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Literature / Orlando Furioso

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The Paladin

Le donne, i cavallier, l'arme, gli amori,
le cortesie, l'audaci imprese io canto,
che furo al tempo che passaro i Mori
d'Africa il mare, e in Francia nocquer tanto,
seguendo l'ire e i giovenil furori
d'Agramante lor re, che si diè vanto
di vendicar la morte di Troiano
sopra re Carlo imperator romano.

Of loves and ladies, knights and arms, I sing
Of courtesies, and many a daring feat,
And from those ancient days my story bring
When Moors from Afric passed in hostile fleet,
And ravaged France, with Agramant their king
Flushed with his youthful rage and furious heat
Who on king Charles', the Roman emperor's head
Had vowed due vengeance for Troyano dead.
Orlando Furioso (opening stanza, trans. by William Stewart Rose)

A massive chivalric epic poem in 46 cantos by Ludovico Ariosto, first published in 1516 and revised and expanded a couple of times, with its final form appearing in 1532. Orlando Furioso ("Mad Orlando" or "The Fury of Orlando") continues and completes the story begun in the unfinished but equally epic poem, Orlando Innamorato ("Orlando In Love") by Matteo Maria Boiardo, Conte di Scandiano (1441-1494).

Charlemagne (Carlo) is at war with the Saracens, and his paladin Orlando (Roland), the world's greatest knight (and hero of the French Chanson de Roland), goes mad from Unrequited Love for the pagan princess Angelica of Cathay. Has a Beta Couple, which also consists of a pagan and a Christian: Ruggiero (Roger) of Risa and Bradamante, the mythical ancestors of Boiardo's and Ariosto's employers, the Este family, ducal house of Ferrara.

The poem is not so much a Chivalric Romance as a Deconstruction of same, casting an ironic eye on all the tropes and conventions of the genre, with Orlando's devotional love turning to madness being only the most obvious treatment. But Ariosto is more interested in entertaining than anything else, and succeeds at his task at great length. It was enormously influential in the centuries after it was written, influencing Tasso, Spencer, and Milton to name the most famous. Gustave Doré illustrated the poem.

Tropes found in Orlando Furioso:

  • 24-Hour Armor: Marfisa
  • Abhorrent Admirer: Rinaldo to Angelica, thanks to a magic river
  • Abusive Parents: What to do if your daughter indirectly and passively-aggressively expresses disagreement with your choice of husband for her? Kidnap her, obviously! (It should be noted that in some of the other texts featuring the characters, one of the parents involved, Aymon, tries to kill his sons and his wife. Bradamante got off lightly)
  • Action Girl: Bradamante and Marfisa.
  • Alcohol-Induced Idiocy: Rodomont has a case of this, leading to him becoming The Teetotaler
  • All Amazons Want Hercules: In the Lady Land visited by Astolpho and Marfisa, the only way a man can avoid slavery is to prove his worthiness by defeating ten champions in a day and then bed ten women that night. According to Guido's extensive explanation, this was set up precisely because of this trope, when the queen's daughter desired a particularly worthy fighter who was, in fact, descended from Hercules.
    • Marfisa, being Marfisa, wanted to partake too and had no problem with task #1. Unfortunately the author keeps us in the dark about task #2...
  • Anti-Magic: This is what Angelica's Ring does when worn on a finger (it doubles as a Ring of Gyges if you put it on your tongue).
  • Apple of Discord: Durandal. While a powerful weapon, it's almost a Magic Feather in the story itself as it does little to protect its last wielder in the story, Gradasso, from Orlando's rage.
  • Author Filibuster: Ariosto did not like cannons, recently introduced to European warfare.
  • Ax-Crazy: Rodamonte.
  • Badass in Distress: Happens to a lot of the characters at some point, but special mention goes to the number of times Ruggiero needs his girlfriend to save him.
  • Badass Normal: Ruggiero foregoes using enchanted weapons because he thinks they'd give him an unfair advantage. Notably, he's the only character in the book with this mindset since every other knight (including his love interest, Bradamante) uses such armaments when they can.
