From Pastoral Gardens to Pastoral Literature

Pastoral literature in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries frequently created imaginative vistas for its readers, environments that helped them to look outward (figuratively speaking) into rural landscapes in order to find inner truths. The literary environments of these works housed archetypal characters, usually shepherds, nymphs, and other creatures borrowed from the pantheons of Egyptian, Greek, and Roman mythology. I want to analyze two of these works that transplant the baroque garden into literature in order to excavate another dimension of the baroque pastoral. These two works, Francesco Colonna’s Hypnerotomachia Poliphili and Torquato Tasso’s L’Aminta, emerge within a “force field” produced through their own (allegorical) excesses and (poetic) disciplines, and together the two texts bookend the span from Ruzzante’s birth to the posthumous publication of his plays, a span of time that also includes Ignatius Loyola’s establishment of the Jesuits during his temporary position in Venice (1537) and the spread of the Jesuit order throughout Europe.

I draw the term force field (Kraffeld) from Theodor W. Adorno, who invokes it to help us understand the tension produced through the musical work’s paradoxical existence as a static (score) and dynamic (performed) work of art (Paddison 191-192). All artworks carry a tension within them by merit of their relation to the society from which they spring. As finished (i.e. completed) objects, artworks stand apart from society, and through this autonomous position they create other worlds; in the case of Colonna’s and Tasso’s work, the worlds act as homes to the erotic journey of young Poliphilo and the Platonic-inspired love of Aminta. Despite the expansiveness of these worlds, however, the artworks can never fully shake off their debt to the historical situation that birthed them, and therefore each work remains bound to the actual limits of that situation. The quests of Poliphilo and Aminta only exist as Arcadian dreams, idealistic fantasies of worlds governed by the poetics of fictional world-makers. Both Hypnerotomachia and L’Aminta maintain explicit awareness of this tension, the former through its status as a dream narrative and the latter through its blatant use of Platonic themes. The strength of the tension in the works (at once autonomous/ideal and bound/unreal) produces the force field, which in turn spatializes the work, gives it gravity, and opens it up for critical scrutiny.

Before examining these texts in some detail, I want to offer a brief overview of the pastoral literary genre. Charles Fantazzi locates the beginning of the pastoral literary lineage in Virgil’s creation of Arcadia in his Eclogues, c.41 BCE (81). William D. Paden discusses how this Virgilian form morphed into the medieval poetic genre known as the pastourelle. Regardless of its taxonomic particularities (whether classical, augmented, objective, rustic, or pastoureau) the pastourelle rehearses an encounter between a young man and a female (most often a shepherdess) during which the male attempts, with various degrees of success, to seduce the woman. The French pastourelle flourished during the thirteenth century. “In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries the French term ‘pastourelle’ often became synonymous with Modem English ‘pastoral,’ and was applied to diverse compositions” (Paden xi).

On the Italian peninsula, Matteo Maria Boiardo’s Amorum libri tres (Boiardo c.1434-1494; “Three Books on Love,” 1472-1476) carried on the pastoral tradition, as did the works of Pietro Jacopo De Jennaro (c.1436-1509) and Leon Battista Alberti (1404-1472). Of the Italian Renaissance scholars, poets, and artists who mined the archive for traces of the classical tradition, Jacopo Sannazaro (1458-1530) perhaps best exemplified Virgil’s tradition with L’Arcadia (originally published c.1504), the very work that prompted Sansovino to think of Vicino Orsini’s sacro bosco. Following Sannazaro, Pietro Bembo attempted to purify the form by grafting Sannazaro’s themes and scenarios together with the fourteenth-century Tuscan language of the great poet Petrarch.

Against this purified strain, the Congrega dei Rozzi (Siena’s foremost cultural institution) created the theatrical and dramatic-literary genre that has become known as the “grotesque pastoral” in which the usual crowd of shepherds and nymphs appear but the philosophical ideals of love and friendship collapse under the weight of material needs (Boillet). In the Veneto, as in Florence, where the grotesque pastoral passed through and garnered reasonable attention, “ il genere, grazie alla forte influenza della cultura cortigiana quattrocentesca [... ] si assimila con relativa fideltd al classicismo umanistico e conserva deboli tracce folkloriche solo in esempi dialettali e periferici” (86, “the genre [of the pastoral ... ], thanks to the strong influence of fifteenth-century court culture [... ] assimilates with relative fidelity to the Humanistic classicism and retains faint folkloric traces only in the dialects and peripheral elements”). Of the many kinds of pastoral literature, the cleaner version (both in terms of linguistic purity and moral content) of the pastoral rings in our ears today; that is, when one hears the term “pastoral,” it is to the “purified” strain exemplified by Bembo, Sannazaro, and, as we will see, Tasso, that the term most commonly refers.

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