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??? COMPARATIST COMPANIONS WITH TIME: MILTON, TASSO, AND RENAISSANCE DIALOGUE W. Scott Howard Hence loathed Melancholy Of Cerberus, and blackest Midnight born, In Stygian cave forlorn 'Mongst horrid shapes, and shrieks, and sights unholy, Find out some uncouth cell, Where brooding Darkness spreads his jealous wings, And the night-raven sings; There under ebon shades, and low-browed rocks, As ragged as thy locks, In dark Cimmerian desert ever dwell.1 (John Milton, "L'Allegro," 1-10) Hence vain deluding Joys, The brood of Folly without father bred, How little you bestead, Or fill the fixed mind with all your toys; Dwell in some idle brain, And fancies fond with gaudy shapes possess, As thick and numberless As the gay motes that people the sunbeams, Or likesthovering dreams The fickle pensioners of Morpheus' train. (John Milton, "Il Penseroso," 1-10) Can one identify a work of art, of whatever sort, but especially a work of discursive art, if it does not bear the mark of a genre, if it does not signal or mention it or make it remarkable in any way? 0acques Derrida, "The Law of Genre," 64) Since their side-by-side debut in Poems ofMr. John Milton Both English and Latin Compos'd at several times (1645), Milton's well-loved 'twin' poems "L'Allegro" (i.e. 'the cheerful manO and "Il Penseroso" (i.e. 'the contemplative man') have raised questions about their generic characteristics . Readers have not unreasonably sought to affiliate the texts with an apparently inexhaustible array ofartistic forms, themes, and cultural discourses.2 This aporia concerning the companion poems' situation within and against identifiable literary conventions affirms at least one important point: that "L'Allegro" and 'Tl Penseroso" constitute (both separately and together) a hybrid genre. Given such professed indeterminacy as well as their widely acknowledged metrical and tropological mirroring ofone another,"L'Allegro" and "? Penseroso" remarkably have not yet been examined in relation to the one Renaissance literary form that Vol. 28 (200V: 5 COMPANIONS WITH ???? epitomizes both the mixing ofgenres and the dramatization of intertextuality : the dialogue.3 Although a complete analysis ofMilton's companion poems as hybrid texts lies beyond the scope of this article, I propose to investigate their participation in a tradition of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century English verse dialogue informed by Torquato Tasso's foundational "Discorso dell'arte del dialogo" (1585), an essay with which Milton was familiar. The details of Milton's life and works provide ample evidence of his esteem for Tasso4, whose influence (from the 1630s onwards) was significant and has been studied at length with regard to the poets' respective ideas about the heroic epic, the pastoral mode, and the heroic sonnet, but not concerning Renaissance dialogue.5 Comus (1634), for example, owes a considerable debt to Tasso's pastoral drama, Aminta (1573), which may have also influenced Samson Agonistes (1671). The origin of the twin poems6 has been placed as early as 1629 and as late as 1638, which suggests that "L'Allegro" and "? Penseroso" could indeed have emerged from a pivotal moment in Milton's career when he was reading and responding to Tasso's works. At least one early modern text—a dialogue ofthe dead published in 1762—emphasizes Milton's affinity for Tasso's dialogues: H Tasso. A dialogue. The Speakers John Milton, Torquato Tasso. In which, New Light is thrown on their Poetical and Moral Characters (Keener 285). According to C. P. Brand (205-308) and Cames Lord and Dain A. Trafton, Tasso's dialogues and accompanying discourse on the genre were very popular texts "throughout Europe during [his] lifetime and well into the seventeenth century" (9). Jon Snyder claims that Milton "is Tasso's most legitimate literary heir" and that "seventeenth-century theorists of dialogue took his work as a common point of departure" (183). Many of Milton's readers have understood his companion pieces as autobiographical self-fashionings that reflect the young poet's inevitable choice between secular and sacred realms ofexperience. Louis Martz, for example, holds that the poems "develop a linear, sequential effect, moving from youthful hedonism toward the philosophic, contemplative mind" (46)—an interpretation both resilient and widely influential. Such views, however convincing on their...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-0887
Print ISSN
0195-7678
Pages
pp. 5-28
Launched on MUSE
2012-10-03
Open Access
No
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