  • Battle Couple: Bradamante and Ruggiero.
  • Berserk Button: Interrupting a single combat in which Marfisa is involved is not a good idea. In the previous work she attacks her boss (and his army) for attacking the guy she was already fighting. In this one, she tries to kill her best friend for trying to intervene in her fight with Bradamante.
  • The Berserker: Orlando, but he's still such a sublime fighter that he manages to defeat the Nimrod-empowered Rodomonte while blind with rage and utterly naked.
  • Best Her to Bed Her: Bradamante demands a husband who can hold his own against her in battle from dawn to dusk. Though she's doing it more so she gets some choice over who she marries than any other reason. If she'd knowingly fought Ruggiero, she would almost certainly have let him win.
  • Big, Screwed-Up Family: Duke Aymon's clan. Ruggiero finds himself having to contend with a number of its members and has to play nice with them as he doesn't want to sadden Bradamante by hurting members of her family.
  • Black Knight: When Angelica escapes the court of Charlemagne, Orlando forsakes his duties and dons a suit of dark armor to pursue his would-be love. Still a noble paladin at heart, he helped out a number of folks along the way in his new vagabond guise before he went completely insane and shirked clothing altogether.
  • Bling of War: Befitting her status as an empress (self-called Queen) of India, Marfisa's armour is an exquisitely crafted and bejewelled hybrid of form and function. Naturally, it is soon stolen from her when she isn't looking by infamous dwarven thief Brunello.
  • Book Ends: When it appears he has truly failed to live up to his chivalric principles, Ruggiero marches into the wilderness to die in a place not too dissimilar to the wastes where Atlante found him as a baby.
  • Break the Cutie: Early on, Angelica gets a Rage Against the Heavens about how the previous work was this for her. Immediately afterwards, she gets a Near-Rape Experience, is kidnapped by pirates, gets Chained to a Rock, has another Near-Rape Experience with her rescuer...
  • Broke Your Arm Punching Out Cthulhu: Ruggiero manages to defeat the mystically empowered Mandricardo in a duel, but is grievously injured in doing so, putting his search for Bradamante on hold.
  • Brother–Sister Incest: Flirted with: Marfisa is quite attracted to Ruggiero (and his fighting ability) until it's revealed he's her brother.
  • Butt-Monkey: Ruggiero. His introductory scene involves him getting turned into a tree by a sorceress because he refused to heed the advice of Astolfo (who had also been turned into a tree by that same sorceress). Misfortunes continue to dog-pile on top of him but he remains undeterred all throughout if not unscathed.
  • The Casanova: Several characters consider Rinaldo to be this.
  • Celibate Hero: Orlando used to be one before Boiardo got his hands on him in the previous work.
  • Chained to a Rock: Happens twice in Orlando Furioso. First, Angelica of Cathay is captured by the pirates of Ebuda, only to be stripped naked and exposed on a rock to a sea monster. After she's rescued, the pirates replace her with Olympia of Holland. Neither woman can conceal their modesty when their rescuer approaches.
  • Character Development: Compared to how she was in the previous work, Marfisa is a lot less Ax-Crazy here.
  • Cliffhanger: Frequently happens when Ariosto jumps between threads of his Kudzu Plot.
  • Converting for Love: Ruggiero and his sister Marfisa.
  • Combat by Champion: Christs and Saracens agree this war is going on much too long. In the left corner: Oliver, Roland and Brandimart. In the right corner: Agramant, Gradass and Sobrin. Gonnnng!
  • Cool Horse: Several. Ariosts personal coolness scale is Bayard (can understand human) > Brigliador > Frontin.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Orillo, a semi-immortal bandit, is decapitated and has his helpless and still-living head scalped by Astolfo because that's the only way to negate his Healing Factor.
    • When a sea monster proves to be largely impervious to his blows, Orlando uses an anchor to drag it to land whereupon it eventually suffocates to death.
  • Cutting the Knot: Bradamante shrewdly circumvents the invulnerability that Rodomonte's dragon skin armor gives him by hitting him with Astolpho's enchanted lance which sends an opponent to their knees without fail if they're struck.
