Battista Guarini Guarini, Battista - Essay


(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

Battista Guarini 1537-1612

(Also Giovanni Battista Guarini, Gian Battista Guarini, and Giambattista Guarini) Italian poet, dramatist, and diplomat.

Battista Guarini is credited with significant contributions to the development of the pastoral drama, a literary genre that juxtaposes the rural society of shepherds against the complexities of city life. Guarini's masterpiece, Il pastor fido (1590), embodies this form of narrative while perfecting its complex structure, intricate characterization, and elaborately illustrative descriptions.

Biographical Information

Guarini was born December 10, 1537 at Ferrara into a noble family with a history of literary and political achievements dating back over two hundred years. His father, Francesco Guarini was the great-grandson of the early humanist Guarino da Verona (1374-1460), the originator of the family's fortune. Guarini studied law and philosophy at the University of Padua, and at twenty years of age he became professor of rhetoric and poetry at the University of Ferrara. From 1564 to 1567 he was also a member of the Accademia degli Eterei of Padua, where he met contemporaries Scipione Gonzaga and Torquato Tasso, among others. Shortly thereafter, Guarini began his twenty-one-year career as a secretary and diplomat in the court of Alfonso Il d'Este, the last Duke of Ferrara. Guarini was sent on various missions to such locations as Turin, Venice, and Rome; his most memorable excursion was to Poland in 1574, where for two years he unsuccessfully attempted to negotiate the Polish crown for Alfonso. Upon his return, however, Guarini was promoted to official court poet, replacing Tasso. Guarini soon found the daily tasks of a courtier to be trivial and demeaning, and he began his composition of Il pastor fido in 1580, retiring to his ancestral farm, Villa Guarina, two years later to concentrate on the work. He was recalled by Alfonso in 1585 and was appointed secretary of state of Ferrara. However, Guarini quickly tired of this position and spent the next twenty years moving throughout the country in the service of Ferdinand I, Grand Duke of Tuscany and of Francesco Maria delle Rovere, Duke of Urbino. Guarini's personal life was notably tumultuous; his wife, Taddea di Niccolò Bendido, a lady of prominent birth whom he had married in 1560, died young, but not before she had borne Guarini eight children. Guarini's relationships with his children were extremely poor. In one incident, his daughter Anna was murdered by her husband with the assistance of one of the poet's own sons. Guarini spent his last years embroiled in disputes with contemporary critics and litigation with his children over his estate. He died in Venice on October 7, 1612.

Major Works

Guarini composed a number of minor works in addition to Il pastor fido, on which his preeminence rests. His literary career includes his production of the comedy L'idropica (The Dropsical Lady, 1583); Il Segretario (1593), a moralistic dialogue on the responsibilities of a secretary and the art of letter writing; Il verato (1588) and its sequel Il verato secondo (1593), both polemic treatises named after a famous actor of the period; and Trattato della politica libertà (1818), an argument that a republican government is inferior to an autocracy with a benevolent leader, which was banned for more than two centuries after its composition. Collections of his correspondence are also published in Lettere (1593-96), his verse in Rime (1598), and his poetry in Compendio della poesia tragicomica (1601). His true masterpiece, Il pastor fido (The Faithful Shepherd), is a “pastoral tragicomedy.” Emulative of Tasso's Aminta, though three times as long, it sensuously narrates an elaborate tale based on a story found in the work of the Greek historian Pausanias. Set in the city of Arcadia, citizens are required to sacrifice a maiden yearly to the goddess Diana until an oracle foretells that upon the marriage of two descendants of the gods and the atonement of a faithless woman by a faithful shepherd, this merciless custom will end. The plot then turns to the romance of Amaryllis, descendant of the god Pan, and her lover Mirtil. Amaryllis is decreed to marry Silvio, son of Montano, a descendant of Hercules, to fulfill this prophesy; however, a twist of fate reveals Montano to be the biological father of Mirtil as well. Ultimately, the oracle's prophecy is fulfilled and true love prevails. The play's central themes of blindness, deception, and illusion are woven throughout the play, making a significant statement opposing the Renaissance's popular valuation of sight as the most important sense. Its complexity and poetic style are highly evocative of the Baroque; however its poignant reflection of contemporary sentiment concerning Italian society makes it extremely pertinent. Il pastor fido represents the epitome of pastoral poetry in the Italian Renaissance.

