This article examines Vita Nuova IV-XII/3–5, in which Dante narrates his ostensibly fake infidelity to Beatrice. More specifically, it explores the contradictions and confusions of this tale of false love which is an important step on the young protagonist's via d'Amor, a path that culminates with the poet's creation of Beatrice, a character who will go on to become a beloved like no other. Critics have typically ignored or glossed over this episode in the Vita Nuova, preferring instead a smooth, unified story line of Beatrice's apotheosis. Yet accepting Dante's self-authorized story ultimately circumscribes our understanding of this strikingly original text. In selectively revealing the details of his affair with the two donne-schermo, Dante provides a glimpse of the artistic process whereby he sculpts the figure of Beatrice. To understand this process, which, in the Vita Nuova, consists of putting together 'new' narrative prose with pre-existing poems, this essay pays particular attention to the complex and strained relationship between poetry and prose. Close examination of the ways in which Dante reads himself, altering the sense of his lyrics through his retroactive interpretations, gives his readers the opportunity to track important changes in Dante's poetic and spiritual development, most notably his rejection of courtly love in favor of an ever-widening understanding of the experience of human desire.


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pp. 1-20
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2009
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