  • Dark Reprise: To up the tension of Rodomonte's one-man massacre through Paris, Ariosto tells the story of how Grifone (one of Charlemagne's knights) did something similar against an entire city and succeeded in bringing it to heel.
  • Deceased Parents Are the Best: Ruggiero and Marfisa have some of these.
  • Decon-Recon Switch: Chivalry is hard to live up to, but even trying to do so is ultimately a good thing. Symbolically, the story ends with the honourable Ruggiero slaying the decadently dishonourable Rodomonte.
  • Decoy Protagonist: Orlando spends three months in a frenzied state whereupon more focus is lavished on Astolfo, Bradamante, Ruggiero, and the rival Saracen kings.
  • Defiled Forever: Discussed and deconstructed with both Angelica and Guinevere.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: The description of Angelica finally falling in love is filled with imagery of melting.
  • Demoted to Extra: Only half of the four Aymon brothers have prominent roles in Orlando Furioso.
  • The Determinator: Many characters going out looking for their beloved become this; Bradamante, Rinaldo and Fiordiligi in particular.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: Pretty much everybody who fell in love with Angelica, including the titular Orlando. After being romantically pursued by the world's greatest knights, the princess ends up falling in love with and marrying Medoro, a wounded mere foot-soldier. If it is any consolation to you - or Angelica - Medoro will become king in a later followup, La coronazione di Medoro.
  • Distaff Counterpart: Bradamante (a descendant of Hektor, the original wielder of Durandal) becomes this to Roland after she is maddened into believing that Ruggiero and Marfisa are having an affair. However, she is able to maintain a Mask of Sanity when she is interacting with others, only slipping into a berserk, suicidal rage when she is alone and on the hunt.
  • The Dog Bites Back: The gentle and noble paladin Grifon wages war against an entire city for unjustly imprisoning him and wins.
  • Drama-Preserving Handicap: Bradamante loses her hippogriff very early in the story, which makes her search for Ruggiero much, much harder than it otherwise would've been.
  • The Dulcinea Effect: Ruthlessly attacked with Angelica, especially her using the devoted Sacripante (picked because he was the knight she could most easily control) entirely for her own ends.
  • Easy Evangelism: Lots of Muslim and Pagan warriors, kings and cities convert to Christianity after getting defeated by one of the protagonists. It's not even forced either: they impute the enemy's victory to their superior religion and willingly abandon theirs.
  • Epiphanic Prison: Atlante creates one of these to protect Ruggiero by trapping him and every knight capable of killing him in a labyrinth where they endlessly chase after phantom visions of Angelica. They escape when the real Angelica accidentally dispels it with her Anti-Magic ring. The results are not pretty.
  • Everyone Can See It: Agramant's entire army AND their prisoners are convinced Ruggiero and Marfisa are a couple...turns out they're each other's long-lost twin.
  • Face–Heel Turn: Mandricardo and Gradasso start the story off as two antagonistic but noble Saracen kings who are willing to save an innocent princess from a giant monster just because they were passing through the area. Durandal soon drives a murderous wedge between the two and transforms them into villains in different ways.
  • Fallen Hero: The first act of the book showcases Orlando's nobility as he slays monsters, battles criminals, rescues maidens, and saves innocent people from execution. The second act has him fall very, very hard.
  • The Fool: Astolfo, constantly. He even managed to unintentionally save Bradamante and Ruggiero from the latter's controlling sorcerous uncle; so unintentionally that he didn't even know they were there and took Bradamante's hippogriff for his own and flew off, leaving his allies to take the much longer way home from the wreckage of the castle Astolfo destroyed.
  • Foolish Sibling, Responsible Sibling: The Sons of Aymon to their sister Bradamante.
  • General Ripper: Rodomonte is a Bad Boss who introduces himself in the story by leaving over 20,000 of his own men to burn to death so he can circumvent the walls of Charlemagne's fortress to challenge his rival king personally.
