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Compromising the Classics: Romance Epic Narrative in the Italian Renaissance.

Dennis Looney. Wayne State U. Press, Detroit. 1996. 244 pp. $39.95. ISBN 0-8143-2600-5.

Compromising the classics is Looney's term for what the three Ferrarese poets, Boiardo, Ariosto and Tasso did as they shaped the hybrid genre of epic-romance to the tastes of their day. Looney shows how Orlando Innamorato, Orlando Furioso and Gerusalemme Liberata reached back to earlier poems so that the "compromise" in his title means "how certain sources link the classical and medieval traditions and how certain sources also bridge the rhetorical categories of invention, style and disposition" (42-43).

Chapter 1 introduces the category of "compromising criticism," and discusses the Renaissance predisposition for the borrowing, reevaluating and blending of sources. Looney examines classical sources, the contributions of Renaissance humanism, and the aesthetic demands of popular culture, and their contribution to the creation of the three Italian masterpieces. Drawing on the classical genre of epic and pastoral, satire, history, comedy and tragedy represented a "compromise" which produced a new kind of narrative. Ariosto, for example, used both classical and medieval romance narratives in Orlando Furioso, and wrote in the vernacular to shape reader response. Looney reminds us these authors played to their audiences and that the Ferrarese court played in shaping audience expectation and response.

Boiardo's Orlando Innamorato had to appeal to an audience steeped in romance, and Looney examines and explicates passages that trace the work's transitions and narrative junctures. He demonstrates the "romanification of Herodotus' narrative" and its uses. Boiardo's Innamorato, usually studied for its contribution to the real sixteenth century masterpiece, Orlando Furioso, becomes an example of "compromise," as Looney reviews the poet's transitions, his program of citing or using Herodotus and Virgil, and his willingness to transgress literary models.

Looney attends to the narrative interlacing of Orlando Furioso, its debt to the ancients, especially Ovid, to the chivalric romance, and how the lack of transitions in the Metamorphoses find echoes in Ariosto's work. Orlando Furioso became the focus of canonical debate, and Looney examines the weight and value given to its sources in this discourse. We are brought to today's concerns in examining issues of intertextuality, internal affiliations, cultural criticism, textual approaches, and the influence of semiotics, structuralism and psychoanalytic theory.

As a child of the Counter-Reformation, Tasso had to work through doctrinal positions, manifested in Gerusalemme Liberata. Tasso's desire to comply with his own program as outlined in his Discorsi, while consciously aware of Orlando Furioso's popularity, influenced his mixing and choosing of sources to produce a Christianized epic-romance. Examining Tasso as Ariosto's literary critic shows how the changing Ferrarese cultural institutions, religious debate, politics, and aesthetic programs influenced the final product.

This book reviews the literary history today's reader would need to appreciate the "progress" all three poets made as they created their texts. Looney offers close readings and shows how characters were formed, such as the Theseus/Rheotus fusion (117). He pays attention to the sources, how the authors used them, and how audiences would have interpreted their new use. In this study of manipulation, divergence, amplification, and provenance, the reader is guided through Ariosto's choice of sources, and Tasso's later critique of Orlando Furioso, influenced by his own program of "dogmatically classicizing poetic propriety" (125). Tasso's ambiguity toward Ariosto's achievement is explained in the chapter "Narrative Choices in Orlando Furioso."

Looney tackles unresolved or glossed-over issues such as intertextual conflicts in Boiardo's and Tasso's variants on historic events. He elucidates difficult passages whose meanings are rooted in the interplay of sources, showing how the authors, conscious of literary tradition, departed from classical standards. Above all, this work examines how forces in Italian cultural history shaped the evolution of the poems themselves, and redefined canonical standards.

ROSEANNA MUELLER Columbia College, Chicago
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Author:Mueller, Roseanna
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 1998
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