Critical Overview

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Gerusalemme Liberata was a great critical success when it was published in 1581. Tasso was hailed as the greatest poet in all of Europe for combining the Heroic, the Romance, and the Moral tales in one poem. The early English translations spoke highly of Tasso's moral plan and his political allegory. Italian critics, who had originally hated the poem, claimed Tasso as the poetic successor to Dante and Virgil. This praise did not make Tasso happy, partly because he did not believe it and partly because he felt the poem had too much erotic and supernatural content. The poem did not provide Tasso with economic security because there were no notions of copyright, but its popularity did help secure Tasso the post of Poet Laureate of Rome in 1594. Tasso's reputation and the poem's critical impact continued to grow after his death.

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The English poets seemed to be more heavily influenced by Tasso and Gerusalemme Liberata than were French, Spanish, or Italian poets. Edward Fairfax's translation in 1600 brought numerous new readers to the poem and poets such as Edmund Spenser, Rachel Speght, and Margaret Cavendish credited Tasso with teaching them how to write poetry. John Milton, Thomas Gray, and various Victorian poets continually referenced Tasso's work as a model for writing epic poetry.

The idea of the moral duty of the poet was very popular among literary circles in Europe during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and Tasso was regarded as the shining example of a poet with his readers' best interests at heart. Both French and English literary critics favored Tasso over Ariosto since Tasso's message of honor, truth, and victory through God's help seemed a better influence than Ariosto's tales of lust and sex. John Dryden preferred Tasso as an epic poet and recommended him to several young poets including Mary, Lady Chudleigh, John Oldham, and Anne Killigrew. Elizabeth Singer Rowe, the most popular epic poet in eighteenth century England, also recommended reading and translating Tasso's Gerusalemme Liberata as a way of learning how to write epic poetry, both in terms of style and content.

The French critics were not as admiring as the English, however. Nicholas Boileau argued that, although Tasso was the master at instructing his readers, he found the didacticism too overpowering and the plot dull in places. He also did not like poetry with heavy moral messages, but he praised Tasso for his use of figurative language and the sustained cadence of his writing. Anne Dacier, a prominent French intellectual and translator of Homer' s epics also liked Tasso's style and his use of language. She did not mind his use of real history since he chose a time and place unknowable to most of his audience and could,...

(The entire section contains 689 words.)

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Essays and Criticism