William and Adso witness an argument between Salvatore and Remigio, who call each other heretics, prompting... (full context)
Judgement and Hypocrisy Theme Icon
Back in the scriptorium, William engages Jorge in another argument about laughter in order to try to learn more about... (full context)
Judgement and Hypocrisy Theme Icon
...“not preparing oneself to combat it.” Christ didn’t laugh, he argues, because “laughter foments doubt.” William suggests that “sometimes it is right to doubt,” but Jorge replies that there is never... (full context)
The Interpretation of Signs Theme Icon
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William tries to examine Venantius’s desk for evidence, but is warded off by Benno, who asks... (full context)
Religion and Politics Theme Icon
...wealth of the abbey—gold, silver, and jewels—which he believes brings the monks closer to God. William seems to disagree, but introduces a new topic of discussion: the upcoming debate on poverty.... (full context)
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Abo and William discuss the political situation. Michael of Cesena, a Franciscan leader, has been summoned to Avignon... (full context)
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Judgement and Hypocrisy Theme Icon
William says that he can’t see how the actions of a single “madman” could disrupt the... (full context)
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Alinardo of Grottaferrata, the oldest monk at the abbey, tells William and Adso that they can enter the library—which he calls a “labyrinth”—via a secret entrance... (full context)
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William and Adso decide to continue upwards into the library. They arrive in a room with... (full context)
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William and Adso’s progress is further obstructed by a room with a mirror that reflects distorted... (full context)
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...but is interrupted when he has a vision of Berengar and the Apocalypse and collapses. William finds him and concludes that someone has placed dangerous, vision-inducing herbs in the library to... (full context)
Third Day
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Adso finds William at the forge, where Nicholas is making him another pair of glasses. Adso confesses that... (full context)
Religion and Politics Theme Icon
William argues that it doesn’t matter what the reformers preach; all that matters is that they... (full context)
The Interpretation of Signs Theme Icon
After this conversation, William manages to decipher Venantius’s code, which reads “The hand over the idol works on the... (full context)
The Interpretation of Signs Theme Icon
William comes up with a new idea: by constructing a compass, they could orient themselves in... (full context)
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However, yet another problem remains: William and Adso still don’t understand the rules governing the distribution of the books among the... (full context)
Judgement and Hypocrisy Theme Icon
Adso faints at the sight, and wakes up when William finds him on the floor of the kitchen. He tearfully confesses his sin to William,... (full context)
Fourth Day
The Interpretation of Signs Theme Icon
...up the wreckage, he found the bottle missing. Since this theft took place years ago, William thinks it suggests “a malignant mind brooding for a long time in darkness over a... (full context)
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Malachi comes in to speak with Severinus, but quickly leaves when he sees William and Adso there. Salvatore accounts for the presence of the girl in the kitchen, confirming... (full context)
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Severinus finds the stolen glasses in the dead Berengar’s pocket and returns them to William, just as Nicholas arrives with his new lenses. With his two pairs of glasses, William... (full context)
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William goes back to his room to think while Adso goes hunting for truffles, and reflects... (full context)
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William has a tense interaction with Bernard, whose path he clearly has crossed before. Bernard thinks... (full context)
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William and Adso visit the labyrinth again and discover more about its layout. The group of... (full context)
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William and Adso find “Leones,” the south tower, which contains books from Africa and the Middle... (full context)
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William and Adso realize that the “Leones” tower is missing its central heptagonal room—and yet, logically,... (full context)
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When William and Adso return from the library, however, they do see the girl from the village.... (full context)
Fifth Day
The Interpretation of Signs Theme Icon
...separate the opposing parties. Meanwhile, Severinus enters the chapter house and asks to speak to William privately. Apparently Berengar was in the infirmary before he died in the bath. He tells... (full context)
Religion and Politics Theme Icon
William is asked to speak for the Franciscans. He makes a radical proposition that the church... (full context)
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William argues that if Christ had not wanted his apostles to have any “worldly or coercive... (full context)
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After the debate, William and Adso go to check on Severinus. When they get to the infirmary, it is... (full context)
The Interpretation of Signs Theme Icon
Left alone in the infirmary, William, Adso, and Benno search for the “strange book” that Severinus had mentioned. William thinks they... (full context)
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After the disastrous trial, William convenes with Ubertino and Michael. Michael says that despite the threat to his life, he... (full context)
The Interpretation of Signs Theme Icon
Knowledge and Secrecy Theme Icon
...produce new knowledge, but to gloss and preserve the knowledge passed down from earlier ages. William whispers to Adso that Jorge’s sermon is a warning that if the monks continue being... (full context)
Sixth Day
The Interpretation of Signs Theme Icon
...in church and dies, saying “He told me…truly…It had the power of a thousand scorpions.” William sees that the fingers of his hands are also blackened. Jorge weeps and says “it... (full context)
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In his new position as cellarer, Nicholas invites William and Adso to the abbey’s crypt, where he tells them some secrets of the abbey’s... (full context)
The Interpretation of Signs Theme Icon
Adso is about to follow them, but then sees William emerging from the labyrinth, holding a compass and heading northwards. Adso shouts after him, saying... (full context)
