Torquato Tasso

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Torquato Tasso’s significant literary output reflects the eclectic interests of the Renaissance intellectual and includes poetry, drama, theoretical works, dialogues, and religious compositions. His lifelong love and greatest involvement was with the epic, and he sought to given modern expression to the ancient form, from Rinaldo (1562; English translation, 1792) to Gerusalemme conquistata (1593; Jerusalem Conquered, 1907). Tasso appeared destined for this artistic preference. His lengthy stay at the court of Ferrara, the Italian home of chivalric romances, and his paternal legacy naturally drew him to the epic form. Also influenced by the current debates on literary theory and the religious concerns of the Counter-Reformation, Tasso sought to create a work that would integrate the pleasures of chivalric romance and the gravity of the classical epic, while adhering to the Aristotelian canons expressed in De poetica (c. 334-323 b.c.e.; Poetics, 1705). To clarify his stand, the author also produced a series of theoretical works on poetics and the epic and an apologia of his own poem. Occasionally self-serving, these writings do clarify Tasso’s views, his adherence to traditions and standards, and his position as a literary critic. They also explain Tasso’s intentions and aspirations in composing Gerusalemme liberata (1581; Jerusalem Delivered, 1600), his major work. While imitating both the classics and the chivalric romances of his time, Tasso wanted to renew the epic by placing it in a historical Christian context. From Aristotle, he took the concepts of verisimilitude, unity of action, and religious/supernatural associations, as well as an insistence on “sublime” exploits, “heroic” protagonists, “illustrious” deeds, and a high tone. From the romances, he borrowed the atmosphere of enchantment, sensual love, and the desire to amuse his public.


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Torquato Tasso became a literary celebrity at an early age with the positive reception given his first published work, Rinaldo, a chivalric romance. It was, as his father noted, an excellent endeavor for a boy of eighteen. His sustained renown as an intellectual and literary figure caused the writer both joy and grief. Plagued by criticism as well as praise, victimized by unscrupulous publishers who pirated his writings, and tortured by his own artistic doubts and perfectionism, Tasso depended on his pen for his livelihood not only as a courtier whose patrons exacted services in ink but also for his personal sense of self-worth. The toll on his mental stability was high, and, by 1580, he was equally famous as a poet and infamous as a madman. As a result, Tasso became a protagonist as well as a propagator of literature. Viewed as the prototype of the mad, inspired artist, he lives in the pages of such Romantic works as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Torquato Tasso (1790; English translation, 1827) and Lord Byron’s The Lament of Tasso (1817).


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Boulting, William. Tasso and His Times. New York: Haskell House, 1968. A biography of Tasso that places him in context, identifying the influences on his work.

Brand, C. P. Torquato Tasso. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1965. The standard English biographical and critical work on Tasso. Discusses the author’s use of historical sources, gives a detailed account of his life, and analyzes his major works. Includes an interesting essay on the legend of Tasso’s life and presumed madness, and ends with a lengthy chapter on the poet’s contribution to English literature. Bibliographic references are included in the notes.

Finucci, Valeria, ed. Renaissance Transactions: Ariosto and Tasso. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1999. This collection of essays represents a cross-section of critical approaches to “foster a dialogue” among schools of thought on Gerusalemme and its relationship with Ariosto’s work.

Günsberg, Maggie. Epic Rhetoric of Tasso:...

(This entire section contains 434 words.)

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Theory and Practice. Oxford: Legenda, 1998. A study of Jerusalem Delivered.

Kates, Judith A. Tasso and Milton: The Problem of Christian Epic. Lewisburg, Pa.: Bucknell University Press, 1983. Following a discussion of the critical content of Jerusalem Delivered, this work analyzes Discorsi dell’ arte poetica (1587), which is seen as a primer for the epic poem. The central chapter discusses Jerusalem Delivered in terms of the classical heroic and the modern romance. Concludes with Tasso’s influence on John Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667) and a lengthy bibliography.

Looney, Dennis. Compromising the Classics: Romance Epic Narrative in the Italian Renaissance. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1996. Looney examines Italian Romance epic narratives, including those of Tasso, Matteo Maria Boiardo, and Lodovico Ariosto. Includes a bibliography and an index.

Niccoli, Gabriel Adriano. Cupid, Satyr, and the Golden Age: Pastoral Dramatic Scenes of the Late Renaissance. New York: Peter Lang, 1989. Niccoli examines the works of a number of pastoral dramatists from the late Renaissance, including Tasso’s Aminta. Bibliography and index included.

Reynolds, Henry. Tasso’s “Aminita” and Other Poems. Salzburg, Austria: Instit für Anglistik und Amerikanistik, Universität Salzburg, 1991. A modern publication of seventeenth century writer Reynolds’s analysis of Tasso’s famous work. Includes a bibliography and an index.

Sellstrom, A. Donald. Corneille, Tasso, and Modern Poetics. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1986. An exploration of Tasso’s influence on Pierre Corneille, which, though never acknowledged, seems clear to the author and advances understanding of both Corneille’s work and Tasso’s European influence.

Sherberg, Michael. Rinaldo: Character and Intertext in Ariosto and Tasso. Saratoga, Calif.: ANMA Libri, 1993. Part 2 examines Tasso’s treatment of the Carolingian “knight,” which downplays Rinaldo’s rebellious nature and actions while expanding his character, especially through psychological depth.


Critical Essays