VOL. 1

By Bernard Weinberg

1961, pag. 228

Like Massini's lecture on the madrigal earlier in the same decade, Vincenzo Toralto's La Veronica, o del sonetto of 1589 deals with one of the shorter, lyric genres. But Toralto would be the last to admit that he was discussing a minor form; rather, he declares that the sonnet is the most difficult of all forms to write, surpassing even the tragedy. The occasion for his treatise is a sonnet by an academician whose pseudonym was "Il Risvegliato", and he spends a portion of his time (and the whole center section of his work) in interpreting this sonnet and others by the same author. The practical criticism involved, however, is concerned exclusively with expounding the hidden meanings to be found in the sonnets, and the treatise remains interesting only for the theoretical positions which it espouses. The matter of hidden meanings is important for Toralto, since he regards every good sonnet as having two sets of meanings, one for the person addressed (this an easy and superficial one), another for the learned and wise reader (this a secret and recondite one). The necessity of combining the two in a single, brief sonnet constitutes the first and perhaps the major difficulty. The second one consists in the prosodic restrictions: limitation to fourteen lines, to fixed rhyme schemes, and so forth. The third, in the necessity of choosing an "easy" subject, since the aim of poetry is to please and there can be no pleasure in grave matters. Among other criteria for the sonnet, Toralto would include the verisimilitude of language, by which he means language such as the person speaking might use to express the emotion involved. That is, a very sorrowful man should speak only in proper terms, not figurative ones, since the latter would not occur to him in his sorrow; but a "grave" sonnet would require metaphorical language, precisely in order to differentiate it from everyday speech. In fact, most of Toralto's preoccupations seem to be linguistic. When he metes out praise to Petrarch, it is because of his variety, and this is in style: "now he raised his style, then lowered it, now made it sorrowful, then pleasant."1 Variety as a criterion applies to the total work of a poet, not to an individual sonnet, and Toralto demonstrates its presence in Petrarch by citing selected sonnets, each of which represents a different style. One prosodic matter comes in for special attention, and in a way which illustrates a curious effort to relate versification to states of soul; this is the run-on line, or enjambment:
.... our nature abbors corruption, and on the contrary loves and desires eternity. Thus when we read a sonnet in which every verse represents for us an end [by being end-stopped], that is, corruption, our intellect suffers; and on the contrary, when we read another which has its verses running on into one another, it takes pleasure, for from them it derives an indefinable promise of eternity2.

The difficulties of the tragedy are of other kinds. Mostly they concern the invention of the plot and its disposition; from the extent of the treatment, the former would seem to be by far the more important. Invention is circumscribed by many factors. The plot must be true, and it must therefore be historical in origin; but the history must itself be incomplete so that the poet may be free to add episodes of his own contriving, and this he must do without contradicting the history must itself. It is only in this one respect that tragedy might be said to be more difficult than the sonnet. The plot, again, should be "magnificent" and "royal" in its personages, "sorrowful" and "fearful" in its effect-the latter apparently a counterpart of Aristotle's pity and fear. Finally, a tragedy must achieve an impression of extreme gravity, and this too has its difficulties.
Toralto has little to say about more general poetic matters. He uses the term "imitation" only for the imitation of models, sees the use of metaphors and other figures as the feature which distinguishes poetry from prose, and insists upon the necessity of both divine inspiration and acquired knowledge for the poet. In passing, he discusses Tasso's works, finding his sonnets inferior to the Gerusalemme since they do not imitate as well; in Tasso's heroic poem, the principal qualities are in the diction used to express the borrowed materials3.

1 La Veronica (1589), p. 19: "hora egli inalzò, hora abbassò lo stile, hora il fece doloroso, hora piacevole".
2 Ibid, p. 23: "la natura nostra abborrisce la corruttione; e per lo contrario ama, e desidera l'eternità; leggendo adunque un sonetto, ch'in ogni verso ci rappresenti il fine, ciò è la corruttione, l'intelletto nostro patisce, ed all'incontro leggendone un'altro, c'habbia i versi entranti l'uno nell'altro, gode, perchè da quelli si promette non sò che di eternità".
3 The principal passages in Toralto are to be found on pp. 10-30, 37, and 78.

|  Presentazione  | 
Vincenzo Toralto di G. Ferroni e A. Quondam  | 
I'Ortolano di V. Dolla La Veronica di B. Weinberg  |
|  La Veronica di F. LecercleLa Veronica di G. Parenti  |
Lettera di S. Quattromani   |  Sonetto a G.B, Manso  |
Sonetto di Tommaso Stigliani  |  Sonetto a risposta di G.B. Marino  |