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Torquato Tasso

(1544—1595) Italian poet

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son of Bernardo Tasso (author of an epic on Amadis of Gaul), spent many years at the court of Ferrara. He was from early life in constant terror of persecution and adverse criticism, and his conduct made it necessary for the duke, Alphonso II of Este, to lock him up as mad from 1579 to 1586. The legend of his passion for Leonora d'Este, the duke's discovery of it, and his consequent imprisonment, is no longer credited, but was for long widely believed; Milton refers to it (in a Latin poem), Byron's The Lament of Tasso (1817) is based on it, and Goethe's play Torquato Tasso (1789) supports it, as does Donizetti's opera (1833) of the same title. His chief works were Rinaldo, a romantic epic (1562); a pastoral play, Aminta (1573); Jerusalem Delivered (1580–81); and a tragedy, Torrismondo (1586). He also wrote Pindaric odes, and Spenser used his sonnets in many of his Amoretti. Tasso's epics and his critical works (Discorsi dell'arte poetica, Discorsi del poema eroica) had a great influence on English literature, displayed in the works of Daniel, Milton, Giles and Phineas Fletcher, Cowley, Dryden, and others. Edward Fairfax's translation of Jerusalem Delivered (1600) also had an influence in its own right; according to Dryden, Waller said that he ‘derived the harmony of his numbers’ from it. In the following century, Gray translated a passage (Book XIV, 32–9), and Collins recorded (‘Ode on the Popular Superstitions of the Highlands’) his great admiration for both Tasso and Fairfax.

Subjects: Literature

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Works by Torquato Tasso