ABSTRACT

Many of the strands of epic and romance that have been traced in the ‘Middle Ages’ also come together unevenly during the Renaissance. They continue to react against one another in very specific ways, as narrative techniques and allegorical method intersect with each other. This produces a tension between historical material on the one hand and literary tradition on the other. There is also a further tension between the history that is to be represented and the moment of writing. Conflicting factors and the confluences they produce imbue the various texts with tensions and the result can seem, from a modern perspective, to be a radical speeding up of the migration of narratives. We have already noted the influence of narrative forms upon one another that is a feature of medieval texts, and in such circumstances it is worth recalling that epic is not a singular form at all. If we think of epic as a function in addition to its existence as a form, then we begin to glimpse its multiple potentialities. Regarded in this way, it can be thought of as a generic space. One of the major peculiarities of Renaissance epic is its

propensity to incompleteness. This may be a symptom, indeed a

direct result, of the many incompatibilities that are thrown up in this period. Perhaps this is because at a formal level it becomes very difficult indeed for a poet to manage adequately all of the disparate elements of epic, romance and allegory. However, such a formulation may run the risk of locating the difficulties of Renaissance epic, as well as those produced by it, purely within the persona of the writer, when in fact there may well be wider historical factors at work. David Quint begins by describing in general the initial focus of his book on classical epic, and then diverges into a historicist analysis of the growing importance of the association of epic with the early modern European aristocracy. He argues that the role of the aristocracy comes under intense pressure from absolutist monarchy on the one hand, and competition for social prestige from the aggressive mercantile classes on the other (Quint 1993: 10). According to Quint’s analysis, the Renaissance revival of epic by and for a sophisticated humanist aristocracy comes immediately prior to the eclipse of that nobility’s power:

Such historical changes clearly produce tensions that are elaborated in the literature that is associated with them. It should therefore be possible to discern in the Renaissance some of the elements that, to follow Quint’s line of reasoning, will lead to the death of epic as a form associated primarily with the aristocracy.

THREE ITALIANS AND TWO ENGLISHMEN