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.
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.
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.
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.