  • Gilded Cage: Atlante's tower for Ruggiero and Bradamante's own family home (which she desperately tries to avoid) for Bradamante.
  • God Save Us from the Queen!: After taking over the country that enslaved her, Marfisa eventually grew bored of all the responsibilities that come with being a ruler and proceeded to empty out the kingdom's treasury to fund her one-woman expedition into war-torn Spain, leaving her subjects to fend for themselves.
  • Half-Identical Twins: Bradamante and Ricardetto. The latter takes advantage of this to woo a princess who fell in love with his sister.
  • Heel Realization: After encountering a number of instances where those in power use their strength to oppress and enslave others, Marfisa gradually starts to realise that the Social Darwinist principles she lives by are both unsightly and unfair.
  • Hero Antagonist: Charlemagne's knights and their allies wind up fighting each other nearly as much as they do their actual enemies.
  • Honor Before Reason: Even after discovering that King Agramant is the son of man who killed his father, Ruggiero refuses to break ties with him (as he had sworn loyalty to his army to fast-track his path to becoming a knight) unless officially dismissed. It takes being abandoned by Agramant for Throwing the Fight against Rinaldo (Bradamante's brother) and then getting shipwrecked and marooned on an island (on his way to rejoin Agramant) for months with a holy hermit endlessly haranguing him for his life choices for him to decide that perhaps his vow has been fulfilled in spirit.
  • Ice Queen: Angelica, but it's not her fault (she drank from a magic spring).
  • If I Can't Have You…: When Bradamante thinks Ruggiero has left her, her plan swings between this and something along the lines of "I'll make him kill me and then he'll be sorry!" In the end, she can't bring herself to hurt him.
  • Infinity -1 Sword: Mandricardo steals Durandal from the berserk Orlando (who he wisely decides against confronting even with said weapon), giving him a gimped version of the invincibility Hektor's armour would have granted him if he had taken it from Orlando by force or won it from him in a duel. While the strengthening he does receive is enough to let him battle the equally quasi-invulnerable Rodomonte (who is himself empowered by the Arms of Nimrod) to a standstill, the fact that he's still very killable is how the rather normal Ruggiero manages to eke out a bloody victory against him.
  • Jousting Lance: Bradamante has a magic one which de-horses anybody.
  • Karma Houdini: Ricciardetto.
  • Kick the Dog: Stealing another person's horse is a fairly common tactic for villains to spite someone.
  • Knight Templar Parent: Atlante may be one of the few characters who isn't a knight, or actually a parent for that matter, but he still fits this trope by going to insane lengths to keep Ruggiero locked up for his own good, and even coming back from the dead to protect his charges.
  • Made a Slave: Marfisa's backstory.
  • Madness Makeover: Over the course of three months, the insane Orlando loses his Heroic Build and becomes an extremely sunburnt, skinny, and bedraggled shade of his former self.
  • Maligned Mixed Marriage: Bradamante and Ruggiero fall in love despite her being a Christian and him a Muslim, and they only marry after he converts to her religion. Even then their union is obstructed by Bradamante's parents.
  • Motive Decay: Mandricardo initially desires vengeance against Orlando for killing his father, but after realising that beating him in a fight is nigh-impossible, he instead steals his would-be rival's horse and sword, goes on a number of minor misadventures, and dies rather ingloriously against Ruggiero in a mostly unrelated skirmish for a horse Rodomonte stole from the latter.
  • Muggle in Mage Custody: Ruggiero is held captive by the sorceress Alcina on her magic island, in an obvious parallel to Odysseus and Circe.
  • Murder the Hypotenuse: Bradamante tries to do this to Marfisa, although the love triangle is mainly in her head... probably.
  • My Beloved Smother: Beatrice is this to Bradamante.
  • Named Weapons: The sword Durindana is only the most famous.
