Critical Evaluation

Matteo Maria Boiardo’s Orlando Innamorato (Orlando in love) is a romance epic whose first part was published in the early 1480’s during the Italian Renaissance. The humanist poet Ludovico Ariosto (1474-1533) composed a sequel, Orlando furioso (1516; English translation, 1591), which reinforced Boiardo’s fame and, with Orlando Innamorato, influenced the composition of the famous English epic The Faerie Queene (1590/1596) by Edmund Spenser. Other later poets also drew on Orlando Innamorato, among them Miguel de Cervantes in his Don Quixote de la Mancha (1605, 1616; English translation, 1612-1620), and John Milton in his Paradise Lost (1667, 1674) and Paradise Regained (1671).

Boiardo lived in Ferrara, a minor but influential center of Renaissance humanistic culture under the ruling Este family. Because the Ferrarese regional dialect of the poem’s verse limited the appeal of the original, the work was popularized through a version by Francesco Berni (c. 1497-1535), who recast it in the Tuscan dialect. The Renaissance’s cultural center, Florence, was in the region of Tuscany, and this dialect became the dominant form of the Italian language.

Orlando Innamorato consists of sixty-nine cantos, or chapters, grouped in three books, or divisions. Even though unfinished when Boiardo died in 1494, the work contains more than four thousand ottava rima stanzas, groups of eight lines of heroic verse with a rhyme scheme of abababcc. The epic relates a series of military adventures motivated principally by love, which provides the unifying element to the work. It is Orlando’s infatuation for Angelica that inspires his actions, and the epic revolves around his subsequent pursuit of his love from France to distant India and back. The work’s intriguing quality is found not so much in its combination of romance and militaristic glory as it is in the opposition of the values of those pursuits.

Love inspires the warrior to great deeds, motivating him to set off in quest of a lady or even causing him to risk death in defending a lady in...

(The entire section is 880 words.)