Francesca's Style in Canto V of Dante's Inferno Essay

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Francesca's Style in Canto V of Dante's Inferno

Canto V of Dante's Inferno begins and ends with confession. The frightening image of Minos who «confesses» the damned sinners and then hurls them down to their eternal punishment contrasts with the almost familial image of Francesca and Dante, who confess to one another. In a real sense confession seems to be defective or inadequate in Hell. The huddled masses who declare their sins to Minos do so because they are compelled to declare or make manifest in speech the character of their offenses and although they confess everything (each soul «tutta si confessa», v. 8) it is not an admission of guilt prompted by true contrition or the timely desire to reform their lives. In Hell
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Dante structures the Commedia in such a way as to enable the pilgrim to function as a progressively more sophisticated reader of confessional texts throughout his journey, and as such he becomes a reflection of our own possibilities as interpreters of these canti. Our initial attempts at interpreting the equivocal texts provided by the sinners are fitful, inadequate, and constantly in need of later correction and reassessment, thus reflecting the pilgrim's own progress. In the reading and re-reading, these confessional passages and canti define themselves as exercises in humility: as understanding becomes the product of a series of misreadings and revisions of the text. In the case of Francesca we have a confession that is more a literary rationale for her offense than an admission of individual culpability, for Francesca seeks to use the language of dolce stil novo poetry as a kind of cloaking device to hide herself as the historical agent or subject who bears responsibility for her
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