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ITALIAN DRAMATIC CRITICISM OF THE RENAISSANCE

THE Italian Renaissance, bringing with it as it did a re-birth of interest in the art and literature of antiquity, is the starting point of modern literary criticism. After the discovery of the ancient texts, commentators, translators, editors were not wanting, and it was not long before they began to expound theories of their own. The Ars Poetica of Horace had been the basis of what was written on the subject of the drama between the Augustan period and the early Renaissance. Donatus and Diomedes both quote largely from it, and most of their ideas were based upon it. Aristotle, on the other hand, was practically unknown; his influence in classical antiquity was, according to Spingarn, "so far as it is possible to judge, very slight." The manuscript of the Poetics was preserved in the East. The first Oriental version was translated from the Syriac into Arabic (about 935 A.D.) by Abu-Baschar. In the twelfth century Averroës made an abridged version; this in turn was translated into Latin in the thirteenth century by a German of the name of Hermann, and by Mantinus of Tortosa in Spain in the fourteenth. One of the extremely rare references to Aristotle is found in Roger Bacon; Petrarch just mentions him.

Giorgio Valla published his Latin translation of the Poetics at Venice in1498. This was followed by the Aldine edition of the original Greek text in 1508. In 1536 Allessandro de' Pazzi published the Greek original together with a revised Latin text, and in 1548 Robortello published the first commentary (with a Latin translation). Bernardo Segni, in 1549, was the first to publish an Italian translation.

Among the earliest treatises on the art of poetry was that of Vida, whose De Arte Poetica appeared in 1527; contrary to practically every other work of similar title, this influential poem contains no reference to the drama. Two years later, however, Trissino published the first four books of his Poetica, but not until 1563, when two books were added, did he consider the drama. Dolce's translation of Horace in 1535 was followed the next year by the vernacular Poetica of Daniello, whose few references to tragedy and comedy, based upon Horace and Aristotle, are the first of their kind to appear in the Italian language. The same year saw Pazzi's edition and Trincaveli's Greek text. From this time on, the influence of Aristotle as an arbiter in the art of poetry was to spread. Robortello's In Librum Aristotelis de Arte Poetica Explicationes (1548) is the first complete commentary on the Poetics. Segni's translation was published the next year. In 1550 appeared Maggi's Explicationes (written with Lombardi), similar to the commentary of Robortello. Both are diffuse, detailed, and pedantic, and rarely depart from what the authors understood, or misunderstood, in Aristotle. Muzio [Mutio] published an Arte Poetica in 1551. Varchi in his Lezzioni (1553) upheld the Aristotelian ideals of tragedy. The Discorso sulle Comedie e sulle Tragedie of the famous novelist Giraldi Cintio, which was written in 1543, but not published until 1554, carried on the Aristotelian tradition begun by Daniello. This was to continue in one form or another throughout the Renaissance and be taken up later in France. Minturno's two treatises, De Poeta (1559) and Arte Poetica (1564), the first in Latin, the second in Italian, were the fullest discussions of the theory of poetry and drama yet written. The influence of Aristotle and Horace is everywhere evident, but, the Italian critic expounded and amplified after his own manner. The Commentarii of Vettori [Victorius], printed in 1560, was another Latin treatise explaining the Poetics. The following year Julius Caesar Scaliger, one of the most influential theorists since antiquity, published his Latin work, Poetices Libri Septem. As Scaliger had lived in France for some years (his book was published at Lyons) and was acquainted with many contemporary writers, his influence was widespread, though not so much so during the sixteenth as the seventeenth century. The Poetics of Scaliger, which was an "attempt to reconcile Aristotle's Poetics, not only with the precepts of Horace and the definitions of the Latin grammarians, but with the whole practice of Latin tragedy, comedy, and epic poetry," is a long, erudite and dogmatic treatise in which the canons of Aristotle are narrowed and confined to rules of the strictest sort. In 1563 the last two parts of Trissino's Poetica appeared. Castelvetro was the next to enter the field of criticism. His Poetica (a commentary on and translation of Aristotle's Poetics) was published in 1570. This work was of prime importance, for one reason because it contained the first formulation of the unity of place, supposed to have been derived from Aristotle. The immediate effect of this was to start the endless discussion in France of the famous "three Unities." Jean de la Taille, in 1572, was the first to insist on them in that country. Castelvetro was likewise the first to consider a play as limited and directly affected by the stage representation. The Italian critics from the time of Castelvetro to the end of the century, carried on discussions of varying degrees of importance, though none of them exerted an influence equal to that of Scaliger, Castelvetro or Minturno. Piccolomini's edition of the Poetics was published in 1575, Viperano's De Arte Poetica in 1579. Patrizzi's Della Poetica (1586), Tasso's Discorsi dell' Arte Poetica (1587), Denores' Poetica (1588), Buonamici's Discorsi Poetici (1597) Ingegnari's Poesia Rappresentativa (1598), and Summo's Discorsi Poetici (1600), testify to the prodigious activity of the period.

Such are the outstanding works which treat in greater or less degree the theory of the drama. If we add the prefaces and prologues to the plays of Cecchi, Giraldi Cintio, Gelli, Aretino, and Il Lasca (the Gelosia, Strega, and L'Arzigoglio in particular) and the references in the works of Speroni, Luisino, Partenio, Fracastoro, Capriano, Michele, Beni, and Zinano, the list of writers on the subject of the drama is nearly exhausted.


This article was originally published in European Theories of the Drama. Barrett H. Clark. Cincinnati: Stewart & Kidd Company, 1918.

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