Ottava Rima - Encyclopedia

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OTTAVA RIMA, a stanza of eight iambic lines, containing three rhymes, invariably arranged as follows: abababcc. It is an Italian invention, and we find the earliest specimens of its use in the poetry of the fourteenth century. Boccaccio employed it for the Teseide, which he wrote in Florence in 1340, and for the Filostrato, which he wrote at Naples some seven years later. These remarkable epics gave to ottava rima its classic character. In the succeeding century it was employed by Politiani, and by Boiardo for his famous Orlando Innamorato (1486). It was Pulci, however, in the Morgante Maggiore (1487), who invented the peculiar mock-heroic, or rather half-serious, half-burlesque, style with which ottava rima has been most commonly identified ever since and in connexion with which it was introduced into England by Frere and Byron. The measure, which was now recognized as the normal one for all Italian epic poetry, was presently wielded with extraordinary charm and variety by Berni, Ariosto and Tasso. The - merits of it were not perceived by the English poets of the 16th and 17th centuries, although the versions of Tasso by Carew (1594) and Fairfax (1600) and of Ariosto by Harington (1591) preserve its external construction. The stanzaic forms invented by Spenser and by the Fletchers have less real relation to ottava rima than is commonly asserted, and it is quite incorrect to say that the author of the Fairy Queen adopted ottava rima and added a ninth line to prevent the sound from being monotonously iterative. A portion of Browne's Britannia's Pastorals is composed in pure ottava rima, but this is the only important specimen in original Elizabethan literature. Two centuries later a very successful attempt was made to introduce in English poetry the flexibility and gaiety of ottava rima by John Hookham Frere, who had studied Pulci and Casti, and had caught the very movement of their diverting measure. His Whistlecraft appeared in 1817. This is a specimen of the ottava rima of Frere But chiefly, when the shadowy moon had shed O'er woods and waters her mysterious hue, Their passive hearts and vacant fancies fed With thoughts and aspirations strange and new, Till their brute souls with inward working bred Dark hints that in the depths of instinct grew Subjection - not from Locke's associations, Nor David Hartley's doctrine of vibrations.

Byron was greatly impressed by the opportunities for satire involved in Frere's experiment, and in October 1817, in imitation of Whistlecraft, but keeping still closer to Pulci, he wrote Beppo. By far the greatest monument in ottava rima which exists in English literature is Don Juan (1818-1821). Byron also employed this measure, which was peculiarly adaptable to the purposes of his genius, in The Vision of Judgment (1822). Meanwhile Shelley also became attracted by it, and in 1820 translated the Hymns of Homer into ottava rima. The curious burlesque epic of William Tennant (1 784-1848), Anster Fair (1812), which preceded all these, is written in what would be ottava rima if the eighth line were not an alexandrine. The form has been little used in other languages than Italian and English. It was employed by Boscna (1490-1542), who imitated Bembo vigorously in Spanish, and the very fine Araucana of Ercilla y Zuniga (153315g 5) is in the same measure. Lope de Vega Carpio wrote plentifully in ottava rima. In Portuguese poetry of the 16th and 17th centuries this measure obtained the sanction of Camoens, who wrote in it his immortal Lusiads (1572). Ottava rima has been attempted in German poetry by Uhland and others, but not for pieces of any considerable length. (E. G.)

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