Prue Shaw, 23 May 1985
Alfieri, writing four hundred years after Petrarch’s death, tells us that when young he had dismissed Petrarch as ‘a bore, whose verses were ingenious and cold’. Many English readers, struggling to come to grips with the Canzoniere, must have reached the same conclusion, the more so if their knowledge of Petrarch was, as it almost always is, filtered through his English legacy: the host of Tudor followers and admirers who reduced the master’s subtle and varied manner to a set of imitable and parodiable mannerisms, at best merely clever, at worst tediously posturing and repetitious. How best to advise the English reader wishing to get the measure of Petrarch has always been problematical. Happily, these two new books should change that.