- Tasso, Torquato
- (1544-1595)Italian poet. He was born at Sor-rento in the kingdom of Naples, the son of a court poet who later fol-lowed his patron, the prince of Salerno, into exile. The son accompa-nied his father as he sought new patrons at various princely courts. Young Tasso received a thorough classical education, culminating in study of law at Padua and Bologna. His real interests, however, were in poetry and philosophy, and he abandoned the potentially lucrative study of law in order to write poetry and study philosophy. His chivalric romance Rinaldo (1562) laid the foundations of his reputa-tion as a poet. In this early period Tasso began work on a poetic nar-rative of the First Crusade and also on his Discorsi dell'arte poetica / Discourses on the Art of Poetry. The latter was finally completed and published in 1587. He left Bologna without a degree in order to become court poet to the Cardinal Luigi d'Este, brother of the duke of Ferrara, thus entering the risky career of a courtier that his father had hoped he would avoid by studying law.In 1575 Tasso completed his poem on the crusade, then titled Gerusalemme liberata / Jerusalem Liberated, but instead of risking publication, he sent the text to several literary critics whom he asked to judge both its literary qualities and its religious and political or-thodoxy. Since some of the critics expressed objections, he spent great effort responding to their criticisms. Apparently the stress of this process led to a nervous breakdown marked by several instances of violent behavior that cost him favor at court, led to seven years of imprisonment as a madman, and made him fear that he would never recover the manuscript of his treasured poem. Eventually he did re-gain possession of his manuscript and in 1581 published it along with an "allegory" or lengthy preface that emphasized its orthodoxy and wholesome nature.Tasso wrote and published many short lyric poems, participated in pamphlet debates over the relative merits of his own epic poem and Ludovico Ariosto's Orlando furioso, and wrote several dialogues and a treatise on the dialogue as a form of literature, Discorso del-l'arte del dialogo. After his release from confinement in 1586, he completed a play, Torrismondo (1587), published a lengthy religious poem, Le sette giornate del mondo creato / The Seven Days of the Creation of the World (1594), and a work on the theory of the heroic poem, Discorsi del poema eroico (1594). He also worked on revision of his epic account of the First Crusade, trying to make it conform to church doctrine and to the practice of ancient epic poets. In 1593 the new version appeared under a new title, Gerusalemme conquistata / Jerusalem Conquered. Literary critics have tended to favor the ear-lier version over the revision. Early in his career, Tasso also made an important contribution to the Renaissance fashion for pastoral themes, writing and staging the pastoral drama Aminta for the Este court. He also wrote many letters, of which about 1,500 survive. De-spite his periods of insanity, he was early recognized and honored as a great poet. After his release from confinement, aristocratic patrons sheltered him. Tasso died while living at Rome.
Historical Dictionary of Renaissance. Charles G. Nauert. 2004.