SeeStan ChapLee

Thursday, March 9, 2017

The Cat-o-Bard


One of the most fascinating experiences in literature is when "a genius analyzes a genius": see William Blake dealing with John Milton, Primo Levi (unexpectedly) with Alessandro Manzoni, Arthur Schopenhauer with Immanuel Kant. Here is Shakespeare's life and works recounted in 1953 by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, the author of the novel Il Gattopardo, first published in Italy in 1958. The title has been translated into English as The Leopard, but it is rather a humorous deformation of the heraldic beast's name, like "The Cat-o-pard." A novel that destroyed all commonplace about the standard history of the National Unification of Italy (1861), and more than that.

Tomasi di Lampedusa describes Shakespeare basically as a rascal, and that's why he admires him -- the Bard's name, he says, is "the most glorious in the history of humankind." One more shove against the official culture of Italy, where the epithet "The Poet," after the Unification, has always been referred to Dante. Similarly, in the still bigoted Italy of the 1950s, Tomasi enjoys lingering over Shakespeare's homosexuality. His comments on the characters of the Bard's plays let us already glimpse the main characters in the Gattopardo. But especially, a surprising paragraph worth being translated concerns the issue of language:
What I would like to stress about Mercutio is that, most luckily, here Shakespeare passed down to us the parlance, the humor, the imagination of a young Italian gentleman of the Renaissance; one of those gentlemen of whom Tiziano and Lorenzo Lotto preserved the portraits for us, but of whom the awful Italian literature of the 16th century had neglected to report the very soul and way of speaking. (Maybe, just maybe, some hints in the Orlando Furioso.)