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Ronsard and the 'sein verdelet' of Cassandre: uncovering an unexplored Italian source

JoAnn DellaNeva
Renaissance Studies
Vol. 22, No. 4 (SEPTEMBER 2008), pp. 542-556
Published by: Wiley
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/24417580
Page Count: 15
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Ronsard and the 'sein verdelet' of Cassandre: uncovering an unexplored Italian source
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Abstract

In a well-known essay, Michael Riffaterre has explained a puzzling reference in one of Ronsard's sonnets, celebrating the beauty of the beloved's Cassandre's breast: "un coeur ja meur dans un sein verdelet" ("an already mature heart in a greenish bosom"). Riffaterre interprets the phrase "un sein verdelet" as an allusion to Ariosto's description of Alcina's breasts as "due pome acerbe" ("two unripe [i.e., green] apples"). But a further look at Italian lyric poetry of this period reveals that there is another possible explanation for this odd expression, one that is instead related to a famous sonnet by Pietro Bembo, which contains a reference to his lady's "senno maturo a la più verde etate" ("mature wisdom in the greenest [i.e., youngest] age"). Ronsard appears to have conflated (intentionally or otherwise) the Italian words "senno" (wisdom) and "seno" (bosom) in this fragmentary citation. He thus shows himself to be far more influenced by graphic and accoustic (but not necessarily semantic) similarities between Italian and French words, engaging in bilingual and intertextual paronomasia or punning, a tendency that might be considered characteristic of his playful approach to imitatio and intertextual allusion.

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