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Orphans of Petrarch: Poetry and Theory in the Spanish Renaissance.

This is a challenging study that presents the anxious wrestling of five well-known sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Spanish poets with Petrarch, whose status as the foreign master of modern poetry provided them with a model as well as a ruler by which to measure their own successes and that of their country's culture.

In chapter one, Navarrete defines the two distinctive features of Spanish Petrarchism as belatedness (i.e., a sense of inferiority to one's predecessors) and anxiety that Castilian poetry would equal and supplant Italian models to effect the much-desired translatio of merit and renown into Spain. He cites late fifteenth-century expectations that the imperial nation wield the dominant culture to accompany its political prowess.

The next chapter presents "a purposeful misreading" of Juan Boscan's 1534 translation of Castiglione's II Cortegiano, in which Navarrete culls evidence for his assertion that it is a major document for the development of Spanish Petrarchan poetic theory, believing that members of the nascent Spanish empire's upper class found the formula for translatio in the courtly idiom Castiglione describes. Navarrete interprets Boscan's preface to Boscan's and Garcilaso's 1543 Obras as a courtly defense of the hendecasyllabic line and an implicit alliance of Italian versification with the cosmopolitan court of Charles V.

Chapter three begins with a brief aside on Boscan (whom Navarrete eventually labels "second-rate"), proposing that when the Catalan poet overtly evokes Petrarch, he is imitating him; when the Petrarch model is absent, Boscan is rivaling him. Navarrete presents Boscan's poetic corpus as a re-telling of his apprenticeship to and eventual overcoming of Petrarch. He illustrates how Garcilaso internalized Petrarchism and also amalgamated classical, cancionero, and other Italian poetry so as to naturalize Petrarch within a larger tradition rather than allowing him to be the tradition, creating a space in which Garcilaso could present himself as that tradition's culmination.

Navarrete proceeds to describe the process through which commentators like Morales and El Brocense used Garcilaso to legitimize the academic, cultural arm of the empire, recreating him in their own image. Fernando de Herrera receives complete attention as a poet and as Garcilaso's commentator, who overwhelmed Garcilaso's delicate and limited corpus with his lengthy, complex Anotaciones of 1580, managing to do to Garcilaso what Garcilaso had done to Petrarch (displace his poetry) and substitute his model of the poet-soldier with that of the professional poet (Herrera himself).

The final chapter, devoted to Gongora and Quevedo, illustrates how the former subverted Petrarchism to the brink of extinction by empowering the signifier to previously unimagined heights, generating poetry of pure style through dense and vibrant aesthetic practices. In a study devoted to Petrarchism, this leaves Quevedo nothing to do but clean up after Gongora, and Navarrete uses such epithets as "undigested," "worn-out," "weak," and "cheeky," to stamp failure on Quevedo's sonnet cycle, Canta sola a Lisis. Navarrete posits that Quevedo's dark poems are still primarily struggling with the Italian father in an attempt to rewrite him, tracing what Navarrete calls Quevedo's undermining of the Petrarchan sonnet and the imperial optimism it implied. Whereas Gongora's stylization of Petrarch was indusive, says Navarrete, Quevedo's parody deconstructed the tradition. How Quevedo could set out to destroy the Petrarchan tradition and simultaneously establish himself as the head of Spanish Petrarchism (239) could have used more explanation.

Navarrete's own analyses of the poetic texts are important and illuminating; one wishes for more of them and less listing of sources. His book falls comfortably into line with the straight and narrow tradition in Spanish studies: Greece-Rome-Petrarch-Garcilaso-Herrera-Gongora/Quevedo. A poet like Jorge de Montemayor, who published two major verse collections in 1554 and 1558 (which were republished four times posthumously), poses a challenge to Navarrete's contention that Boscan and Herrera were the only ones to do so, and suggests that Spanish Renaissance poetry was more than anxiety over Petrarch. Montemayor's humorous and devotional poems (as those of other poets) ran a good race with Petrarchism, which lacks both those components. Laughter and personal piety, important practices of early modern Spanish culture, collide head-on with Petrarch in a poet like Quevedo, whose strengths derive more from Spanish than imported concerns. Navarrete does a thorough job tracing the course of Petrarchism in the authors he considers. This focus also predestines Spanish poets to never getting beyond their formidable Italian primogenitor.

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Author:Rhodes, Elizabeth
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1998
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