Thinking about Poetic Genres in the Early Modern Period (seminar)

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This was a fall 1999 semester seminar.

The body of discourse produced in Italy in the second half of the sixteenth century that defined and argued about ancient as well as modern genres was unprecedented in Western poetics. How were poetic genres defined beforehand? What role did the newly recovered Poetics of Aristotle play in the development of Italian genre theory? Why did this theorizing occur? What needs did it meet? How did it relate to contemporary poetic practice? The first half of the seminar addressed these questions in the course of reading Aristotle's Poetics, G. B. Giraldi's treatises on tragedy and on chivalric romance, and Torquato Tasso's discourses on heroic poetry. Cultural politics were always part of generic codification, especially when new genres entered or sought legitimacy in an existing poetic system. The second half of the seminar began by considering Guarini's theory of tragicomedy in the context of such politics. Then, in the last sessions, we assessed the impact of Italian theory on French and English thinking about genre in the seventeenth century, focusing on Corneille's and Dryden's writings on the theater. Given that working poets produced all the discourse about genre examined in this seminar, participants were encouraged to familiarize themselves with some of their poetic practice and its relation to the theory. Virtually all (or significant parts) of the texts assigned were also be available in English translation.

Director: Daniel Javitch is Professor of Comparative Literature at New York University. Associate Editor of Renaissance Quarterly, he is the author of Proclaiming a Classic: the Canonization of "OrlandoFurioso" (1991); Poetry and Courtliness in Renaissance England (1978); and numerous articles on genre theory in the sixteenth century.