Academic journal article Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America

Disenchanted Castles: Cervantes' Representation of the Ariostan Epic-Romance Split

Academic journal article Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America

Disenchanted Castles: Cervantes' Representation of the Ariostan Epic-Romance Split

Article excerpt

SCHOLARS HAVE LONG ACKNOWLEDGED the great influence that Ariosto's Orlando Furioso had on Cervantes' Don Quixote. (1) Despite this awareness of the Furioso's importance for Cervantes, however, remarkably few studies have explored in any systematic way the relationship between the two texts. That is, while critics have long recognized the importance of the Furioso for Cervantes's novel in general terms, the truly methodical nature of Cervantes's references to the Orlando Furioso throughout the 1605 Quixote has remained largely unnoticed. Indeed, an analysis of the ways in which Cervantes rewrites certain key episodes of the Furioso is in fact vital to our understanding of his perception of perhaps the greatest literary quarrel of his time: the dispute over the Furioso's status as epic.


When Ariosto's continuation of Matteo Boiardo's chivalric poem Orlando Innamorato was first published in 1516, literary scholars perceived it as more than another romance: for them, it was essentially an heroic epic poem--an Aeneid for its time--due in large part to its encomiastic account of the genealogy of Ariosto's patron, Ippolito d'Este (Chevalier 9). Around the middle of the century, however, the Furioso's status as epic began to come ever more into question. According to Weinberg, the earliest extant evidence of a polemic surrounding Ariosto's poem is Simone Ferrari's Apologia breve sopra tutto l'Orlando Furioso, where the author defended the Furioso against attacks by now-unknown critics who viewed it as violating neo-Aristotelian ideals of unity and verisimilitude (954). This polemic surrounding the Furioso went on for a number of years, but only in the last two decades of the sixteenth century, with the publication of Torquato Tasso's epic Gerusalemme Liberata (1581) and his corresponding neo-Aristotelian theoretical arguments, did the battle over Ariosto's text become truly heated (as now critics of the Furioso had a concrete example of what they deemed a genuine modern epic with which to contrast the Furioso and all its supposed faults). (2)

With his various treatises Tasso attempted to redefine the Ariostan epic in terms of structure and content, preferring unity of action over the varied wanderings of romance and seriousness of tone over the often jocular nature of the Furioso. Tasso writes in one of the most famous passages in the Discorsi dell'arte poetica, for example:

   [...] [G]iudico che da eccelente poeta [...] un poema formar si
   possa nel quale, quasi in un piccolo mondo, qui si leggano
   ordinanze d'esserciti, qui battaglie terrestri e navali, qui
   espugnazioni di citta, [...]; la si trovino concilii celesti e
   infernali, la si veggiano sedizioni, la discordie, la errori, la
   venture [...]; ma che nondimeno uno sia il poema che tanta varieta
   di materia contegna, una la forma e la favola sua, e che tutte
   queste cose siano di maniera composte che l'una e l'altra riguardi,
   l'una all'altra corrisponda, l'una dall'altra o necesariamente o
   verisimilmente dependa, si che una sola parte o tolta via o mutata
   di sito, il tutto ruini (847).

[...]I think an excellent poet [...] can shape a poem in which, as in a little world, we read of mustering armies, land and sea battles, conquests of cities, [...] and we find heavenly and hellish assemblies and see sedition, discord, wanderings, adventures [...]. And still, the poem which contains such a variety of matter is one; its form and its plot are one; and all these things are brought together in such a way that one thing shows consideration for another, one thing corresponds to another, and through either necessity or verisimilitude one thing depends on another in such a way that by removing a single part or by changing its place, we destroy the whole (131). (3)

Thus, while Tasso does not completely condemn the varieta inherent in romance-- indeed, elsewhere in his discussion he links it to the abundance of God's creation-- he does advocate a more teleological and verisimilar approach to this variety, in which each portion of the epic leads toward some greater meaning. …

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