In This Article Tasso Torquato

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews and Biographies
  • Bibliographies
  • Reference Works
  • Textual Bibliography
  • Essay Collections
  • Online Editions

Renaissance and Reformation Tasso Torquato
by
Christopher Geekie
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 June 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0450

Introduction

Torquato Tasso (b. 1544–d. 1595) is best known today for his narrative poem Gerusalemme liberata (1581), often considered the first successful classical epic in the Italian vernacular. This work recounts the final year of the First Crusade (1099), combining a manifestly classical structure, based on the models of Virgil and Homer, with a profound attention to the passionate inner lives of its characters, both Christian and otherwise. Yet Tasso was a prolific writer, composing works across a wide range of genres, including lyric, pastoral, tragedy, as well as many philosophical dialogues. He was also an important theorist of poetic genre, working within a markedly Aristotelian paradigm. Born in Sorrento, Tasso traveled frequently in his youth among the courts of central and northern Italy accompanying his father Bernardo, a courtier and well-known poet. The younger Tasso later studied philosophy at the University of Padua, where he developed a substantial knowledge of Aristotelian philosophy. In the same period, he frequented literary salons, engaging enthusiastically in debates about literature. A precocious youth, Tasso published his first work, the chivalric romance Rinaldo (1562), when only eighteen years old. In the mid-1560s, his evident abilities led him to join the court of the powerful Este family in Ferrara, where he would compose his greatest works: the pastoral play Aminta (1573) and the epic Gerusalemme liberata (revised and completed by 1576). Following this period, his health, both physical and mental, began to deteriorate. In 1579, Alfonso II Duke of Ferrara imprisoned the poet in the Hospital of Sant’Anna, ostensibly for madness. During his confinement and after his eventual release in 1586, Tasso continued to write prolifically. He completed a large number of philosophical dialogues, the tragedy Il re Torrismondo (1587), a rewritten version of his epic known as Gerusalemme conquistata (1593), and the cosmological poem Il mondo creato (printed posthumously, 1607). During his lifetime, Tasso’s fame extended widely: Montaigne claims to have personally witnessed the poet’s “madness,” and Queen Elizabeth I was reported to have memorized sections of the Gerusalemme liberata and inquired about his health. Tasso’s work had an immediate influence not only on the course of European literature (such as on the works of Spenser, Cervantes, and Milton), but also on various other fields, including painting, music, and opera. This article offers an introductory bibliographical overview of Tasso, his large number of works, and his reception in literature and the arts.

General Overviews and Biographies

Despite its age, Solerti 1895 still offers the fundamental account of Tasso’s life, and no modern edition has managed to match the scope of this monumental work. However, several recent overviews offer solid biographies and thorough explorations of Tasso’s corpus: Baldassarri 1999, an excellent panorama of Tasso’s life and works accompanied by a large number of images of early printed books and manuscripts; and Gigante 2007, a likewise reliable account that also offers extended discussion of Tasso’s later years, a period that has recently become a point of scholarly interest. Residori 2009 presents a succinct but nonetheless useful overview, distilling into short sections many of the questions surrounding Tasso and his poetic theory. Russo 2014 focuses primarily on matters related to the Gerusalemme liberata, but it nevertheless presents a useful discussion of Tasso’s life, in particular during the lengthy composition of the poem, as well as an extensive and detailed bibliography. In English, Brand 1965 remains the most comprehensive (though somewhat dated) biography, covering most of Tasso’s life and works while also exploring his reception in England during the Early Modern period. An extremely schematic but still helpful overview in English can be found in Vescovo 2007.

  • Baldassarri, Guido. “Torquato Tasso.” In Storia generale della letteratura italiana. Vol. 5, L’età della Controriforma: Il tardo Cinquecento. Edited by Nino Borsellino and Walter Pedullà, 281–446. Milan: Federico Motta, 1999.

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    Provides an overview of Tasso’s life and works, emphasizing the connection between his biography and his literary works. Offers frequent and substantial citations of his poems, while also providing various images of autograph manuscripts, printed editions of his major works, early illustrations, art inspired by his verse, portraits of Tasso, and more. Also includes a chronology and substantial bibliography.

  • Brand, C. P. Torquato Tasso: A Study of the Poet and of His Contribution to English Literature. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1965.

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    Despite being somewhat outdated and sometimes unreasonably negative in the author’s judgments concerning Tasso, the work continues to offer a good introduction to English readers. Brand provides a succinct introduction to Tasso’s biography, discussions of his major works, and an overview of his minor ones. While useful for a basic understanding of Tasso (especially his influence on Elizabethan literature), it should be supplemented by more recent overviews.

  • Gigante, Claudio. Tasso. Rome: Salerno Editrice, 2007.

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    Contains an accessible overview of Tasso’s life and works, although the biography is not especially detailed (for which, see Solerti 1895). Less interested in exploring the Liberata than in shedding new light on Tasso’s other works, especially those of his later period. Considers extensively Tasso’s cultural milieu and his poetic theory and provides more information on Tasso’s mature years, in particular his composition of the Conquistata.

  • Residori, Matteo. Tasso. Bologna, Italy: Il Mulino, 2009.

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    A short introduction to Tasso that looks at his life and works, focusing on the Liberata, through a discussion of typical themes and concepts, such notions of crisis (historical and personal) or problems in poetic theory (truth, history, supernatural elements, and so forth). Useful for understanding the current state of critical discourse.

  • Russo, Emilio. Guida alla lettura della “Gerusalemme liberata” di Tasso. Bari, Italy: Editori Laterza, 2014.

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    Easily the most comprehensive approach to reading and understanding the Liberata, beginning with a careful historical and philological reconstruction of the poem’s composition, while also touching on interpretative paradigms from narratology to psychoanalysis. Includes a substantial and up-to-date bibliography.

  • Solerti, Angelo. Vita di Torquato Tasso. 3 vols. Turin, Italy: Loescher, 1895.

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    Offers a wealth of invaluable material, though occasional methodological problems. Volume 1 provides a detailed account of Tasso’s life. Volume 2 contains unedited letters, an inventory of biographical documents, and letters from various contemporaries referring to Tasso’s works. Volume 3 provides further documents for exploring Tasso’s context, including a genealogy of his family and a trove of images of medals, busts, portraits, and more.

  • Vescovo, Piermario. “Torquato Tasso.” In Encyclopedia of Italian Literary Studies. Vol. 2. Edited by Gaetana Marrone and Paolo Puppa, 1833–1842. New York: Routledge, 2007.

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    A straightforward biography with references to the majority of Tasso’s works. Also gives brief introductions and bibliography for Tasso’s major works, including the Liberata, Aminta, and dialogues.

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