The ambition of melancholy
: The aesthetics of heroism in the lyric poetry of Juan Boscán and Fernando de Herrera

  • Aislin Kearney

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Spanish appropriation of Petrarchan lyric in the sixteenth century was motivated by the desire to raise the cultural status of Spain to match that of its imperial presence on the world’s stage. As this thesis will argue, ‘melancholic heroism’, an attitude that was central to the construction of the Spanish Petrarchan male subject, extended beyond the private to embody the principles of boundary transgression that underpinned the imperial project. The current project offers an analysis of the developing aesthetic of melancholic heroism in Spanish Renaissance lyric poetry.

I consider the critical and creative work of two major writers, positioned at either end of the Renaissance movement, Juan Boscán (c. 1487-1542) and Fernando de Herrera (1534-1597). I examine Boscán’s disputed adoption of the Italianate aesthetic and his ambition to establish Spain as a centre for poetic practice that would parallel its rise to hegemonic power. With the use of Todorov’s theory of narrative progression, I explore how Boscán’s sonnet corpus facilitates a journeying motif that forges a new path for Spanish poetics that is both emulative of and distinct from the original Petrarchan pathway. In Boscán’s most ambitious piece, his mythological fable on Hero and Leander, I explore how his engagement with ancient models through a diglossic framework leads to a successful negotiation of topics of a morally challenging nature for the Renaissance reader. Moving towards the end of the century, I re-examine Fernando de Herrera’s role in the elevation of Spanish letters in a moment of perceived complacency and creative stasis, both drawing on the model of Garcilaso de la Vega but also reformulating a previous lyric subjectivity which incorporates a melancholic consciousness of the weaknesses of imperialism.
Date of AwardJul 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SponsorsNorthern Ireland Department for the Economy
SupervisorIsabel Torres (Supervisor) & Anne Holloway (Supervisor)


  • Spain
  • Spanish
  • lyric poetry
  • Juan Boscán
  • Fernando de Herrera
  • Petrarchism
  • melancholy
  • Golden Age
  • Renaissance

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