Ariosto in Scotland by way of France. John Stewart of Baldynneis’ Roland Furious

Alessandra Petrina, Università degli Studi di Padova

Elizabethan translations and adaptations of Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso have been often studied; the only complete translation, John Harington’s Orlando Furioso in English Heroical Verse, published in1591, has been the object of special attention. Harington’s version paralleled another poetic enterprise greatly indebted to Ariosto’s poem, Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene, first published (though in a version limited to books I-III) in 1590. The two works, supreme examples of translation and appropriation, ideally project for us a twin image of the magnitude of Ariosto’s influence in the British Isles. They were surrounded by partial translations, allusions, rewritings, or versions of individual tales, beginning with Peter Beverley’s Historie of Ariodantoand Ieneura, printed in 1566, and with a witness as late as 1607, Gervase Markham’s Rodomonths Infernall or the Diuell Conquered.

Passages from the poem were set to music, or constituted the basis for theatrical performances, such as Greene’s popular stage adaptation The Historie of Orlando Furioso (1592). An Ariosto canon developed in early modern England, to the point that the pioneer of Anglo-Italian studies, Mary Augusta Scott, could state that ‘Ariosto was far and away the most popular Italian poet with the Elizabethans’ (1896, 378).1 The existence of a Scottish version of the Furioso is often overlooked, yet this version, probably composed in the mid-1580s (McDiarmid 1948, 12–18; McClune 2013b, 122), precedes Harington’s and constitutes the first English-language rendition which attempts to take stock of the poem as a whole. It is, however, difficult to gauge the place of this translation within this very special canon. This is not only due to the persistent marginality of Scottish writing before the Union of the Crowns, but to the impossibility of applying to the progress of Scottish literature between the fifteenth and the sixteenth century the traditional medieval/early modern categories (Johnson and Petrina 2018, ix-xiv). The trajectory of early modern writing in Scotland follows very different paths from those travelled in England. This translation of Ariosto is a case in point.The Scottish version of the poem, Ane abbregement of roland furiovs translait ovt of Ariost, was undertaken by John Stewart of Baldynneis (fl. 1539–1607), and composed at the court of James VI. It survives in a presentation manuscript (now Edinburgh, National Library of Scotland, Adv. MS 19.2.6), presumably prepared for the King, which includes other poems by Stewart.2 Unlike Harington’s translation, it did not respond to the Elizabethan fashion for Italian writing. Rather, it was the product of a different perspective. A copy of the Orlando Furioso in an Italian edition was in the library of Mary Queen of Scots; this, possibly the first copy of the poem in Italian recorded in Scotland (Purves 1946, 72), may have been available both to King James and to some of the members of the court. The young King, recently come out of his tutelage and educated by the humanist George Buchanan about classicism and Calvinism, had promoted a vernacular revival at his court, through a group of poets, translators and musicians. This literary activity appears to have been marked by his desire to continue to enfranchise Scottish literary writing from its dependence on the English model — hence his relying preferably on French contemporary references. James himself, beside writing poems and composing a short treatise on poetics, Reulis and Cautelis (1584), which acknowledged its debt to Joachim du Bellay’s Deffence et illustration de la langue françoise, translated a number of works by the Huguenot courtier and poet Guillaume de Salluste Du Bartas, such as L’Uranie, while Thomas Hudson translated, at the King’s bidding, another poem by Du Bartas, La Judith. Contemporary French literature appears to have been the prevailing model at court.

In this perspective, a translation of an Italian epic poem might seem to run counter to the dominant fashion. However, Italian literature did play a role at King James’ court: another member of this literary circle, William Fowler, completed in 1587 a translation of Petrarch’s Triumphi, dedicating it to Jean Fleming, Lady Thirlestane, and would then go on to translate Machiavelli’s Principe. As for Stewart of Baldynneis, his literary enterprise appears different from the efforts of both the translators from the French and William Fowler, since his very free translation of Ariosto, though often relying on the Italian original, owes much to intermediary translations in French: scholars agree on identifying these intermediary texts with Philippe Desportes’ Roland Furieux and Angelique, as well as with the translations of Jean Martin (1543) and (less probably) Gabriele Chappuys (1576) (Dunlop 1915, 303–310; McDiarmid 1948, 16; Jack 1972, 60–63).Stewart’s achievement is then a classic instance of translation through one or more intermediary versions, and it is presented here as a complex case study, both of early modern intellectual attitudes and of later responses to the practice of literary translation through or with intermediary texts. Its analysis prompts the question of what should be our approach to indirect translation in early modern Europe, an approach that still awaits a systematic attempt at a theoretical definition. My study proceeds through the examination of the overall structure as well as of individual passages that reveal the interplay of original text, intermediary translations, and final version.


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