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Michael Bryson; Arpi Movsesian

Published On


Page Range

pp. 295-352

Print Length

57 pages

7. The Ladder of Love in Italian Poetry and Prose, and the Reactions of the Sixteenth-Century Sonneteers

Moving from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries in France and England, this chapter works with poetry from the thirteenth through the sixteenth centuries in Italy and England, though it begins, providing necessary background, with a discussion of Platonic and Neoplatonic versions of the ‘ladder of love’ idea, in which human passion is to be redirected toward a divine object, with a special focus on the Symposium of Plato (balance, higher and lower forms) and Diotima's discussion of love as a pathway/ladder to the divine. It then considers how the Italian poetic tradition, influenced by the ‘ladder of love’, changes the emphasis it found in the Troubadour poetry it so admired from fin'amor to something like its sublimation into worship in the thirteenth- and fourteenth-century Italian tradition of Guinizelli, Colonne, Dante, and Petrarch, in which the mutual one-to-one choice of the Occitan tradition, is replaced by a one-way form of passionate male idolatry of the female object (Beatrice, Laura, etc.). The chapter moves to a consideration of how love is spiritualized and sublimated in Peter Bembo's discourse at the end of Castiglione's early-sixteenth-century work The Courtier, which then leads to a discussion of the English sonnets of Wyatt, Howard, and Sidney as continued exercises in a desexualized Platonic/Neoplatonic idolization and objectification of the female, who is denied any role except that of inspiration to the male poet. Finally, this chapter turns to Shakespeare’s sonnets, arguing that in this body of work, we see a definitive rejection of the sublimated and spiritualized treatment of love, and a return of the person-to-person passions of fin’amor.


Arpi Movsesian