Critical Reception

Il pastor fido reigned as the most popular work of secular literature in Europe for almost two hundred years. Its initial reception was exceptional; in an era of turmoil and change, Guarini's play of fantasy and the triumph of love was a sensation. His application of universal themes to contemporaneous Italian society retained its relevance for audiences, and the work is celebrated for its insight into public issues. The play is groundbreaking in that most of the action takes place off-stage, its focus shifted to the aftermath of these undertakings and the conversations between characters, thus allowing the dialogue to develop profoundly. With its sensuous themes and emotive discourse, Il pastor fido set the precedent for Italian theater in the seventeenth century. This bold attitude carried over into a model of literary sophistication in the eighteenth century. The first half of the twentieth century discourse regarding the work was marked by criticism extolling the lyricism and sensuousness of Il pastor fido; however, the second half is characterized by discussions into the historical significance of the work. While the play is best identified as illustrative of the Renaissance period, it has also been cited as a reflection of Counter-Reformation culture and an antecedent of Baroque culture. Today Il pastor fido is widely accepted by critics as an example of the best pastoral literature of its era.

Principal Works

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

L'idropica (drama) 1583

Il verato (polemic treatise) 1588

Il pastor fido [The Faithful Shepherd] (poem) 1590

Il segretario (dialogue) 1593

Il verato secondo (polemic treatise) 1593

Lettere 2 vols. (letters) 1593-96

Rime (verse) 1598

Compendio della poesia tragicomica (poetry) 1601

Trattato della politica libertà (political treatise) 1818

Arnold Hartmann, Jr. (essay date July 1953)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Hartmann, Jr., Arnold. “Battista Guarini and Il Pastor Fido.The Musical Quarterly 39, no. 3 (July 1953): 415-25.

[In the essay below, Hartmann speculates about the incidental music that was likely used during performances of the pastorale Il Pastor Fido.]

The history of literature in all countries provides examples of the chasm between the historical importance of a work and its neglect by ensuing generations. We are told of the great significance of a given work, mentioned in all the accounts of the genre; yet it may be known at first hand only by a limited circle of scholars in the field. However regrettable this condition may seem to the...

(The entire section is 4330 words.)

Nicolas J. Perella (essay date December 1958)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Perella, Nicolas J. “Fate, Blindness and Illusion in the Pastor Fido.The Romanic Review 49, no. 4 (December 1958): 252-68.

[In the following essay, Perella analyzes Guarini's use of imagery in Il Pastor Fido.]

Fate appears in the world of Guarini's Pastor Fido as a force determining the lives of men, not itself guiding irrationally, but acting in a manner that is incomprehensible to man.1 For years the land of Arcadia has been under a cruel law: the goddess Diana, enraged by the infidelity of an Arcadian nymph of yore, demands that a maiden be sacrificed annually and that any nymph guilty of betraying the faith pledged to a...

(The entire section is 8713 words.)

Bernard Weinberg (essay date 1961)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Weinberg, Bernard. “The Quarrel Over Guarini's Pastor Fido.” In A History of Literary Criticism in the Italian Renaissance, Volume II, pp. 1074-1105. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1961.

[In the following essay, Weinberg probes the influence of Il pastor fido on the shaping of dramatic theories in turn-of-the-seventeenth-century Italy: he summarizes published critical discussions of the play by Guarini's contemporaries and the playwright's responses to their criticism, both of which appeared over a fifteen-year period.]

The last of the literary quarrels of the Cinquecento began toward the end of the century and continued on into the...

(The entire section is 16870 words.)

