- The Ways of Paradox from Lando to Donne
Many are the "ways of paradox" in Patrizia Pizzorno's penetrating and largely original study. Certainly connected to the fruitful, often disturbing, play of opposites, Renaissance paradox more often signified a break with received opinion, convention, belief, a movement contrary to (para-) accepted teaching (doxa). Pizzorno begins with three famous sixteenth-century paradox books: Ortensio Lando's Paradossi cioè sentenze fuori del comun parere (1543); Charles Estienne's Paradoxes (1553), a partial translation of Lando; and Anthony Munday's The Defence of Contraries (1593), a partial translation of Estienne. She charts a transformation of Lando's fideist, Erasmian use of paradox into Estienne's and Munday's manuals of "jocose moot cases" that appealed to lawyers and their interest in "the misapprehension of meaning as well as people in the legal process" (7). Partly conceived as an "extended introduction to the Defence of Contraries" (8), helpfully included as an appendix, The Ways of Paradox focuses in its second half on the importance of paradoxical theory and practice to London's Inns of Court.
The first half of the book devotes a chapter each to Lando, Estienne, and Munday, as well as a more general chapter on "Translation and the Business of Letters." Pizzorno convincingly links Lando to a skeptical Christian "Counter Renaissance" with affiliations from Saint Paul and Cicero to Erasmus, Rabelais, [End Page 1321] and Montaigne: "Lando exalted ignorance, humbleness and folly, expressing a reformed Christian vocation guided by a belief in man's utter helplessness" (21). Like his paradoxes, Lando challenged the orthodoxies of church and court: "Lando's unwillingness to identify with any of the social groups of his world and his refusal to speak comme il faut to a courtly élite are a consequence of his radical religious creed: he speaks to those who wished to be saved" (24). Lando's "poetics of disproportion" attacks both "Scholasticism and the Renaissance Christian-humanistic preoccupation with universal proportion, design, purpose and degree" (26), offering instead a "via negativa for the discovery and description of truth" (27).
Something different happens in Estienne and Munday. While Lando urged his readers to "search for the truth behind the laughter" (19) of his paradoxes, his descendants —while still engaged in challenges to orthodoxy —foregrounded the jocular. The excellent, if too-brief, chapter on Estienne asserts that his Paradoxes erased "Lando's linguistic, ideological and religious meanings," placed "emphasis on the importance of sound reasoning," and brought "the rhetorical paradox back to its original, sophistic usage and the legal milieu of the courtroom" (31). Pizzorno sees Munday's book as part of "the genre of the paradoxical joco-serio" (53) as well, and rightly notes that, despite Munday's "lame translation" (60) and "hasty collection" (62), The Defence of Contraries worked as "a catalyst so that any writer wishing to create a stir presented his ideas in the fashionable 'against common opinion' format" (62).
One of these writers was John Donne: "The horizon of paradox, perfected throughout his life, spans from the philosophical love riddles of his youth to the theological writings of his maturity" (101). Pizzorno neatly relates Donne's Paradoxes in particular and his writing in general to the paradoxical culture of the Inns of Court. Indeed, this section of the book stands alone as a very useful primer on these London law schools. For Pizzorno, paradoxes not only provided "highly improbable cases for . . . moots and public disputations" (63), but also appealed to legal intellectuals who found in paradox an expression of "the firm belief in the need and possibility of a complete exit from the commonly accepted order of life" (8).
It comes as somewhat of a surprise, then, that the final chapter —consisting of excellent readings of the 1594-95 Gray's Inn Revels (including a production of Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors), the 1597-98 Middle Temple Revels, and the 1617-18 Gray's Inn Revels —concludes...