  • Nerf Arm: Astolfo's magical lance knocks down whoever it hits rather than skewer or slash them. This actually saves Marfisa's life as Bradamante forgets which weapon she's wielding as she charges at her, causing a blow that would have run her through the heart to simply unseat Marfisa from her horse instead.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Loads. Orlando's defection to pursue Angelica indirectly leads to his fellow Paladins Brandimart and Oliver getting imprisoned when they mount an expedition into Spain to find him. When Orlando goes insane, he ditched Durandal, which also indirectly causes the deaths of his friends Prince Zerbino and Princess Isabel. And that's just what he, the title protagonist, is responsible for.
  • No Social Skills: Marfisa.
  • One of the Boys: Marfisa, in marked contrast to Bradamante, who is much more frequently described in feminine terms.
  • The Only One Allowed to Defeat You: In the end, King Agramante has this attitude towards Roland. Not so much out of personal enmity or due to an intimate connection with him, but because with the departure of many of his best warriors (Rodomonte, Ruggiero, Marfisa, etc.), he's the only Saracen left who stands a chance against the grotesquely mighty paladin.
  • Our Orcs Are Different: Inverted. The work has traditional orcs, these being deadly sea monsters, rather than green-skinned brutes.
  • Pair the Spares: Leo may not get the girl but it's implied that Melissa is interested...
  • Pet the Dog: Fed up with having his attempts to protect Ruggiero met with scorn and ingratitude, Atlante washes his hands of the matter and entombs himself away from the mortal plane ala Merlin. However, his spirit returns to the land of the living to warn Ruggiero and Marfisa that they are twin siblings just as the sexual tension between them was about to bloom into full-blown incestuous intercourse.
  • Properly Paranoid: Subverted. Atlante wanted to protect Ruggiero from the dangerous life of a knight. Upon escaping him, Ruggiero does endure many insane and perilous situations (he is, at one point, almost pressured into having sex with his long-lost sister), but he manages to overcome them and become a hero in his own right.
  • Raised by Wolves: After the Death by Childbirth of their mother Galaciella, who was exiled in a boat and crashed on an island, Marfisa is suckled by a lioness (her twin brother Ruggiero was saved by the wizard Atalante).
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: Obviously. Marfisa, Rodomont, Sacripant, Gradass... (extend ad lib).
  • Samus Is a Girl: Bradamante does this to Fiordispina.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: The story begins (or continues) with Angelica running away after Charlemagne promises her as the prize to the knight who kills the most enemy soldiers.
  • Sea Monster: A number of them appear, but a most unfortunate one fights Orlando, who (finding it too tough to wound) drags it to shore so it can suffocate to death.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: After the battle of Biserta, Ruggiero takes issue with the poor treatment of the African kings the Christians have captured, and absconds with them so he can return them home. A sudden storm causes the ship they're sailing on the sink, leaving Ruggiero as the only survivor.
  • Shipper on Deck: Rinaldo's horse Baiardo for his master and Angelica.
  • Shout-Out: To The Aeneid which begins with I sing of arms and the man. Compare this with the first verse of Orlando Furioso, where the author sings of women, knights, arms, and love . As the author was certainly familiar with the Aeneid, this is no coincidence.
  • Sibling Yin-Yang: Honourable, Lovesick, and Idealistic Ruggiero. Self-serving, Celibate, and Cynical Marfisa.
  • So Beautiful, It's a Curse: With a side order of Cursed with Awesome in the previous work: Angelica, a pagan, comes to Charlemagne's court specifically to cause havoc with her beauty, and succeeds quite entertainingly — and all too well. By the time Ariosto takes up the story, she's lost her brother and been kidnapped for her beauty more times than you really want to think about — all she wants to do is get home and be done with it all.
  • Sore Loser: There is a certain etiquette to losing a duel in that the victor is allowed to demand their bested foe a certain item or task with the understanding that once the transaction is completed, the loser will be allowed to leave with their lives. Marfisa, who has won or stalemated every fight she's ever engaged in, does not take losing to Bradamante well and keeps trying to attack her only to be knocked down two more times.
  • Spell My Name With An S: Mostly due to the popularity everywhere in Europe. Mar(f/ph)i(s/z)(a/e) - pick any, same for Roland/Orlando, Renaud/Rinaldo etc. etc.
