The Name of the Rose

Themes and Colors
The Interpretation of Signs Theme Icon
Knowledge and Secrecy Theme Icon
Religion and Politics Theme Icon
The Subversive Power of Laughter Theme Icon
Judgement and Hypocrisy Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Name of the Rose, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Umberto Eco was a professor of semiotics—the study of how people understand and make meaning out of signs and symbols. So it’s no surprise that The Name of the Rose is so concerned with the process of interpretation and the relationship between signs and their meanings. William of Baskerville and Adso of Melk spend much of the novel trying to solve a series of mysterious murders at an abbey, so they’re constantly searching for and…

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William of Baskerville and Adso of Melk’s investigation into the mysterious deaths at the abbey increasingly revolves around the abbey’s library, where many of the dead monks worked as scholars, scribes and illuminators. Although monks may work in the scriptorium, few are authorized to enter the library, a vast labyrinth accessible only through hidden doors. As William and Adso find their way through the labyrinth, they also come closer to unraveling the mystery—not only…

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Although William of Baskerville and Adso of Melk become embroiled in the mystery of Adelmo of Otranto’s murder, their original purpose in visiting the abbey was to attend a theological disputation on two subjects that caused significant controversy in the Catholic church in the early fourteenth century: the conflict between the pope and the Holy Roman Emperor, and “Apostolic poverty” (that is, the question of whether Jesus and his followers had renounced wealth and…

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Over the course of seven days at the abbey, Jorge of Burgos and William of Baskerville share several debates on the subject of laughter. The significance of these conversations only becomes clear at the end of the novel, when Jorge is revealed as the perpetrator of the murders. All of his actions were intended, in one way or another, to preserve the secrecy of a forbidden book hidden in the abbey’s library: the sole surviving…

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Throughout the novel, William of Baskerville critiques the medieval church for the extreme harshness of its judgments—against religious dissenters, against those standing accused of “heresy,” and even against the behavior of the clergy. The medieval Catholic Church set up the Inquisition, a church judicial body tasked with arresting and executing those who refused to conform to the prevailing theological orthodoxy. Jews, sectarian splinter groups like Fra Dolcino’s Pseudo Apostles, and even people accused of…

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