Love’s Wounds: Violence and the Politics of Early Modern Europe by Cynthia N. Nazarian
The lyric, as conventionally understood, is the literary genre whose express purpose is to evoke poetically and thereby mitigate the individualized suffering of a subject for an inaccessible object. In her efforts to reconsider and recast the lyric in the early modern period from the singular to the collective—from the je to the nous—Cynthia Nazarian’s Love’s Wounds is nothing short of a revolutionary examination of the Renaissance lyric from Petrarch to Shakespeare. Moving [End Page 197] both northward and chronologically from the disquiet of trecento Italy, through the French kingdom of the Italian Wars and the Wars of Religion, and into the contentious debates of legitimacy in Elizabethan England, Nazarian demonstrates how the poets from these belligerent eras adroitly tapped into the rhetorically potent posture of the downtrodden lover. Progressively exaggerating the abjection and vulnerability of powerless desire, Petrarchan imitators extended the castigated body of the forsaken lover to the subjected body politic in a gesture of countersovereignty, through which they could challenge cultural, religious, and political authority.
Across the four chapters of her volume, which treat 1) Scève’s adoption and adaptation of Petrarchan strategies and imagery of suffering in his Délie, 2) Du Bellay’s mimetic reenactment of violent imperial conflict in his L’olive, 3) the mortification and self-dissection of human anatomy in D’Aubigné’s verse, and 4) Spencer’s lyrical pleas in his Amoretti as resistance tactics in the face of tyranny and authoritarian government, as well as her conclusion, in which the flawed tragedy and satire of Shakespeare’s anti-Petrarchan forays are brought to the fore, Nazarian negotiates close readings of canonical writers admirably. Central to her argument of the rhetoric force of poetic violence is reading the lyric as agon (a space of struggle) that can be expanded to the collectivity and amplified via parrhēsia (bold or frank speech), as practiced by Petrarch. What’s more, she creates a convincing dialogue between key volumes in the amorous tradition, written in imitation of the Canzoniere, and political texts by the same authors (Du Bellay’s Deffence, D’Aubigné’s Les tragiques, Spencer’s The Faerie Queene), which are traditionally considered to be disparate, effectively establishing contiguity between the projects of the love poetry and the political writings (treatises, epics, manifestos) in meaningful ways.
On the whole, this volume is exceptionally well-researched and annotated, as Nazarian leaves no theoretical stone unturned in making her arguments. New Historicism, gender studies, queer theory, deconstruction, imitation theory, and narrative studies each have their say and are intricately woven with the most contemporary essays of Nazarian’s peers. The resulting study is at the same time respectful of colleagues’ contributions and confident in its own innovative claims, highlighting the very best of the author’s comparatist training. At the same time, despite the richness of its synthesis, the text is beautifully written in crystalline prose with Nazarian’s original contributions featured preeminently. Indeed, the marginal stars, check marks, and exclamation points that illuminate nearly every page of my review copy stand as a tangible testament to the volume’s freshness and brilliance. Even if I would have liked to see a more focused examination of the formal aspects of the sonnet (or Scève’s dizain) in terms of the embedded violence within the quintessential Petrarchan structure, what Nazarian accomplishes in her examination of the political and ethical rhetoric of the early modern love lyric will cause generations of scholars to take pause and reconsider their understanding of the uses and intent of unrequited Petrarchan desire. [End Page 198]