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  • Love's Wounds: Violence and the Politics of Poetry in Early Modern Europe by Cynthia N. Nazarian
  • Tom Conley
Love's Wounds: Violence and the Politics of Poetry in Early Modern Europe. By Cynthia N. Nazarian. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2016. xvi + 299 pp., ill.

This compelling and elegantly argued monograph contends that expression of unrequited love in Petrarch's Rime sparse enabled poets of Renaissance France and England to craft a rhetoric of plight that questioned cultural, religious, and political authority. Posing as secular martyrs, poets deployed strategies of abjection to shape their lyric. Portraying themselves in distress, they sought what Cynthia N. Nazarian calls 'countersovereignty': subject positions that use parrhesia, unabashed and courageous address, to endow lyric with power and political mettle. Petrarch's rhetoric of unrequited love addressed political and religious conflict. He and his followers sought less to overturn sovereign authority than to situate themselves in 'an oppositional state of exception' (p. 4). French and English poets in his wake shaped shorter verse, notably the sonnet, into arenas of struggle, contention, and contradiction. Chapter 1 shows how Petrarch feigned misery and lament to address political strife in Provence and Italy at the time of the Papal schism. The wretched persona of the Rime sparse (ten redactions, 1342-74) becomes a model for Maurice Scève's Délie (1544), in which the speaker or implied subject martyrs himself in adulation of his beloved in order to reify (or commodify) her in the name of what Scève called an 'object of the highest virtue'. Reading like 'measured stutters' (p. 57), the dizains occasionally use abjection to draw attention to the omnipotence of the monarch at the moment when Henri II and Catherine de' Medici rise to power. Chapter 2 studies the 'rhetoric of anxiety' (p. 75) in Joachim Du Bellay's synchronous Deffence et illustration de la langue françoyse and the 115 sonnets of L'Olive (1549). Praise of imitation in the former implicitly makes a case for the art of borrowing and theft of Petrarchan forms which define the latter. Chapter 3 juxtaposes themes of martyrdom in Agrippa d'Aubigné's early (unpublished) Hécatombe à Diane with the victims of Catholic depredations in his epic, Les Tragiques (1615). What had been the lover's martyred body in the early verse later becomes the nation bloodied and dismembered by the Wars of Religion. Chapter 4 establishes 'a deep intergenre consanguinity' (p. 181) between Edmund Spenser's Amoretti (1595) and the Faerie Queene (1590). Petrarchan codes are adapted to address the state of the monarchy under Elizabeth I. As in the sonnet sequences in L'Olive and L'Hécatombe, interwoven expression of abjection and subjection suggests that reasoned countersovereignty implies a need for proto-democratic checks and balances. Focusing on Shakespeare's Venus and Adonis (1593) and The Rape of Lucrece (1594), the Conclusion shows how the comic poems, oscillating between tragedy and farce, mock the tactics that had defined Petrarchan rhetoric. Wounded subjects and bleeding bodies become signs of ever-renewed agency. [End Page 605] To sum up: this volume is a vital, timely, and instructive engagement with early modern poetry and its will to power.

Tom Conley
Harvard University


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