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Adso wakes and leaves the chapel, finding William saying goodbye to the Franciscans. He hears that the prisoners (Salvatore, Remigio, and the girl)... (full context)
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Adso’s dream reminds William to check the library catalogue. Back in the scriptorium, he sees a catalogue entry for... (full context)
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William asks Benno whether anyone mentioned the Coena in the discussion about riddles. Benno confirms that... (full context)
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William asks to speak with the abbot in his apartments. Abo reflects on the beauty of... (full context)
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Abo tells William that he is disappointed with his inability to solve the mystery.  William admits that he... (full context)
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William interrupts and demands to know why Abo has changed the subject instead of naming the... (full context)
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...have already known everything, or he might not have not known until now, and wants William out of the way while he resolves the matter himself. Either way, his concern is... (full context)
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...own in order to prevent the faction of Italian monks from revolting against “foreign” librarians. William determines that they must enter the finis Africae, since “the final answer must be there,”... (full context)
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...inside simply to close the Aedificium: Adso suggests that he’s gone into the finis Africae. William agrees that this may be the case, but they still don’t know how to get... (full context)
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In the kitchen, William and Adso hear a muffled noise. William surmises that Abo tried to enter the finis... (full context)
Seventh Day
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...in the room, sitting at a table covered with papers. He asks “is that you, William of Baskerville?” and says he has been waiting for them to arrive. William asks him... (full context)
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William presents his hypothesis that it is Jorge, not the librarian, who has been the real... (full context)
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The Subversive Power of Laughter Theme Icon
“How could you be sure I would arrive?” William asks. Jorge explains that he always knew William would discover the mystery, from his thirst... (full context)
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 Jorge asks William what he wants as a reward for his persistence and intelligence. William demands to see... (full context)
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William puts on gloves before opening the book. It contains several texts on the subject of... (full context)
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It is the final and fourth text that Jorge finds most dangerous: as William predicted, it is a Greek copy of the lost second book of Aristotle’s Poetics, which... (full context)
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As William leafs through the text, he sees that some of the pages are stuck together and... (full context)
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William now has an explanation for all the deaths, and he says he is a “fool”... (full context)
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Even though the apocalyptic pattern was a false one, it still helped William find the truth. One day, Alinardo was raving about an “enemy” who had been sent... (full context)
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...seven trumpets. And you, even in your error, heard a confused echo of that sound.” William retorts that Jorge has convinced himself that this whole story proceeded according to a divine... (full context)
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Jorge asks how William guessed that the forbidden book contained the second book of the Poetics. William explains that... (full context)
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William admires Jorge’s ingenuity in spreading the poison on the forbidden book while blind, and in... (full context)
The Subversive Power of Laughter Theme Icon
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William asks why Jorge chose to suppress this book in particular, when there are “many other... (full context)
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William points out that one cannot eliminate laughter by eliminating this single book. Jorge concedes the... (full context)
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The Subversive Power of Laughter Theme Icon
...upside down. Jorge makes a final appeal, arguing that in such an unthinkable world, even William, with all his learning, would be swept away. William suggests that this would be a... (full context)
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William calls Jorge the Devil, telling him that his zeal for truth has made him monstrous,... (full context)
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William tells Jorge that it is over: he has found out the secret. But Jorge announces... (full context)
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William and Adso pursue Jorge, hoping to catch him before he devours all of Aristotle’s book.... (full context)
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William and Adso decide the room is lost and go down to the kitchen to raise... (full context)
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...the abbot for orders, but he is dying or is already dead in the Aedificium. William emerges from the kitchen carrying a small pot of water, looking “pathetic.” “It is impossible,”... (full context)
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...fire to the remaining buildings of the compound. The monks flee in confusion, Adso finds William near the cloister, where he has saved both of their traveling knapsacks (full context)
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Having given up any chance of saving the abbey, Adso and William watch the abbey burn. A despondent William tells Adso that “it was the greatest library... (full context)
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Adso tries again to help, saying that even by looking for a false order, William did find some truth. William compares the search for truth to a ladder that must... (full context)
Last Page
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...days and three nights, until the monks give up and begin to abandon the site. William and Adso find two horses in the woods and head east, to Bobbio. They hear... (full context)
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William gives Adso the glasses that Nicholas had made him, telling him that they might come... (full context)