Proclaiming a Classic: The Canonization of Orlando Furioso.
In the last few years, scholarship on the Orlando Furioso has been particularly fruitful. This is the case both in Italy and in other countries. Two non-Italians, each of whom adopts a different methodological approach, have recently written critical works of note. Ariosto's Bitter Harmony: Crisis and Evasion in the Italian Renaissance, 1987, by the American Italianist Albert Russell Ascoli, is a work of deconstructivist hermeneutics that places Ariosto's masterpiece in the literary and philosophical context of its times. In Diskrepante Lektiiren: die Orlando Furioso Rezeption im Cinquecento, 1987, Klaus W. Hempfer employs a Rezeptionforschung method in constructing a reception model through the exhaustive exploration of a variety of critical texts that accompanied the poem's publication: editions, commentaries, controversies. In the same reader-response approach we now have another important contribution: Proclaiming a Classic: The Canonization of Orlando Furioso, by the American Daniel Javitch. While Hempfer brought to light the discrepancies between the "reception paradigms" imposed by the expanding printing industry and the particular semiosis required by Ariosto's poem, Javitch aims at reconstructing the responses of sixteenth-century readers by analyzing the way in which they interpreted, manipulated and tamed the text. Hempfer believes that the contradictory readings of the Furioso are the outcome of the poem itself, which he sees as an essentially "ambiguous" work. Javitch, on the other hand, states that they are the result of particular cultural models and of the way in which the readers accepted them. In this respect Javitch differs also from Weinberg (A History of Literary Criticism in the Italian Renaissance, 1961), to whom, however, he declares himself indebted for the long list of critical responses to the Furioso before the publication of Tasso's poem. While, according to Weinberg, the neoclassical critics of the last decade of the Cinquecento viewed Tasso's work as the first vernacular epic to equal the classical one--thus contributing to the decline of Ariosto's critical fortunes--Javitch maintains that the same critics sanctioned both the entrance of the Furioso in the literary canon and its acceptance as a modern classic. Javitch's primary objective is to investigate the process that brought about the canonization of Ariosto's romance, and to outline the strategies of legitimation that such a process implied: how the poem was compared to the great classical epics--by Homer, Virgil and Ovid; how it was rendered more easy to absorb by additional allegorical interpretations; and, finally, how it was adjusted for use in the school curricula.
Javitch's book is organized into eight chapters, some of which have already appeared in print. The first chapter deals with the numerous editions of the poems, with its continuations and commentaries; it also considers the success of the Furioso as the "high" model for narrative poetry in comparison with the parallel model of Petrarch's Canzoniere. The second chapter analyzes the connections that were made with classical models, the prestigious genealogy that grew around Ariosto's romance, which simplified and elevated its origins to a high status; the chapter also records the process of standardization of its language. the critical responses to the influencs exercised by the Aeneid, Thebaid and the Metamorphoses are studied in the third chapter. In the fourth one, the author analyzes the way in which the Furioso in turn influenced the translations of classical narrative poems, especially Ovid's Metamorphoses. Critical reactions to narrative discontinuities are studied in the fifth chapter. The sixth and the seventh show how Ariosto's romance became the main object of contention in, or the pretext for, the literary debates of the age. Finally, in the eighth chapter, Javitch compares the Furioso with Harington's English translation: by flattening Ariosto's poem, the translator tried to adapt it to the concept of modern heroic poem that grew out of its very tradition.
UNIVERSITA DI PADOVA