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Aminta: A Pastoral Play. .

Torquato Tasso. Aminta: A Pastoral Play.

Eds. and trans. Charles Jernigan and Irene Marchegiani Jones. New York: Italica Press, 2000. xxxiv + 180 pp. bibl. $15. ISBN: 0-934977-65-8.

Hyped cautiously as "perhaps the most famous pastoral play ever" (ix, emphasis added), Tasso's Aminta, composed and produced in 1573, remains notorious (and intriguing) for its failure to place the two lovers Aminta and Silvia simultaneously on stage. Nevertheless this bucolic frolic indeed exerted phenomenal influence on the development of pastoral drama, "spawning in Italy alone over 200 plays by 1700" (xviii). Furthermore, the resounding phrase from its Golden Age chorus (S'ei piace, ei lice -- literally, if it pleases, then it's lawful, but here translated as do what pleases you) epitomizes the spirit of the Italian Renaissance like no other slogan save perhaps carpe diem. (As evidence of Tasso's pervasive influence, Battista Guarini's echoing retort in his own pastoral drama Il Pastor Fido became the watchcry of the Counter Reformation: Piaccia, se lice, -- that is to say, let it please if it's lawful.)

As the translators correctly note in their straightforward introduction, Aminta "made Tasso's reputation" (xvii) and served "indirectly ...[as] a source of William Shakespeare's pastoral comedies" and as "a source of John Milton's Comus" (xviii). In addition, productions of the play, often performed outdoors in gardens or parks, have continued from 1573 right down to a postmodern version in 2000. In short, the play, regularly recognized for its lyric poetry more than its simple but implausible plot, merits modern critical attention for multiple reasons. This new translation, seeking to foster that end, is highly readable. Iris largely in iambic pentameter blank verse, shortened appropriately to trimeters and tetrameters when Tasso abbreviates his own verses. Furthermore, the translators skillfully employ rhyme whenever the original Italian is rhymed, and the result is pleasing to the ear and faithful to the original's sound and sense.

A few samples of the translators' art must suffice in this brief review. The well-known concluding lines to Act 1, scene 2 ("Amiam, che non ha tregua / con gli anni umana vita, e si dilegua / Amiam, che 'l Sol si muore e poi rinasce: / a noi sua breve luce / s'asconde, e 'l sonno eterna notte adduce") are rendered thus: "Let's love, for with the years / man's life can have no truce, and disappears. / Let's love, for day will die, yet is reborn; / for us, though, all its light / sinks down, and sleep leads to eternal night." Not only are the rhyme schemes parallel, but the English closely shadows the Italian and nicely retains the figures of anaphora and personification.

Aminta's famous unfolding of how he fell in love -- "A poco a poco nacque nel mio petto, / non so da qual radice, / com'erba suol che per se stessa germini, / un incognito affetto / che mi fea desiare d'essere sempre presente / a la mia bella Silvia" (1.2.87-93) -- is captured with a similarly alliterative and felicitous opening line and then sustained by parallel grammatical construction in the English translation: "And bit by bit was born within my breast, / I don't know from what root, / as grass may seem to germinate itself, / a strange affection that / made me desire to be / forever present where / my lovely Silvia was."

Finally, Dafne's soulful lament (note how the repeated o's in the plaintive second verse in Italian echo the initial exclamatory "O" [my emphasis]) -- "O Silvia, Silvia, tu non sai ne credi / quanro 'l foco d'amor possa in un petto" (4.1.66-67) -- becomes only slightly less poetic in this translation and aptly mirrors the imagery: "O Silvia, you neither think nor know / how in one's breast the fire of love can burn."

In fine, Professors Jernigan and Jones are to be complimented for their laudable attention to poetic nuances or how the poem means, to paraphrase "the master of those who know" (in this case, translator-poet John Ciardi). This reviewer's only disappointment, in fact, derived from the translation's overly-modest scholarly apparatus. While the translators' scholarship includes, in addition to cursory introductory comments, a biographical chronology, a selected bibliography, and five pages of clarifying notes, most readers would likely welcome expanded glosses that detail Tasso's complex poetics and decipher the Ferrarese court's complicated politics.
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Author:Sowell, Madison V.
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 2003
Words:699
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