The Secret Wound: Love-Melancholy and Early Modern Romance

By Marion A. Wells | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3
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Epic, Romance, and the Poetics
of Melancholy in the Orlando Furioso

Recent attempts to discern in Orlando Furioso a self-conscious commentary on, or critique of, the romance form deployed by Boiardo and borrowed by Ariosto himself in his “continuation” of Orlando Innamorato have tended to focus on the figure of Atlante’s enchanted palace. The palace, situated in the profonde selve of the poem’s bosky depths, has been viewed as emblematic of the poem’s own tortuous and unreliable course through a fundamentally Boiardesque terrain.1 While the castle’s structure undoubtedly represents the illusions and errors constitutive of Ariostan romance as a literary mode, the psychological content of this form has not been sufficiently explored.2 Much attention has been paid to the formal qualities of romance: its labyrinthine structure, its avoidance of closure, its multiple plots, its lack of verisimilitude, and its characteristic investment in errori of various kinds (spiritual, mental, and geographic).3 But I contend here that Ariosto’s depiction of the structure of his romance is far more deeply engaged than has been recognized with contemporary conceptions of mind, and in particular with the psychic structure of love-melancholy. The furor that gives the poem its title derives in some detail from the portrait of erotic melancholia that passed through Ficino and others and helps to determine in its turn the contours and content of the “romance” elements of the poem.4 Petrarch’s self-conscious poetic exploration of the atra voluptas of melancholy love in his Canzoniere provides the literary framework for Ariosto’s etiology of Orlando’s furor. Indeed, it is the collapse of Orlando’s bittersweet Petrarchan dream of Angelica that propels him into l’amorosa inchiesta (9.7) constitutive of the poem’s romance quest. Especially in earlier editions, in which Orlando stumbles from his dream into the palace of

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