Orlando Furioso at 500

2016 sees the quincentenary of the publication of Ludovico Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso.

Orlando furioso

A best-selling tale ‘of ladies, knights, loves and arms’ (as the opening line declares), the Furioso offers playfully serious insights into the human condition in all its complexity. For its entertainment value, but also its keen perspectives on love, war, reason and madness, it has inspired innumerable poems, novels, operas, madrigals, paintings and even films. Between November 18 and 20, the University of Birmingham celebrated the long reach of Ariosto’s great poem from 16th-century Italy to Birmingham today.

The celebrations included a lunchtime concert, an ‘Afternoon Dialogue’, a rare books exhibition, and a further afternoon concert, each centring around the theme of love madness and celebrating the afterlives of Ariosto’s principal character, Orlando, who was so famously ‘driven mad for love’. From Cervantes and Shakespeare to Handel and Gustav Dorè, we sampled the breadth and range of Orlando’s legacy in European music, literature and art. Of special interest to the modern-day Birmingham audience was a talk by David Lodge about how his campus novel, Small World (1984), brought Orlando’s beloved, Angelica, to a University campus in the Midlands where she, like her Italian precursor, wreaked havoc on the lives and affections of her suitors and admirers.

All events were open to the public and free.

November 18

13:10 - 14:00: Lunchtime Concer, Barber Concert Hall

Professional baroque music ensemble, Musica Secreta, present a programme of music inspired by Ariosto's poem (watch the video of the concert).

  • Sopranos: Deborah Roberts and Katharine Hawnt
  • Viol: Alison Kindler
  • Harpsichord: Claire Williams

14:15 - 16:00: Afternoon Dialogue, Barber Lecture Theatre

Readings and presentations of Ariosto-inspired work from Cervantes and Shakespeare to Handel and Gustav Dorè precede a talk by David Lodge about how his satirical novel, Small World (1984), brought the Furioso’s Angelica to the (entirely) fictional University of Rummidge. Featuring:

16:15 - 17:30: Rare Books Display, Cadbury Research Library

A display of illustrated books by Ariosto, Cervantes and Shakespeare celebrating their shared 2016 anniversaries as well as their common interest in the themes of love and madness.

November 20

15:00: Afternoon Concert, Barber Concert Hall

The University of Bimingham’s Centre for Early Music Performance and Research and Early Modern Vocal Ensemble team up with Musica Secreta to present a programme of musical responses to Ariosto’s epoch-making poem.


Musica Secreta in concert at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts

Orlando and Othello: Deluded Heroes for the Modern Age (Dr Ita Mac Carthy)

Professor Laurie Stras on Handel's Orlando

Orlando Illustrated (Martin Killeen)

David Lodge on Orlando Furioso