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Ariosto, Ludovico (1474–1533) - BIOGRAPHY, CRITICAL RECEPTION

furioso renaissance ariosto’s fame

Although born in Reggio Emilia on 8 September 1474, Ludovico Ariosto’s life and fame are intimately connected to the city of Ferrara, where he grew up from his thirteenth year. There, in one of the great Renaissance cities of Italy, Ariosto studied Latin under the humanist Gregorio da Spoleto and then law for five years at the university. He also worked as one of the familiari of the Estensi, first for Cardinal Ippolito d’Este—until 1517, when he broke with his patron because Ariosto refused to move to Hungary—and then for Duke Alfonso I, who ruled the city and presided over one of the most splendid courts in the world. At Ferrara and as part of the Estense court, Ariosto came into contact with an extraordinarily diverse and cultured group of men and women, some of whom are recorded with affection in the last canto of his masterpiece, the Orlando furioso . There they applaud the completion of his poetic labors. He participated as well in the theatrical activities encouraged and supported by the Estensi, and he had access to the large and rich Estense library, which was particularly well stocked in romances and contained some of the earliest Ptolemaic maps, both of which Ariosto consulted in writing his Furioso . At Ferrara he also fell in love with Alessandra Benucci, to whom he remained devoted throughout his life and whom he finally married in secret sometime between 1526 and 1530. He died on 6 July 1533, the author of a number of important works in the vernacular: in particular, seven satires in tercets (often credited with reviving in form and style Horace’s Epistolae as a form of subtle self-reflection and social critique); four completed comedies ( La Lena, Il Negro-mante, La Cassaria , and I Suppositi ), as well as a translation of Terence’s Phormio , all of which helped shape Italian comedy in its infancy and further helped bring about a revival of interest in classical Latin drama in the Renaissance; the Cinque canti , a dark and despondent work left unfinished; and the Orlando furioso , a sprawling yet remarkably learned and complex romance that Ariosto began in 1504. The Orlando furioso , the work to which Ariosto dedicated his greatest poetic labors, went through three different versions (1516, 1521, and 1532) and in time won him more than a modicum of fame. In this poem he claimed that he would sing of things “non detta in prosa mai nè in rima” (never said before in prose or poetry) (1.2).


Ariosto’s fortune as a writer is mostly linked to his Furioso , which attracted some attention after the 1516 edition. By the final version of 1532 the Furioso had become one of the most widely read and influential poems of its time. Its fame accrued rapidly, but not everyone shared a high opinion of the poem. With the rise of Aristotelian poetics in the cinquecento and the shift in interest from the errant structures of romance to the linear, teleological structure of epic, the Furioso was often criticized for being shapeless, digressive, and not verisimilar. Rhetorically, it was often deemed to lack decorum, and its popularity became for many an indication that it lacked proper seriousness or gravitas . The merits and demerits of the poem in turn sparked a debate in the Italian Renaissance, of which Torquato Tasso* himself was a part (see the indispensable work of Bernard Weinberg, The History of Literary Criticism in the Italian Renaissance , 2 vols. [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961] and Daniel Javitch, Proclaiming a Classic: The Canonization of the “Orlando furioso’ [Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991]). Nevertheless, even poets such as Tasso,* who criticized the Furioso , found themselves incorporating Ariostan themes and narrative strategies into their poems in an effort to “overgo” them. Ariosto’s episodes were often appropriated and reworked by writers of the English Renaissance, including William Shakespeare,* Edmund Spenser,* and John Milton.

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