The Agency of Gender in Jerusalem Delivered
Throughout the text of Jerusalem Delivered, Torquato Tasso makes a noticeable departure from the pre-existing structure of the epic, namely, he allows the masculine and feminine traits of his characters to overlap between the genders. In this poem the reader is confronted with women who act nobly, fight in battle, and strategize like men in the service of their countries and gods, as well as men made effeminate through the influence of passion and romance. In keeping with the conceptions of male and female traits, Tasso aligns passion, tenderness, and physical appetites with the female gender, and intellect, virtue, and concern for honor with males. Through this polarization he identifies two forces which are embodied by these characteristics: love for the divine and love for the temporal. In older forms of the epic, such as the Aeneid, these two concepts exist; yet Virgil makes it clear that divine love, which is connected to the masculine traits of virtue, piety, and warfare, is more powerful and significant than any of the feminine qualities.
Such is a definition of an epic; the characters are meant to embody solely the heroic, masculine ideals. Tasso, however, wrote his 'romance epic' after the romantic form had been developed within literature. This form, containing as it does the concept of chivalrous love, identifies feminine virtues such as romantic love and passion as the highest ideals. Through his manipulation of gender within the text, Tasso identifies the worth of both epic and romance forms of heroism. Through his development of characters who possess both masculine and feminine traits, Tasso demonstrates the necessity of the unification between these two contrasting agencies.
The first and most significant embodiment of male traits is Godfrey, the Christian general. As Tasso's representation of Aeneas, Godfrey...