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The Ways of Paradox from Lando to Donne.

Patrizia Grimaldi Pizzorno. The Ways of Paradox from Lando to Donne.

Accademia Toscana di Scienze e Lettere "La Colombaria" 241. Florence: Leo S. Olschki, 2007. 210 pp. index, append, illus. this. [euro]23. ISBN: 978-88-222-5700-0.

Many are the "ways of paradox" in Patrizia Pizzorno's penetrating and largely original study. Certainly connected to the fruitful, often disturbing, play of op-posites, Renaissance paradox more often signified a break with received opinion, convention, belief, a movement contrary to (para-) accepted teaching (doxa). Pizzorno begins with three famous sixteenth-century paradox books: Ortensio Lando's Paradossi cioe sentenze fuori del comun parere (1543); Charles Estienne's Paradoxes (1553), a partial translation of Lando; and Anthony Munday's The Defence of Contraries (1593), a partial translation of Estienne. She charts a transformation of Lando's fideist, Erasmian use of paradox into Estienne's and Munday's manuals of "jocose moot cases" that appealed to lawyers and their interest in "the misapprehension of meaning as well as people in the legal process" (7). Partly conceived as an "extended introduction to the Defence of Contraries" (8), helpfully included as an appendix, The Ways of Paradox focuses in its second half on the importance of paradoxical theory and practice to London's Inns of Court.

The first half of the book devotes a chapter each to Lando, Estienne, and Munday, as well as a more general chapter on "Translation and the Business of Letters." Pizzorno convincingly links Lando to a skeptical Christian "Counter-Renaissance" with affiliations from Saint Paul and Cicero to Erasmus, Rabelais, and Montaigne: "Lando exalted ignorance, humbleness and folly, expressing a reformed Christian vocation guided by a belief in man's utter helplessness" (21). Like his paradoxes, Lando challenged the orthodoxies of church and court: "Lando's unwillingness to identify with any of the social groups of his world and his refusal to speak comme il faut to a courtly elite are a consequence of his radical religious creed: he speaks to those who wished to be saved" (24). Lando's "poetics of disproportion" attacks both "Scholasticism and the Renaissance Christian-humanistic preoccupation with universal proportion, design, purpose and degree ' (26), offering instead a "via negativa for the discovery and description of truth" (27).

Something different happens in Estienne and Munday. While Lando urged his readers to "search for the truth behind the laughter" (19) of his paradoxes, his descendants--while still engaged in challenges to otthodoxy--foregrounded the jocular. The excellent, if too-brief, chapter on Esuenne asserts that his Paradoxes erased "Lando's linguistic, ideological and religious meanings," placed "emphasis on the importance of sound reasoning," and brought "the rhetorical patadox back to its original, sophistic usage and the legal milieu of the courtroom" (31). Pizzorno sees Munday's book as part of "the genre of the paradoxical joco-serio'' (53) as well, and rightly notes that, despite Munday's "lame translation" (60) and "hasty collection" (62), The Defence of Contraries worked as "a catalyst so that any writer wishing to create a stir presented his ideas in the fashionable 'against common opinion' format" (62).

One of these writers was John Donne: "The horizon of paradox, perfected throughout his life, spans from the philosophical love riddles of his youth to the theological writings of his maturity" (101). Pizzorno neatly relates Donne's Paradoxes in particular and his writing in general to the paradoxical culture of the Inns of Court. Indeed, this section of the book stands alone as a very useful primer on these London law schools. For Pizzorno, paradoxes not only provided "highly improbable cases for . . . moots and public disputations" (63), but also appealed to legal intellectuals who found in paradox an expression of "the firm belief in the need and possibility of a complete exit from the commonly accepted order of life' (8).

It comes as somewhat of a sutprise, then, that the final chapter--consisting of excellent readings of the 1594-95 Gray's Inn Revels (including a production of Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors), the 1597-98 Middle Temple Revels, and the 1617-18 Gray's Inn Revels--concludes that paradox has become the "arch-villain" (127), exemplifying "the corrupting effects of bad education" (126). Pizzorno focuses on the Antimasque of Mountebanks (1618), in which Paradox appears on stage as a character. Announcing that he is the child of a Jesuit father and an Anabaptist mother, Paradox defines himself as a "straine of witt and invention, serried above the vulgar conceipt, to beget admiration" (123). Pizzorno argues that the antimasque, written in honor of Francis Bacon, should be read as a celebration of the educational ideas of Bacon's Advancement- of Learning: in this late manifestation, paradox becomes the "great sophism of all sophisms" (127). However, especially since religious conflict informs the origins of the antimasque's Paradox, I wish Pizzorno had spent a little more time linking what she calls the "demise" of paradox in 1618 to its earlier "triumph" in Lando and Donne (8). We need a more careful explication of how the hero of the paradox books has become "the antagonist of Wisdom and the corrupter of Youth" (127). This reservation aside, the only problems with the book are relatively minor. There are too many typos for my taste, and, more unfortunately, an editorial error has resulted in the omission of a page in Munday's Defence, which truncates the transcription of his important prefatory addresses "To the King" and "To the Friendly Reader." Nonetheless, Pizzorno's inclusion of Munday's text would by itself make The Ways of Paradox extremely valuable. Her book, in fact, does much more: it shows how three books that playfully overturned accepted beliefs and conventions seriously helped to shape a culture of reading, writing, and thinking in early modern London.

Peter G. Platt

Barnard College
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Author:Platt, Peter G.
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book review
Date:Dec 22, 2008
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