Ludovico Ariosto Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

ph_0111204878-Ariosto.jpg Ludovico Ariosto.

As poet, Ludovico Ariosto is remembered chiefly as the continuer and modifier of the chivalric tradition initiated at the Ferrarese court by his predecessor Matteo Maria Boiardo (1441-1494), the author of the incomplete Orlando innamorato (1483, 1495; Orlando in love). This chivalric poem in octaves treats the passion of the paladin Orlando for the pagan Angelica. The poem was interrupted by Boiardo’s death in 1494, which coincided with France’s invasion of Italy. Because of the widespread use of artillery by King Charles VIII in the French campaign, chivalry—the material of Boiardo’s poem—was dealt a deadly blow. Approximately ten years later, Ariosto took up the story where Boiardo had stopped. The composition of this epic poem became a lifelong project for Ariosto; the third and definitive edition did not appear until 1532, the year before his death. Orlando furioso, as Ariosto entitled his masterpiece, in order to recall Seneca’s Hercules furens (c. 40-55 c.e.; Mad Hercules, 1581), is not, however, merely a conclusion to Boiardo’s unfinished opus. Rather, it is a brilliant restaging of the entire knightly tradition, from that portrayed in the poems and romances of the Carolingian and Breton cycles to that of the Franco-Venetian and Tuscan songs of chivalry. Ariosto wrote for a Ferrarese court that delighted, but no longer believed, in chivalric ideals; he mixed, therefore, illusion and reality in the same poem. He achieved a brilliant mix through an extensive use of fantasy and dependence on irony, the distinguishing characteristics of his poetic art. The result is the most acclaimed poem of Italian Renaissance literature and a work of art that has understandably eclipsed the author’s minor works for centuries.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Ludovico Ariosto is known as both dramatist and poet of the Renaissance court of Ferrara, where he served the Este family. As dramatist, he is often called the “founder of Italian comedy” but is generally esteemed less for the inherent greatness of his five plays than for his establishment of sixteenth century comedia erudita (erudite or learned comedy). Learned comedy was essentially a clever reworking of ancient plays by Plautus and Terence . It represented, in many respects, the antithesis of the unwritten and improvised plays of the commedia dell’arte that were so popular in the late Renaissance. It was also a reaction to the sacred representations that had been carried over from the Middle Ages. Critics have variously described cinquecento learned comedy as more spectacular than dramatic, unoriginal and lacking in vitality, much too conventional, a realistic portrayal of Italian Renaissance society, quite responsive to contemporary cultural expectations, and, according to Douglas Radcliff-Umstead, “a vital theater [created] from the model set by ancient Roman playwrights.”

Although Ariosto was not the first to compose a learned comedy in the vernacular, his first two plays greatly popularized the genre. George Gascoigne’s Supposes, performed at Gray’s Inn in 1566, is a translation or paraphrase of Ariosto’s second play, The Pretenders, and testifies to the initially widespread influence of some of Ariosto’s plays. Since the sixteenth century, however, that influence has been almost negligible because of general critical disdain for learned comedy. That disdain, however, has been modified during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, as a chronology of the above descriptions of learned comedy, from Jacob Burckhardt in 1860 to Radcliff-Umstead in 1969, would indicate. In addition, the appearance in 1975 of the first English translation of all five of Ariosto’s plays and of Einaudi’s reproduction in 1976 of the 1954 Ricciardi edition of the plays in Italian are two events that have more recently contributed to the appreciation of Ariosto’s comedies in particular.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Ascoli, Albert R. Ariosto’s Bitter Harmony: Crisis and Evasion in the Italian Renaissance. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1987. Ascoli’s close reading of Orlando furioso uncovers Ariosto’s “poetics of concord and discord,” the evasion of historical crises, and the relationship of this “text of crisis” to others of the genre.

Brand, C. P. Ludovico Ariosto: A Preface to the Orlando Furioso. Edinburgh, Scotland: Edinburgh University Press, 1974. An excellent overview of Ariosto’s life and works. Contains full chapters on life, lyrics, satires, and dramas while concentrating on a thematic study of the Orlando furioso. Emphasizes the opposition of love and war. Contains brief bibliographies for each chapter and two indexes.

Carroll, Clare. The “Orlando Furioso”: A Stoic Comedy. Tempe, Ariz.: MRTS, 1997. Analyzes the poem’s stoic view of harmony through a dialectic of contradictory meanings (wisdom through madness, juxtaposition of excess and restraint) and the balance of the poem’s structure. The poem is envisioned as “a miniature animated cosmos,” an organism ordered yet changing, accomplished through the imagery of circle, wheel, ring, and tondo.

Croce, Benedetto. Ariosto, Shakespeare, and Corneille. Translated by Douglas Ainslie. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1920. Reprint. New York: Russell & Russell, 1966. An extremely influential early modern essay on Orlando furioso. Rebutting the traditional criticism, Croce argues that the work achieves unity through the artist’s control of point of view and style, a unity which ultimately reflects the rhythm and harmony of God’s creation.

Finucci, Valeria, ed. Renaissance Transactions: Ariosto and Tasso....

(The entire section is 790 words.)