Freshman Foundations 100
28 September 1308
Dante's Francesca and Paolo: "She Loves You, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah" In Canto V of The Inferno, Dante offers what seems to be a sympathetic portrait of two medieval lovers caught and condemned after re-enacting a passionate scene from Arthurian Romance. A modern reader might well find the story of Francesca da Rimini and Paolo Malatesta moving, especially when the narrator himself swoons with pity at the canto's end. It is true that in Dante's ethical scheme, the sin of Paolo and Francesca is not among the worst: the two lovers are guilty of "incontinence" rather than bestial intemperance, and the elegant, literary way in which they sin only increases our desire to excuse the sin itself. Even so, we should remember that in The Inferno, sinners experience God's Love as perpetual Justice. Our task as readers, Dante would surely say, is to align our will with God's plan, not to lament for the sinners. A thorough examination of two key sections in Canto VFrancesca's conversations with the narratorwill show that the Canto distances us from the narrator's empathetic reaction, asking us to move beyond our own pity and towards a just reflection upon the "misreading" that threatens to lead us into violation of the just commands of Dante's god. Early on, Canto V certainly tempts us to pity Francesca and Paolothe list of lost souls that Virgil offers to satisfy the narrator's curiosity from lines 52-68 evokes a literary tradition with which Dante must have been quite familiar: Semíramis of Assyria, Cleopatra, Helen of Sparta, Paris of Troy, and Tristan of Romance fame are just a few among the countless lovers condemned to eternal buffeting by what Virgil calls "the hellish hurricane, which never rests, / [and] drives on the spirits with its violence" (30-31). The narrator knows these figures and their stories well; such stories are the lifeblood of epic and romance. Not even Virgil's stern...
Cited: Alighieri, Dante. Inferno. Trans. Allen Mandelbaum. Berkeley: U of California Press, 1980.
Things to Note:
1) The thesis does more than repeat the plot of the canto I 'm interested in; my thesis paragraph begins with a general but relevant set of observations and accurate naming of author and work. Then it narrows down to a small number of sentences that tell readers exactly what parts of the fifth canto I will examine, and, briefly, what the analytic point of examining them will be. You know what I am going to do and why – this is my "contract" with the reader.
2) The analysis carries out the tasks I promised to perform–I examine the parts of Canto V that I said I would, and my strategic retelling of the canto 's plot provides a sense of structural and thematic coherence for my quotations. If I simply dropped in my quotations in isolation from the Canto 's story and aims as a whole, readers wouldn 't understand why I was using them. So quotations must be introduced smoothly, surrounded with plot-context and with reference to the ideas or themes one means to draw from them.
3) Each sentence should flow from and be followed by one that is clearly and logically, but not ostentatiously, connected to it. The same should hold for the transitions from one paragraph to the next. The conclusion should do more than simply repeat the thesis – it should reflect upon and drive home the thesis at the same time.
4) Notice that I use the active voice ("the narrator says," not "it is said by the narrator") unless there is a logical reason not to do so. Notice also that I employ the present tense to tell the story, only departing from the present when I need to refer to an event that occurred before the part that occurs in the present. I have tried to avoid overusing adjectives and adverbs – the advice someone offered Hemingway ("Ernie, write without adjectives") is excellent advice. Finally, you won 't find any vague references to "people in general" or to time frames such as "throughout history"; that 's because I am examining a specific part of a specific poem written at a specific time.
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