A Sudden Frenzy: Improvisation, Orality, and Power in Renaissance Italy
Published: June 2022© 2022
248 Pages, 5.25 x 9.25 x 0.75 in, 8 b&w illustrations
In Renaissance Italy there existed a rich interplay between two cultural practices frequently regarded as entirely separate and mutually antagonistic: the humanistic study of the ancient world and ancient literature, and the oral and improvisational performance of poetry, which constituted one of the most popular forms of entertainment.
A Sudden Frenzy explores the development and impact of these Renaissance practices of improvisation and oral poetry. James K. Coleman shows how the confluence of humanist culture and the art of oral poetry resulted in an extraordinary turn toward improvisation and spontaneity that profoundly influenced poetry, music, and politics. By examining the culture of improvisation, this book reveals the ways in which Renaissance thinkers transcended cultural dichotomies, both in theory and in practice. Drawing on a wide range of sources, including letters, poetry, visual art, and philosophical texts, A Sudden Frenzy reveals the far-reaching and sometimes surprising ways that these phenomena shaped cultural developments in the Italian Renaissance and beyond.
List of Illustrations
1. The Uses of Oral Poetry in Quattrocento Florence
2. “Inspired and Possessed”: Marsilio Ficino and Oral Poetry
3. “Secret Frenzies”: Angelo Poliziano and Invention
4. “The Power to Stir Up Others”: Lorenzo de’ Medici and Improvisation
5. The Improviser and the World of the Courts
"James K. Coleman’s A Sudden Frenzy exposes the often surprising commonalities between classical scholarship and ‘popular’ culture in the Italian Renaissance. Coleman attenuates the long-perceived boundary between the written texts of humanist scholars such as Poggio Bracciolini and Angelo Poliziano and the numerous oral and improvised performances that flanked them. The role of ‘inspiration’ emerges forcefully in these chapters as far more than a commonplace or metaphor for composition."Walter Stephens, Charles S. Singleton Professor of Italian Studies, Johns Hopkins University
"A Sudden Frenzy is a brilliant study of a form of early Renaissance performance that bridged high and low culture, recitation and instrumental music, sacred and profane, ancient and modern, wild imagination and meticulous crafting. Coleman shows us the ‘power of extemporaneity’ in a place and time often characterized for its classicism and strict conventions. By doing so, he opens exciting new doors onto humanist thought and practice."Arielle Saiber, Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures, Bowdoin College
- Commended - 2022 AAIS First Book Prize
Awarded by the American Association for Italian Studies