Ariosto, Shakespeare and Corneille
ARIOSTO, SHAKESPEARE AND CORNEILLE
"RUSKIN HOUSE, 40 MUSEUM STREET, W.C.I
LONDON: GEORGE ALLEN & UNWIN, LTD.
Evviva L'Italia! Italy, Britain's ancient friend and loyal ally, hasbeen an important factor both in winning the war and in bringing it toan earlier conclusion. The War! That greatest practical effort thatthe world has ever made is now over and we must all work to make it abetter place for all to live in.
Now at the hands of her philosopher-critic, Italy offers us a firsteffort at reconstruction of our world-view with this masterly treatiseon the greatest poet of the English-speaking world, so original and soprofound that it will serve as guide to generations yet unborn. And itwill not be only the critics of Shakespeare who should benefit by thistreatise, but all critics and lovers of poetry—including prose—whogo beyond the passive stage of mere admiration. The essays on Ariostoand Corneille are also unique and the three together should inaugurateeverywhere a new era in literary criticism.
These are the first of Benedetto Croce's literary criticisms to see thelight in English.
They are profound and suggestive, because based upon theory, theTheory of Aesthetic, with which some readers will be acquainted inthe original, others in the version by the present translator. Thesewill not need to be told that Croce's theory of the independence andautonomy of the aesthetic fact, which is intuition-expression, and ofthe essentially lyrical character of all art, is the only one thatcompletely and satisfactorily explains the problem of poetry and thefine arts.
But this is not the place for philosophical discussion, althoughit is important to stress the point, that all criticism is basedupon philosophy, and that therefore if the philosophy upon which itis based is unsound, the criticism suffers accordingly. Croce haselsewhere shown that the shortcomings of such critics as Sainte-Beuve,Taine, Lemaître and Brunetière are due to incorrect or insufficientphilosophical knowledge and a similar criterion can be applied at homewith equal truth.
The translator will be satisfied if the present version receives equalpraise from the author with that accorded to the four translations ofthe Philosophy into English, which Croce has often declared to comemore near to his spirit[Pg v] than those in any other language—and he hasbeen translated into all the great European languages—the Aestheticeven into Japanese. The object adhered to in this translation has beenas close a cleaving as possible to the original, while preserving acompletely idiomatic style and remaining free from all pedantry.
A translation should not in any case be taken as a pouring from thegolden into the silver vessel, as used to be erroneously supposed, forCroce has proved that in so far as the translator rethinks the originalhe is himself a creator. This explains why so many writers have beenaddicted to translation—in English we have Pope, Fitzgerald, Rossetti,to name but three of many—and the author of the Philosophy of theSpirit, Croce himself, has published a splendid Italian version ofHegel's Encyclopaedia of the Philosophic Sciences.
Pall Mall, London,
|I||A CRITICAL PROBLEM||3|
|II||THE LIFE OF THE AFFECTIONS IN ARIOSTO, AND THE HEART OF HIS HEART||18|
|III||THE HIGHEST LOVE: HARMONY||34|
|IV||THE MATERIAL FOR THE HARMONY||48|
|V||THE REALISATION OF HARMONY||69|
|VII||THE PRACTICAL PERSONALITY AND THE POETICAL PERSONALITY||117|
|IX||MOTIVES AND DEVELOPMENT OF SHAKESPEARE'S POETRY||163|
|X||THE ART OF SHAKESPEARE||274|
|XII||SHAKESPEARE AND OURSELVES||328|
|XIII||CRITICISM OF THE CRITICISM||337|
|XIV||THE IDEAL OF CORNEILLE||362|
|XV||THE MECHANISM OF THE CORNELIAN TRAGEDY||390|
|XVI||THE POETRY OF CORNEILLE||408|
A CRITICAL PROBLEM
The fortune of the Orlando Furioso may be compared to that of agraceful, smiling woman, whom all look upon with pleasure, withoutexperiencing any intellectual embarrassment or perplexity, since itsuffices to have eyes and to direct them to the pleasing object, inorder to admire. Crystal clear as is the poem, polished in everyparticular, easily to be understood by whomsoever possesses generalculture, it has never presented serious difficulties of interpretation,and for that reason has not needed the industry of the commentators,and has not been[Pg 4] injured by their quarrelsome subtleties; nor has itbeen subject, more than to a very slight extent, to the intermittencesfrom which other notable poetical works have suffered, owing to thevarying conditions of culture at different times. Great men andordinary readers have been in as complete agreement about it, as, forinstance, about the beauty, let us say, of a Madame Récamier; andthe list of great men, who have experienced its fascination, goesfrom Machiavelli and the Galilei, to Voltaire and to Goethe, withoutmentioning names more near to our own time.
Yet, however unanimous, simple and unrestrainable be the aestheticapprobation accorded to the poem of Ariosto, the critical judgmentsdelivered upon it are just as discordant, complicated and laboured;and indeed this is one of those cases where the difference of the twospiritual moments, intuitive or aesthetic, the apprehension or tastingof the work of art, and intellective, the critical and historicaljudgment,—a difference wrongly disputed from one point of view bysensationalists and from another by intellectualists,—stands out soclearly as to seem to be almost spatially divided, so that one cantouch it with one's hand.[Pg 5] Anyone can easily read and live again theoctaves of Ariosto, caressing them with voice and imagination, asthough passionately in love; but to say whence comes that particularform of enchantment, to determine that is to say, the character ofthe inspiration that moved Ariosto, his dominant poetical motive,the peculiar effect which became poetry in him, is a very differentundertaking and one of no small difficulty.
