Cantari chivalreschi: meaning and characteristics |


What are chivalrous singers and how can they be recognized? —
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In the first decades of the fifteenth century, when literature read in the vernacular fell silent, the activity of the singers continued in the squares.

With the term cantari we indicate those rhyming compositions produced by jesters, or singers, and disseminated essentially through recitals in the squares and then orally, sometimes with musical accompaniment. THE little singers they are for the most part characters of modest culture and their products are almost always of modest formal elaboration, while the addressee is a popular public who had to captivate, surprise and amuse. Therefore, the plot and the ups and downs on the characterization of the characters, the exceptional adventures, the marvelous and fairy-tale atmospheres, the taste for hyperbole were privileged.


The topics are the most varied: in particular the revival of Carolingian and Breton subjects and their contamination, already started during the fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries, when the themes of travel to exotic lands, of adventure sought for oneself, of falling in love are grafted into the affairs of King Charles’ paladins, that is, when in the tradition essentially epic-religious of the Carolingian material the topics, the atmospheres and the adventurous and profane spirit of the Breton cycle are grafted.

These cantari, often coordinated in cycles, were recited on successive days to the public who returned to the bench of canterini at established times. Thus they came to weave more articulated and complex adventuresricher in vicissitudes and twists.

This semi-popular production did not fail to make its influence felt on the birth of the cultured chivalric poem and with artistic intent that is recorded in the second half of the fifteenth century: the works of Pulci and Boiardo first and then of Ariosto. But what elements characterize the chivalric poem compared to the chivalric cantari?

First of all, the change of producers, recipients, and forms: there is no doubt that producers have more culture; the socially elevated environment, bourgeois and even more courtier, then supplies the main recipients; finally, the work is immediately composed in writing and is destined for printing.

There is therefore a leap in quality mainly due to greater care and formal control.

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Going now to examine in more detail the two major fifteenth-century works that follow the birth of the chivalric poem, distinctions must be made because the Morgante of Pulci and theOrlando in love of the Boyar constitute two different outcomes of the same process.

To put it succinctly, theOrlando in love is the written outcome of the process of assuming the medieval epic and the singing tradition in the humanistic-Renaissance culture, while the Morgante represents the comic outcome. L’Orlando in love was born in a courtly and markedly elegant context (the court of the Estensi in Ferrara), the Morgante in the city which kept alive the municipal tradition, despite the Medici hegemony (Florence); the former is characterized by a nostalgia, albeit vulgar, for the medieval world of chivalry idealized in the light of the expectations and values ​​of the Este recipients (Boiardo himself is a feudal lord) and favors nobly intended feelings and passions, traditional values ​​of kindness, courage, courtesy and loyalty; the second is instead the parody of that world and of those values, it accentuates the gesture and the action in their material aspects (the slap, the punch, the food, the drink, etc.); the first has its roots in the French epic and in the purified and ennobled singing tradition, the second grafts the mainly Tuscan comic-joyful experience into the singing tradition.

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Cantari chivalreschi: meaning and characteristics |