By the early years of the twentieth century, the fame of Torquato Tasso and his work in England had started to wane. This book of Tasso's literary, artistic, and biographical afterlives is an attempt to stimulate a revival of 'sympathetic interest' in a now undeservedly underappreciated epic masterpiece and its fascinating poet. It addresses the simultaneous and long-standing impact of the poet's work, particularly his epic Gerusalemme liberata, on opera and the visual arts. The first strand of the book traces the reception and artistic afterlives in England, focused on the amorous interlude of Armida and Rinaldo in her enchanted garden in cantos XV and XVI. Initially, the book concentrates on the literary impact of Armida's arrival in the poem, examining how the poets Abraham Fraunce and Samuel Daniel both responded to canto IV of Tasso's poem. The poet, Edmund Spenser, regarded Gerusalemme liberata as a significant new epic model as he seemed to both reflect and pre-empt its enormous popularity in other artistic media. The book investigates the impact in England of visual depictions of scenes from Tasso's romantic episodes, featuring both Rinaldo and Armida and the almost equally popular Tancredi and Erminia. It explores ambitious musical adaptations of the episode for the London stage in the native form of dramatic opera in John Dennis's 'Rinaldo and Armida: A Tragedy'. Among other things, the second strand of the book analyses many imaginative engagements with aspects of the poet's legendary biography, such as his prolonged imprisonment in Ferrara.
This book offers a comprehensive account of the methods and practice of learning modern languages, particularly Italian, in late sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century England. It suggests that there is a fundamental connection between these language-learning habits and the techniques for both reading and imitating Italian materials employed by a range of poets and dramatists, such as Daniel, Drummond, Marston and Shakespeare, in this period. The widespread use of bilingual parallel-text instruction manuals from the 1570s onwards, most notably those of the Italian teacher John Florio, highlights the importance of translation in the language-learning process. More advanced students attempt translation exercises from Italian poetry to increase their linguistic fluency, but even beginners are encouraged to use the translations in these manuals as a means of careful parallel reading. This study emphasises the impact of both aspects of language-learning translation on contemporary habits of literary imitation, in its detailed analyses of Daniel's sonnet sequence ‘Delia’ and his pastoral tragicomedies, and Shakespeare's use of Italian materials in Measure for Measure and Othello. By focusing on Shakespeare as a typical language-learner of the period (one who is certainly familiar with Florio's two manuals), it argues that the playwright was clearly influenced by these Italian reading practices.
Jonathan Richardson’s ekphrastic ‘Dissertation’ on Poussin’s Tancred and Erminia
This chapter considers Jonathan Richardson’s critical ‘Dissertation’ on Poussin’s painting Tancred and Erminia (c. 1633) as both analysis and ekphrastic representation. It focuses on Richardson’s keen interest in the artist’s visual interpretations of, and additions to, Tasso’s great Italian epic poem, Gerusalemme liberata (1581). It becomes clear that both the French painter and the English critic know the Italian poem well; it is far less certain, however, whether the intended English readership would have shared similar first-hand knowledge of either the picture or its literary source. Richardson’s paragone of the two forms is intended to emphasize Poussin’s ability ‘to make use of the Advantages This Art has over that of his Competitor’; problematically, however, the pre-eminence of the visual medium in this specific example can only be attested to by means of a sustained verbal comparison of the painting and its poetic source, which ultimately seems to imply a more complex, symbiotic relationship in the encounter between the visual and literary arts than Richardson initially admits.
This introduction presents an overview of key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of the book. The book examines the literary, artistic and biographical afterlives in England of the great sixteenth-century Italian poet Torquato Tasso, from before his death to the end of the nineteenth century. It focuses on the literary impact of Armida's arrival in the poem, examining how the poets Abraham Fraunce and Samuel Daniel both responded to canto IV of Tasso's poem. The book also examines the numerous English poetic responses in the first half of the 1590s to the celebrated song from the amorous episode. It analyses the impact in England of visual depictions of scenes from Tasso's romantic episodes, featuring both Rinaldo and Armida and the almost equally popular Tancredi and Erminia, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The book then examines the idiosyncratic interpretation, by Paolo Rolli, of a different romantic episode in Tasso.