The question has tormented the critics from the time when literaryand historical criticism acquired individual prominence and energy,that is to say at the origin of romantic aestheticism, when works ofart were no longer examined in parts separated from the whole, or intheir external outline, but in the spirit that animated them. Yet wemust not think that earlier times were without all suspicion of this,for an uncertain suggestion of it is to be found even in the eccentricenquiries, as to whether the Furioso be a moral poem or not, orwhether it should be looked upon as serious or playful. But intellectssuch as Schiller and Goethe, Humboldt and Schelling, Hegel, Ranke,Gioberti, Quinet and De Sanctis, treated or touched upon it in the lastcentury, and very many others during[Pg 6] and after their times, and thetheme has again been taken up with renewed keenness, in dissertations,memoirs and articles, some of them foreign, but mostly Italian.
Many of the problems or formulas of problems, which one at one timecritically discussed have been allowed to disappear, like cast-offclothes as the results of the new conception of art: that is to say,not only those we have mentioned, as to whether the Furioso were orwere not an epic, whether it were serious or comic, but also a throngof other problems, such as whether it possessed unity of action, aprotagonist or hero, whether its episodes were linked to the action,whether it maintained the dignity of history, whether it affordedan allegory, and if so, of what sort, whether it obeyed the laws ofmodesty and morality, or followed good examples, whether it could becredited with invention, and if so in what measure, whether it werefiner than the Gerusalemme or less fine, and as to what it was fineror less fine; and so on. All these problems have become obsolete,because they have been solved in the only suitable way, that is tosay, they have been shown to be fallacious in their theoretical terms;and to say that they are obsolete does not mean that there[Pg 7] have notbeen some, both in the nineteenth century and at the present time,who have set to work to solve them, and have arrived at unfortunateconclusions in different ways. The unity of action of the Furiosohas also been investigated and determined (by Panizzi, for example,and by Carducci); its immorality has also been blamed (by Cantù, forinstance); the book of the debts of Ariosto to his predecessors hasbeen re-opened and charged with so very many figures on the debit sidethat the final balance-sheet of credit and debit presents an enormousdeficit (Rajna); the comparison with examples from prototypes underthe name of "Evolutionary History of Romantic Chivalry," in whichthe Furioso according to some, does not represent the summit, butrather a deviation and decadence from the ideal prototype (Rajnaagain); according to others, the Furioso gave final and perfect formto "The French Epic of Germanic Heroes" (Morf); allegory, contained ina moral judgment as to Italian life at the time of the Renaissance,lost in its pursuit of love, like the Christian and Saracen knights intheir pursuit of Angelica (Canello). But whether in their primitive orin their more modern forms these problems are obsolete, for[Pg 8] us whoare aware of the mistakes and errors in aesthetic, from which theyarise; and others of more recent date must also be held obsolete withthese, such theories as these for instance (to quote one of them) whichundertake to study the Furioso in its "formation," understanding byformation the literary presuppositions of its various parts, beginningwith the title. Decorated with the name of Scientific Study, this ismere inconclusive or ill-conclusive philology.
The work of modern criticism does not restrict itself to the clearingaway of these idle and unnecessary enquiries, but also includes avaried and thorough investigation into the poetry of Ariosto, whoseevery aspect we may claim to have illuminated in turn, and to havegiven all the solutions as to the true character of the problem thatcan be suggested. And it almost seems now that anyone who wishesto form an idea upon the subject needs but select from the variousexisting solutions, that one which shows itself to be clearly superiorto all others, owing to its being supported by the most validarguments, after he has possessed himself of the critical literaturerelating to Ariosto. It seems impossible to suggest a new solution,and[Pg 9] as though the argument were one of those of which it may be saidthat "there is no hope of finding anything new in connection with it."
And this is very nearly true, but only very nearly, for anon-superficial examination of those various solutions leads tothe result that none of them is valid in the way it is presented,that is to say, with the arguments that support it. It is thereforeadvisable to indicate some of these arguments, which have already beengiven, and to deduce from them other consequences, though we may notsucceed in framing others which shall shine with amazing novelty. Butupon consideration, this will be nothing less than providing a newsolution, just because the problem has been differently presented anddifferently argued: a novelty of that serious sort which is a stepforward upon what has already been observed and acquired, not that sortof extravagant novelty agreeable to false originality and to sterilesubtlety.
There are two fundamental types of reply to the question as to thecharacter of Ariosto's poetry; of these the more important is thefirst, either because, as will be seen, really here near to the truth,or because supported with the[Pg 10] supreme authority of De Sanctis. Priorto De Sanctis, it is only to be vaguely discerned as suggested by theeighteenth century writer, Sulzer, and more clearly in the Germanaesthetic writer, Vischer; it was afterwards repeated, prevailed andwas accepted, among others by Carducci. According to De Sanctis andto his precursors and followers, in the Furioso Ariosto has nosubjective content to express, no sentimental or passionate motive,no idea become sentiment or passion, but pursues the