Imperial Lyric: New Poetry and New Subjects in Early Modern Spain (review)
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Middlebrook, Leah. Imperial Lyric: New Poetry and New Subjects in Early Modern Spain. University Park: Pennsylvania State UP, 2009. 197 pp.

In the introduction to this intelligent and elegantly written book, Leah Middlebrook tells us that "the scholarly conversation about early European and global modernity has yet to fully 'place' the significance of Spain and Spanish cultural production" (1). Indeed. The continued exclusion of Spanish literature from major studies that purport to deal with the "European" Renaissance is a source of frustration to Hispanists and bespeaks an almost willful ignorance, if not intellectual laziness, on the part of many scholars. One can only hope that Middlebrook's book will be read and reviewed outside the sphere of Hispanism, as it contributes significantly to an understanding of the richness and excellence of poetic production during the 1500s in Spain.

Middlebrook engages only briefly with the most celebrated sixteenth-century Spanish poet, Garcilaso de la Vega, but she does bring to the fore less-studied but important figures such as Francisco de Aldana, Hernando de Acuña, Gutierre de Cetina, and Cristóbal de Castillejo, in addition to the better known Juan Boscán and Fernando de Herrera. These were all able practitioners of the new short lyric, adapted from Italian sources, that flourished in Renaissance Spain. Middlebrook is a perceptive reader of poetry, but what is most original in her book is that the consideration of the work by these poets becomes also a study of politics, identity, subjectivity, and notions of masculinity in Spain.

The book consists of four chapters, each divided into brief sections, and a coda. Throughout, in lucid and detailed close readings, the author pays close attention to form—the structure of the sonnet, tropes, rhyme patterns, elisions, etc.—while at the same time commenting on the politics of form. She is singularly adept at demonstrating how the practice and legitimation of the short lyric, especially the [End Page 508] sonnet, took place in tandem with the symbolic and actual transformation (and ultimate diminution) of the modern courtier's access to power and agency. We encounter in this poetry "the deliberate conflation of notions regarding kinds of poetry and kinds of men" (59). The new lyric, therefore, became a virtual emblem of state and imperial power; and this book traces how two generations of poets confronted the pressures and challenges presented by the consolidation of Habsburg absolutism.

Middlebrook displays her talent for original readings early on in the introduction where the reader is treated to a dazzling analysis of Francisco de Aldana's Sonnet 45 ("Otro aquí no se ve que, frente a frente"). The poem portrays the aftermath of a brutal battle, and the mangled bodies of soldiers represent for Middlebrook a "reversal of Petrarchan expression … an anti-blazon" (9). In the first chapter, "Sonnetization: Acuña, Boscán, Castillejo, and the Politics of Form," the author demonstrates how the lyric rose in prestige within the context of a transformation of ideas about masculinity. Basing herself on the work of Norbert Elias, among others, Middlebrook examines two sonnets by Acuña that illustrate the change from an idealized notion of the noble warrior into a tamed courtier. These intensely self-reflective poems about the modern subject's dependency on discourse mirror the poet's submission to linguistic as well as political authority. In this chapter, the author also provides a new look at the importance of Boscán's famous 1526 letter to the Duchess of Soma, where the poet situates the era of the Reconquest firmly in the past and replaces old-style militaristic values with new codes of self-restraint and rational self-subjection. As a companion piece, Middlebrook studies Castillejo's "Reprensión contra los poetas que escriben en metro italiano," a humorous invective against writers who had abandoned the traditional Castilian forms.

In Chapter Two, "Otro tiempo lloré y ahora canto: Juan Boscán Courtierizes Song," Middlebrook turns to the peculiar set of cultural and subjective meanings implied by Boscán's use of "song." She tells us that the Obras de Juan Boscán y algunas de Garcilaso, especially the First and Second Books, offer a...


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