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'Who the devil taught thee so much Italian?': Italian Language Learning and Literary Imitation in Early Modern England.

'Who the devil taught thee so much Italian?': Italian Language Learning and Literary Imitation in Early Modern England. By JASON LAWRENCE. Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press. 2005. viii + 244PP. 47-50 [pounds sterling]. ISBN 978-0-7190-6914-7.

Jason Lawrence's welcome new study takes as its subject the relation between late sixteenth-century language-learning practice and literary production in England and Scotland in the early modern period. As is well known, the anglophone interest in Italian literary culture increased exponentially throughout the sixteenth century but, until the advent of instructional manuals in the last quarter of the century, Italian language acquisition was largely confined to those who could afford private tuition or travel to Italy. However, the proliferation of manuals such as John Florio's First Fruites (1578) and Second Frutes (1591), and factors such as the establishment of private language schools in London from the 1570S onwards, broadened the social range of students able to learn modern languages.

Lawrence examines the means by which various authors' engagement with Italian sources was governed and influenced by their language-learning practice. Linguistic and literary skills were developed through a programme of staged activity which used the grammar manual as a basis for formal translation exercises, with the final outcome often a new creative engagement with the foreign literary forms. Chapter 1, "Mie new London Companions for Italian and French": Modern Language Learning in Elizabethan England', provides an overview of pedagogical practice of the period, analysing the writings of language teachers and their students, as well as self-study texts such as Florio's parallel-text First Fruites. Lawrence shows how these manuals aim to imitate the tutor-pupil dynamic through their use of guided double translation exercises (from target language into English and back again), before discussing particular examples of literary translation of the period such as Elizabeth I's, Mary Herbert's, and Elizabeth Carey's versions of Petrarch. This is followed by a meticulous analysis of William Drummond's engagement with Italian literary culture and the links between his language-learning practice and techniques of literary composition. Chapter 2, '"A stranger borne To be indenizened with us, and made our owne": Samuel Daniels and the Naturalisation of Italian Literary Forms', describes Daniels's sophisticated engagement with his sources from his early Delia sonnets to his late pastoral Hymens Triumph. This detailed study of his intertextual allusions demonstrates the importance of both the Italian and the French-mediated 'Italian' traditions to his own compositional practice. In the third and final chapter, '"Give me the ocular proof": Shakespeare's Italian Language-Learning Habits', Lawrence argues that critics have generally overlooked Shakespeare's language-learning practice in favour of a mistaken focus on personal connections and his use of Italian sources in translation. He contends that Shakespeare followed, like his contemporaries, a programme of guided self-study using Florio's two Italian manuals, which gave him a level of competence in Italian which would allow him to access the originals alongside their various translations and their mediations through other authors such as Marston and Guarini. The short conclusion then looks beyond the Florio era to Italian language-learning in the seventeenth century after 1625.

One possible shortcoming of Lawrence's book is that it does not engage with current theories of translation, which could have enriched his discussion of the mechanisms of translation and imitation. This aside, however, Lawrence makes a very valuable contribution to the study of the plurilingual literary culture of the early modern period. It will be useful not only for scholars of English and Scottish literature but also for those working more generally on Renaissance literary cultures.


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Author:Armstrong, Guyda
Publication:The Modern Language Review
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jul 1, 2007
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