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  • The Hospital of Incurable Madness: L'Hospedale de' pazzi incurabili (1586) by Tomaso Garzoni
  • Yasmin Haskell
Garzoni, Tomaso , The Hospital of Incurable Madness: L'Hospedale de' pazzi incurabili (1586) (Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, 352; Arizona Studies in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, 26), intro. Monica Calabritto, trans. Daniela Pastina and John W. Crayton, Tempe, AZ, Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2009; cloth; pp. viii, 251; R.R.P. US$52.00, £40.00; ISBN 9782503528953.

This translation with notes of an important sixteenth-century Italian literary text on madness will be an eye-opener, not least for Anglophone historians, for whom Robert Burton's all-encompassing Anatomy of Melancholy might seem like the last word on late Renaissance attitudes to unreason. But observers on early modern madness spoke in many tongues and, as Garzoni's Hospedale well illustrates, with more or less sympathetic voices. Not that Burton's was by any means a univocal text. In his aptly titled, The Worlds of Renaissance Melancholy (Cambridge University Press, 2006), Angus Gowland has tracked the continental medical sources of the Anatomy, all the while revealing a vein of subversive humanism in Burton's work which runs counter to the discourse of learned medicine (in which that melancholy author was nevertheless supremely well-versed). In the second chapter of his Hospedale, on frenzied and delirious madmen, Garzoni conscientiously quotes French physician, Jean Fernel, but ultimately opts for a more popular definition of 'frenzy': 'Because I don't wish to speak about madness the way physicians do, but rather according to the plain talk of the people' (quoted by Monica Calabritto at p. 17). But if Garzoni's is, like Burton's and Erasmus's, a world gone universally mad, the Italian author distances himself from his insane subjects - not as lay medical healer, not even as spiritual physician, but as the amused, sometimes contemptuous, viewer of a wondrous baroque spectacle of human degradation. The consolations of philosophy, let alone medicine, are rarely invoked.

For the mad in Garzoni's hospital are, as the title indicates, incapable of cure (in spite of the hopeful prayers to pagan gods with which the individual chapters, or 'discourses', conclude). At the same time, the author gives us little clue as to how to interpret these psychic afflictions within the post-Tridentine Catholic framework in which he himself operated as a Regular Lateran Canon. As Calabritto points out in her Introduction, the mad are simply constructed as condign objects of moral judgement for their deviance from the rules of conduct set for Catholic Reformation society - although, it should be pointed out that many of them suffer and deviate through no particular fault of their own, but from birth, or as a result of some unfortunate accident. Interestingly, Garzoni's works were proscribed by that arch-enforcer of Tridentine morality, the Jesuit Antonio Possevino in his Bibliotheca Selecta. [End Page 239] Were they too earthy, too bleak, too riotous in their ransacking of both lay and learned literary sources? Calabritto teases apart Garzoni's genres, from the medical (a relatively circumscribed presence in the Hospedale, it seems) to the encyclopaedic to the novelistic, from facezie to commonplaces, to imprese, to Renaissance memory theatres.

All bar one of Garzoni's discourses (there are thirty-one in total) are devoted to madmen, and these are sorted into some rather miscellaneous - to modern ears - categories, e.g., 'The Melancholic and the Savage', 'The Jerks and the Giddies', 'The Clumsy and Fatuous', 'The Spiteful and Tarot Types', 'The Over-the-Top and Triple-refined', 'the Heteroclites, the Odd, the Lame-Brained, and the Done-for'. Needless to say, the guidance of expert translators proves indispensable here for eliciting linguistic nuances and unpacking cultural references, even for those who read Italian. The excellent footnotes punctually report classical and early modern sources and explain Garzoni's 'jokes'. Garzoni's final chapter is a grab bag devoted to Madness in Women: '... These are the cells assigned to madwomen. It is no small privilege to have the opportunity to see them at your ease, since, as a rule, they are rarely shown, and to few people, because of the modesty...


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