When Battista Guarini entered the service of the Duke of Ferrara in 1567 he was already married and had attained the age of thirty, being seven years older than Tasso. His duties at court were political, and he was employed on several missions of a diplomatic character. There was no reason whatever, beyond his own perverse ambition, why he should have come into rivalry with Tasso, yet he did so both as a writer of verses and as a hanger-on of court beauties. It is impossible to acquit him of bad taste in the manner in which he and some at least of his fellow courtiers treated the unfortunate poet, and there was certainly bad blood between the two soon after the production of the Aminta, owing, probably, to the ungenerous remarks passed by Guarini upon the author’s indebtedness to previous writers. After Tasso’s confinement to S. Anna in 1579, Guarini became court poet, and the luckless prisoner was condemned to see his own poems entrusted to the editorial care of his rival.
Guarini, however, was not satisfied with the court of Ferrara. His estate was reduced by the expenses entailed by his missions as ambassador, for which, like Machiavelli, he appears never to have received adequate supplies, and by the continuous litigation in which he involved himself. His political imagination, too, had been fired during a stay at Turin with the possibilities inherent for Italy in the house of Savoy—an enthusiasm which possibly did not tend to smooth his relations with his own master. In 1582 he left Ferrara and the service of Alfonso and retired to his ancestral estates of S. Bellino. Here he devoted himself to the composition of the play he had lately taken in hand, which, in spite of spasmodic returns to political life not only at the court of the Estensi but also at Turin and Florence, forms thenceforward with its many vicissitudes the central interest of his biography. He survived till 1612, dying at the age of seventy-four.
To do justice to the Pastor fido it would be best to give the story in the form of a continuous narrative rather than an analysis of the actual scenes, since the author’s constructive power lay almost wholly in the invention of an intricate plot and his weakness in the scenic rendering of it. His dramatic methods, however, so far elaborated from the simplicity of Tasso’s, had a vast influence over subsequent work, and it is highly important to obtain a clear idea of their nature. We shall, therefore, be condemned to follow Guarini, part-way at least, through the stiff artificiality of his interminable scenes.