The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms - Ross Murfin 2018


Baroque: From the Portuguese barroco for “rough pearl,” a term originally used by art historians to malign a style in architecture and art that flourished throughout Europe from about 1600 to 1750, between the Renaissance and Rococo periods. The term is now used in a more neutral manner to refer to a flamboyant style characterized by energy, movement, and the heavy use of the diagonal. Baroque works inject more picturesque, unusual, “wild,” or even grotesque elements into the order and balance of Renaissance aesthetics to create formal tension and a kind of counterpoint between disquiet and composure. After its original application to art and architecture, baroque came to be applied to musical works, such as the preludes and fugues of German composer Johann Sebastian Bach.

As a literary term, baroque is less common, but it has been used to refer to a period of seventeenth-century post-Renaissance literature as well as to any writing characterized by a consciously elaborate, ornate, and dramatic style. Conceits are generally considered baroque, as is much of the writing of the metaphysical poets. Most critics regard the work of poets such as Giambattista Marino, Luis de Gongora, and Richard Crashaw (all of whom wrote elaborate, ornate, even fantastic conceits) as baroque. Some would argue that the most elaborately Latinate, allusive, imaginative, and metaphorical passages of John Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667) are baroque in style.

FURTHER EXAMPLES: Baroque qualities abound in Crashaw’s poem “The Weeper” (1646), in which a speaker addresses the following lines to Mary Magdalene (who washed Christ’s feet with her tears and her hair):

When some new bright guest

Takes up among the Stars a Roome,

And Heav’n will make a feast

Angells with Chrystall Vyalls come,

And draw from these full eyes of thine,

Their master’s Water; their owne wine.