  • Spoof Aesop: In a story that might or might not have happened in-universe, Astolfo and his friend Giocondo are cheated on by their respective wives. Reluctant to punish their spouses, they instead elect to determine whether or not women are inclined to infidelity or if theirs are special cases that require correction. After seducing and bedding 1,000 married women and then getting cheated on by a woman they were both having sex with, they conclude that women are just as inclined towards promiscuity as men whereupon they forgive the indiscretions of their wives and allow them to continue.
  • Strong Family Resemblance: Bradamante can easily pass for any of her four brothers by cutting her hair and deepening her voice. The inverse also applies.
  • Super-Strength: Besides uprooting huge trees to use as clubs, the frenzied Orlando regularly punches any wild beasts who get in his way and once kicked an entire donkey over a mountain.
  • Super-Toughness: Orlando and Ferrau have invulnerable skin as hard as diamond, except in one location. Orlando in particular seems to wear armor only as a uniform, to make it clear to others that yes, he is a knight. Rodomont also counts - he wears a dragon hide.
  • Take a Third Option: Angelica picks neither Orlando nor Scarpescant (to name only her two most prominent knightly suitors), but Medoro, an obscure foot-soldier.
    • Forced to fight on King Leo's (who doesn't know his true identity) behalf after he rescued him from a Greek prison, Ruggiero is used as a stand-in champion to fight for Bradamante's hand in marriage on his master's behalf. Given the choice between fighting Bradamante (who is too in love with him to fight at her fullest and will be handed over to Leo if she loses) or dishonour himself by betraying his liberator, he opts to surrender and exiles himself to the wilds to starve himself to death.
  • Take That!: To cannons, complete with an Author Filibuster on the matter.
  • Talkative Loon: Orlando is still capable of speech when he goes insane, albeit only in lovelorn curses and nonsensical demands.
  • Together in Death: Zerbino and Isabel.
  • Tomboy: Marfisa.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Ruggiero goes from having to be constantly rescued by Bradamante to singlehandedly defeating the two main rivals of Roland (Mandricardo) and Charlemagne (Rodomonte).
  • Unrequited Love: Orlando.
  • Unrequited Love Switcheroo: Angelica was in love with Rinaldo, who did not reciprocate. Then they both drank from magic springs that made Angelica hate him and Rinaldo fall madly in love with her. Oh, the beauty of irony!
  • Ur-Example: Of the hippogriff.
  • Violently Protective Girlfriend: Bradamante.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Fiordespina. After her illicit romance with Richardet is discovered, he gets rescued from execution... and no-one mentions what happens to her. Even worse if you take The Song of Roland as canon, where her father Marsilius says he doesn't have any living children...
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Ruggiero finds Angelica Chained to a Rock, is reminded of his girlfriend, rescues her... and tries to rape her.
    • During the battle of Biserta, the Paladins lose control of their armies after they breach the city, leaving their soldiers free to plunder, rape, and kill with abandon.
  • What You Are in the Dark: Marfisa briefly muses that if she revealed her gender to the Amazons, they'd likely spare her life and let her leave their island. She ultimately decides to fight alongside Astolfo, Grifon, Aquillant, and Guido to free all their prisoners instead.
  • White Magician Girl: Melissa acts like this throughout the story, although a story Rinaldo hears indicates a darker side.
  • Wild Card: Marfisa, who battles champions from almost every major faction in the story as she's a Blood Knight who's primarily out and about to test her strength against the best warriors the various kingdoms have to offer.
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: Orlando gets dumped rather messily, having alienated everyone else he's close to for his girlfriend, and goes on a tearing-people-apart rampage.
  • World's Most Beautiful Woman: Angelica.
  • World's Strongest Man: Orlando.
  • You Killed My Father: In a rush to defy surrogate father Atlante and become a knight, Ruggiero signed on with the first king that would have a nobody like him in their elite ranks. That king was Agramant, whose predecessor Ruggiero learns later murdered his and Marfisa's birth father in cold blood. Unfortunately, his same vows prevent him from turning his sword against his Master and it's ultimately Orlando who brings Agramant to justice.