And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!
- And did those feet, William Blake

lørdag 31. oktober 2015

Torquato the badger-poet

In a previous blogpost I had a closer look at some adaptations of William Shakespeare in Italian comic book stories from the Disney universe. Since the beginning of the Italian production of comics about Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse in the 1950s, a wide range of works from world literature have been adapted into stories from the world of Duckburg, in Italian Paperopoli. A range of these adaptations have been collected in a book series issued by Corriere della Sera which is called I classici della letteratura, the classics of literature, presenting these adaptations with information both about the stories themselves and their authors. I am very fond of these adaptations since I grew up with them in Norwegian translations, and they will feature in many blogposts to come. This time I will look briefly at one very charming aspect of an adaptation of Torquato Tasso's (1544-95) epic poem Gerusalemme Liberata, the deliverance of Jerusalem, which was completed in 1575.

Front page of vol.14 in the second edition of I Classici della Letteratura

In 1565 Torquato Tasso settled in Ferrara and became attached to the house of d'Este, and during his time there he wrote a number of plays and poems in addition to his magnum opus. Gerusalemme Liberata is an epic chivalric poem, and in composition Tasso borrowed from that blend of classical epic and chivalric romance which had been made famous by Ludovico Ariosto in the early part of the century. The narrative of the poem is set during the First Crusade and recounts the capture of Jerusalem and the Holy Sepulchre led by Godfrey de Bouillon in 1099, but also heavily interspersed with digressions, love stories and fantastical episodes.

Gerusalemme Liberata has had a great impact on Western culture. For instance, Edmund Spenser was very much inspired by Tasso's poem in the writing his own epic, The Faerie Queene, which he began composing in 1590.  Also John Milton relied on Tasso's imagery for parts of Paradise Lost, and a wide range of operas, songs and paintings have sought to elaborate or focus on elements from Tasso's epic, and in the twentieth century the poem was adapted into a Disney comic.

Opening page of Paperopoli Liberata

The comic book adaptation, Paperopoli Liberata or Duckburg Delivered, was written by Guido Martina and drawn by Giovan Battista Carpi. It was first published in the Italian Topolino magazine (Mickey Mouse) in vols. 598 and 599, respectively issued on 14th and 21st of May, 1967. The epic, medievalesque tone of the adaptation is set already on the opening page where we see a painting of Donald and Scrooge fighting Beagle Boys in stereotypical Saracen armour (note the pointed helmets) and armed with revolvers and machine guns, highlighting the blend of old and new, and perhaps preparing the reader for the fact that the adaptation is set in modern-time Duckburg.

The first lines of the comic book story are adaptations from the opening of Gerusalemme Liberata. In the new rendition the text begins like this (translations from Italian are my own):

Canto l'armi Furiose e il capitano / Chamato Paperino

"I sing of furious arms and the captain / who is called Donald Duck"

While Tasso's poem opens in this way:

Canto l'arme pietose e 'l capitano
che 'l gran sepolcro liberò di Cristo

"I sing of pious arms and the captain
who liberated the great Sepulchre of Christ"

Guido Martina has retained the tone of the epic and necessarily secularised the content, but although the Paperino story is set in a fictional part of America rather than in late-eleventh-century Jerusalem, some elements are still retained and employed in a game of intertextuality. One example of this can be seen below, as a sign tells us that this is the camp of Donald Duck and his nephew, bringing to mind - as is pointed out in the introduction to this volume - the camp of the crusaders in Tasso's epic.

(Note, for instance, that Martina applies "Furiose" with a capital f instead of Tasso's "pietose". This is of course to remove the religious dimension of the poem, but it might also be a nod to Tasso's debt to Ludovico Ariosto's Orlando Furioso, and perhaps also to Martina's own possible debt to Luciano Bottaro who had composed his adaptation of Ariosto's poem, Paperin Furioso, the year before.)

The story begins with the breaking of the camp and the departure for Paperopoli, and this sequence contains one of the most charming tools of intertextuality I can think of. As the nephews are taking down the tent, they notice that their new friend, a little badger, is saddened by their imminent leaving. The nephews then suggest that he come with them back to Paperopoli, and this makes the badger happy. But how is this intertextuality? Well, simply because this badger is a representation of Torquato Tasso himself, as his surname means "badger" in Italian. This is made crystal clear on the following page, where the little badger turns to the reader and says:

"It is not that I lack speech, it is that I, Torquato the badger, speak in the language of the badgers!"

Torquato the badger is then put in the car and as he departs he looks forward to whatever will transpire next, saying "what a wonderful adventure! I will tell this to my children, and to my children's children". Torquato Tasso is thus in a way reincarnated as Torquato the badger, and he will become the badger-poet who renders in proper verse the story which is about to unfold in Paperopoli.

The Ducks behold Paperopoli, as the crusaders beheld Jerusalem

For similar blogposts, see:

On adaptations of Shakespeare

On an episode from Orlando Furioso

On a painting on a knight errant

Elegy for Edmund Spenser

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