J. H. Whitfield (essay date fall 1976)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Whitfield, J. H. Introduction to Battista Guarini: Il pastor fido/The Faithfull Shepherd, Translated (1647) by Richard Fanshawe, edited by J. H. Whitfield, pp. 1-43. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1976.

[In the essay below, Whitfield places Il pastor fido in historical context, traces its performance and critical histories, and provides biographical information about the author. Whitfield also discusses the possible influences of the work on the comedies of William Shakespeare.]

The sixteenth century is not littered with successful Italian plays. From the first assaults on the two citadels, of tragedy and comedy, there had come discouraging...

(The entire section is 16929 words.)

Joseph Loewenstein (essay date 1987)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Loewenstein, Joseph. “Guarini and the Presence of Genre.” In Renaissance Tragicomedy: Explorations in Genre and Politics, edited by Nancy Klein Maguire, pp. 33-55. New York: AMS Press, 1987.

[In the following essay, Loewenstein discusses the relationship of the tragicomedic genre to the pastoral mode as perceived in Guarini's Il pastor fido.]

Only someone who already knows how to do something with it can significantly ask a name.

Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations1

The famous title page of Jonson's Works (1616), a representation of Tragicomoedia, is...

(The entire section is 8666 words.)

Gabriele Niccoli (essay date 1988)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Niccoli, Gabriele. “The God of Love in Il Pastro Fido: Blindness in Arcadia.” Cincinnati Romance Review 7 (1988): 36-50.

[In the essay below, Niccoli analyzes the Cupid scene in Il pastor fido, focusing on Guarini's use of language games.]

In applauding himself on the stage handling of the pastoral Cupid convention and on its cathartic release moderated by a just dosage of verisimilitude and decorum, Giovan Battista Guarini, in his “Annotazioni sopra il Pastor fido,” strongly argues that his staging of the conventional god of love scene in his pastoral play is the actual staging of a miracle (124-28). The miracle is the humanization...

(The entire section is 4158 words.)

Robert Hogan and Edward A. Nickerson (essay date 1989)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Hogan, Robert and Edward A. Nickerson. Introduction to The Faithful Shepherd: A Translation of Battista Guarini's Il Pastor Fido by Dr. Thomas Sheridan, edited by Robert Hogan and Edward A. Nickerson, pp. 9-15. Newark, N.J.: University of Delaware Press, 1989.

[In the following essay, Hogan and Nickerson introduce a modern translation of Guarini's Il pastor fido, placing it in historical context. They also compare it favorably to Tasso's pastoral play Aminta for its dramatic quality, though they deem its poetic quality to be inferior.]

Il Pastor Fido is the most notable work of Battista Guarini, who was born in Ferrara on 10 December...

(The entire section is 2306 words.)

Robert Henke (essay date fall 1993)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Henke, Robert. “The Winter's Tale and Guarinian Dramaturgy.” Comparative Drama 27, no. 3 (fall 1993): 197-217.

[In the essay below, Henke examines the relationship between Guarini's tragicomic theory and that exhibited by William Shakespeare in his dramas. Henke discusses Guarini's theoretical writings, including Il verato, Il verato secondo, and Compendio della poesia tragicomica.]

Genre concepts significantly affect our understanding of Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale. The play not only repeatedly calls attention to itself as fiction, but its tripartite tragical-pastoral-comical arrangement focuses our attention on three important...

(The entire section is 8659 words.)

Further Reading

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))


Aikin, Judith Popovich. “Guarini's Il Pastor Fido in Germany: Allegorical and Figural Aspects.” Studi Germanici 16, no. 1 (February 1978): 125-48.

Investigates the reception of Il pastor fido in Germany in the seventeenth century, a period that produced a number of translations of Guarini's work.

Hall, H. Gaston. “Guarini in Boileau's Lutrin.The Modern Language Review 60, no. 1 (January 1965): 17-20.

Examines the influence of Guarini's Il pastor fido on La Sainte-Chapelle du Lutrin and its reception in seventeenth-century France.

Henke, Robert....

(The entire section is 397 words.)