The Tuscan Strambotto*


Basic features & history of the verse form:
Number of lines 8
Structure / divisions A sestet followed by a couplet
Rhyme scheme ababab / cc
Meter Often iambic pentameter
Refrain line or lines No
Time / place of origin 14th or 15th-century Tuscany (this version of the strambotto evolved from the earlier Sicilian form)
Medieval / Renaissance poets
  associated with this form
Benedetto "Il Chariteo" Gareth, Serafino Aquilano, Sir Thomas Wyatt
Examples written in English
  by or before —
16th century (Wyatt)


An example of a Tuscan strambotto:

The Fruit of All the Service That I Serve
by Sir Thomas Wyatt (1503-1542)

      1  (a)  The fruit of all the service that I serve
      2  (b)  Despair doth reap, such hapless hap have I.
      3  (a)  But though he have no power to make me swerve,
      4  (b)  Yet, by the fire, for cold I feel I die.
      5  (a)  In paradise, for hunger still I sterve;
      6  (b)  And, in the flood, for thirst to death I dry.
      7  (c)  So Tantalus am I, and in worse pain
      8  (c)  Amids my help, and helpless doth remain.


* This form is sometimes also called ottava rima or ottava Toscana. Scholars differ in their descriptions of the strambotto, in part because the form itself seems to have changed over time. Ernest H. Wilkins states emphatically that "the only normal type of the strambotto" is the earlier, Sicilian form, which has an abababab rhyme scheme and which is usually written in hendecasylabic lines. However, Patricia Thomson and Joseph Fucilla also use "strambotto" for the later, Tuscan variant of the form, which has a rhyme scheme of abababcc. To make matters more confusing, many sources call the eight-line form with this abababcc rhyme scheme "ottava rima," although Thomson avers that ottava rima and the Tuscan variant of the strombotto are different forms with different origins. For more details on these scholars' views of the strambotto, see Wilkins' The Derivation of the Canzone, Modern Philology, v. 12, No. 9 (March 915), 527-558;Thompson's Wyatt and the School of Serafino, Comparative Literature, v. 13, no. 4 (Autumn, 1961), 289-315; and Fucilla's A Rhetorical Pattern in Renaissance and Baroque Poetry, Studies in the Renaissance, v. 3 (1956), 23-48.


A Brief Guide to Some Medieval and Renaissance Verse Forms

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Table and its contents and notes copyright 2004 by Jennifer M. Tom    ( Jennifer Monroe Franson )