The arrival of Gerusalemme liberata in Elizabethan England
The earliest sustained attention to Tasso's epic in English letters predates Spenser's imitations, however, and it is noteworthy that the Italian poem was almost immediately granted a status comparable to the ancient epics of Greece and Rome. There are over eighty separate quotations from Gerusalemme liberata in the handbook together constituting well over 300 lines of Torquato Tasso's epic verse. Frances Yates has demonstrated that the most prominent teacher of Italian in Elizabethan England was a member of Wriothesley's household in 1594. The early English fascination with the figure of Armida was mirrored in the initial French reception of Tasso's poem. An accurate translation of Joulet's prose by Robert Tofte, the Italianate poet and translator of both Boiardo and Ariosto, survives in a manuscript in the Bodleian Library in Oxford, where it is entitled the 'Romance of Armide'.
Spenser's use of Tasso in his creation of the Bowre of Blisse has been acknowledged by critics for well over a century now. Following the contemporaneous discoveries of the German scholar Emil Koeppel, however, Spenser's prolonged engagement with the episode in Torquato Tasso's epic. Ellsworth Cory emphasises both the 'celestial thieving' from Tasso and the 'incomparable originality' of Spenser's Bowre, urging his readers to 'turn to the original and see how Spenser has translated' Tasso's poem. The powerful pictorial quality of the poetry describing the Bowre of Blisse has often been approached in relation to the equivalent visual allure of Armida's enchanted domain in Tasso: Armida's garden and the Bower of Blisse are constructed primarily as pictures appealing to the senses visually. A closer examination of Tasso's ekphrastic description reveals that Spenser was drawn to a moment of exactly a kind of 'representational friction' in his source.
Torquato Tasso's epic poem was to prove an immediate and continued source of inspiration for musical settings and operatic adaptations. The landscape surrounding the lovers in the enchanted garden is certainly 'the most vividly pictorial passage of the Gerusalemme liberata'. Armida's unexpected transformation from avenger to lover is signalled visually by the presence in the top right of the canvas of a winged putto drawing back a bow to shoot. One aspect of Armida's love for Rinaldo in Tasso that is conveyed as strongly in Van Dyck's depiction is the fundamentally narcissistic nature of the desire. Visual representations of the lovers' dalliance in the garden in canto XVI virtually always include the enchantress's mirror. Uniquely in the visual representations of Rinaldo and Armida from canto XIV, Van Dyck chooses to depict the false siren.
Gerusalemme liberata and the early development of opera in England
By the beginning of the eighteenth century Torquato Tasso's epic was firmly established as a source for operatic libretti. Tasso's emotionally affective lament maintained its appeal to composers for vocal settings for well over a century. Some forty years later, from the mid-1680s, the story was revived as an operatic source internationally, with performances of Carlo Pallavicino's La Gerusalemme liberata, focusing on the Rinaldo and Armida episode. Dennis's Armida interprets Rinaldo's words as an indication that her power over her lover has been restored. Dennis stresses that the musical passages in his opera are intended to move a variety of passions in the theatre audience. The additional focus on the spectacular in performance provided a ground for criticism of the emerging form of Italianate opera in England.
In Henry Layng's biography Tasso emerges above all as a victim of forces beyond his own control. For him, Tasso's literary immortality is in no doubt, even as interest in the poet starts to switch from his work towards the unhappy events of his life. The dramatic potential inherent in the act of betrayal and the challenge was taken up by Goethe in a pivotal scene of his play Torquato Tasso, completed in 1790. Layng concludes his 'Life' with a sympathetic account of the poet's mental torment. While suggesting that 'Tasso had from a child a spice of madness in his constitution', he attributes the steady decline of his mind directly to his fall from court favour and the period of prolonged imprisonment. As attention in England was beginning to switch away from the earlier fascination with Tasso's imprisonment and troubled love towards a new focus on his familial relationships.
Many later nineteenth-century English accounts of Torquato Tasso's life began to focus on less positive aspects of his family inheritance, and became increasingly critical in their approach to apparent defects in the poet's character. Tasso's early years with his mother in Sorrento and Naples, and especially his terminal separation from her in 1554 became a source of great interest to English biographers. Tasso's epic predecessor Ariosto is only the first of a series of potential father substitutes in Margaret Ferguson's analysis, which encompasses both historical figures, such as the Duke of Ferrara, and the poet's own fictional creations in the Gerusalemme liberata. If Tasso initially plays Hamlet to Ariosto's 'usurper, a Claudius figure', then he must also assume the role of one of his own Christian epic heroes to make sense of these other literary figurations.