What is Orlando Furioso?

Orlando Furioso is a 16th century epic poem written by Ludovico Ariosto. The poem is over 38,000 lines long and has a complex story that explores love, war, and chivalry, and challenges many medieval stereotypes, including those of women, race, and religion. The title of the poem translates to “The Madness of Orlando,” but Orlando is only one of a large cast of characters whose stories intersect in interesting and often unexpected ways. Many times in the poem the reader is forced to reevaluate their understanding as a story told from one point of view turns out to be very different when seen from another perspective.

The plot of the poem centers on the story of Orlando and Angelica: Orlando, a paladin of Emperor Charlemagne, is madly in love with Angelica, a princess from Cathay. Angelica, not interested in being given away as a prize, daringly runs away and has numerous adventures as she travels the world trying to escape Orlando. She eventually runs into a wounded knight, with whom she falls in love. When Orlando discovers their love he goes into a berserk rage and destroys everything in his path until his friend Astolfo flies to the moon on a hippogriff, recovers Orlando’s wits and restores him to sanity. A secondary plot line tells the story of Bradamante, a female knight, and Ruggiero and their illicit interfaith love. Throughout the poem Angelica and Bradamante encounter sorceresses, a wizard, orcs and numerous challenges they must overcome, often with the help of others.

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