Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Italian


  • Passionate about the Italian language?
  • Know your Dante from your Pirandello and your Carducci?
  • Are you looking to consolidate your knowledge and learning into a terminal qualification?

The Warnborough College PhD programme considers some of the major literary figures who represent important milestones in the history of Italian Literature. Towering over all of them, of course, is Dante Alighieri, the father of the Italian language. While reflecting aspects of their times, the others, like all truly great writers, also transcend their historical context and deal with the universal themes and truths which touch all men of all ages.

The PhD in Italian is useful for those who want to have a professional career in Italian literature. This includes university lecturers, teachers, academics, scholars, journalists, etc.

The Warnborough PhD in Italian is also ideal for someone who would like to codify their linguistic skills into a terminal qualification. It is possible to move into many fields, including: interpreting, diplomacy, international corporate work etc. However this is useful for anyone who would like to work in Italy or in any occupation that requires Itlaian. The possibilities are endless!

To be able to do this PhD research programme, students are required to have a MA in Italian.

The modules given below should be regarded as guidelines, since the College does not exclude viable alternative themes proposed by students, subject to mentor and College approval. Individual modules may either be combined with those from other programmes, or transferred to courses in other institutions.

Warnborough College offers a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) Degree in Italian by distance learning, divided into the ten modules listed below.

Students should submit any six papers (of between 7,000 to 8,000 words each) from the following topics. Students do have the option of suggesting other acceptable topics, subject to the approval of the mentor and the College. Each of these papers will be worth 20 ECTS credits.

Students are required to submit a dissertation (of between 20,000 to 25,000 words, worth 40 credits), on any topic, subject to the mentor’s approval:

   1.      St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226)

One of the best loved saints, he founded the three Franciscan Orders. In his most famous work, Il Cantico delle Creature, one of the earliest examples of Italian Literature, he praises the Creator through His creatures (water, fire and even death).

   2.      Dante’s predecessors

Among these, mention should be made of the thirteenth-century Scuola poetica siciliana, which drew inspiration from Provençal poetry (with its theme of courtly love) and, in its turn, influenced the poets of Tuscany. The latter would be surpassed by the Florentine poets of the Dolce stil novo, whose innovative impact, both in terms of style and content, was acknowledged by Dante.

   3.      Dante Alighieri (1265-1321)

The greatest Italian poet, the father of the Italian language, a giant of world literature and the most outstanding philosophic poet of all time, whose masterpiece, the Divine Comedy, based on the theology of St. Thomas Aquinas, has been regarded as encapsulating the essence of medieval civilization, both in doctrinal and poetic terms.

   4.      Petrarch, Boccaccio

Francesco Petrarca (1304-1374), the greatest Italian lyric poet who, in his Canzoniere, his most important work, recounted the story of his love for Laura, with stylistic refinement and psychological insight. Petrarchism was to have a widespread impact in the sixteenth century, in France, England and Spain, while, in an Italian context, together with Dante’s Divine Comedy, Petrarch’s Canzoniere was to exert an enormous influence on the Italian poetic tradition.

It could be said that the Decameron of Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375) had an analogous importance for the Italian prose tradition, as well as enjoying a Europe-wide success.

   5.      Poliziano, Lorenzo de’ Medici

In the fifteenth century, the decision by Poliziano (1454-1494) to write his poetic masterpiece, Stanze per la giostra, in Italian, rather than Latin, not only helped to consolidate the use and prestige of il volgare, the Italian vernacular, but constituted an endorsement of the new literary conventions and their fusion with the classical tradition.

Poliziano’s patron, Lorenzo de’Medici (1449-1492), dubbed il Magnifico, is emblematic of the Florentine Humanism of the second half of the 1400s through the multifaceted nature, in both psychological and artistic terms, of his literary works. The verses of the poets of the Laurentian circle — and including Lorenzo’s own works — represent a vigorous blossoming of Italian vernacular poetry. Lorenzo de’ Medici, in his commentary on many of his poetic compositions, vigorously defended the use of the Italian language as a means of literary expression.

   6.      Ariosto, Tasso

The epic poem, L’Orlando Furioso, by Lodovico Ariosto (1474-1533), was not only extraordinarily successful, being widely translated, but it captured the ethos of the Renaissance, with its fusion of very diverse sources and its combination of imagination and realism, as the characters, both Christian and Saracen, are never completely good or bad. Linguistically, this work, in its final version, revised according to Florentine usage, helped to establish Tuscan also in Northern Italy.

Another epic poem, La Gerusalemme Liberata, by Torquato Tasso (1544-1595), reflects the clash between Renaissance Naturalism and the mysticism of the Counter-Reformation, as well as foreshadowing aspects of the seventeenth-century Baroque.

   7.      Foscolo, Manzoni, Leopardi

The poet, Ugo Foscolo (1778-1827), without adhering to Romanticism, nevertheless anticipated its concern with historicity, which can be traced back to Vico, and ushered in the age of patriotic literature, so important to the Risorgimento.

Alessandro Manzoni (1785-1873), the most important of the Italian Romantics and a great patriot, was concerned that a unified Italy should have a national language. Through his Tuscanization of his masterpiece, the historical novel I promessi sposi — it has been described as the Italian equivalent of War and Peace — he helped to consolidate the pre-eminence of the Tuscan dialect. Furthermore, the novel, with its aim of reaching as wide a public as possible and its resolution of the rift between the written and spoken languages, marks the beginning of modern Italian prose.

Giacomo Leopardi (1798-1837), the greatest nineteenth-century Italian poet, whose Romantic themes were presented in a Classical style, could be said to constitute, through his all-pervading materialistic pessimism — his early ideals of glory, love and patriotism all come to nothing — the crisis or negation of the Romantic ideals of Foscolo and Manzoni. Leopardi also appears to anticipate the reaction against positivism, partly occasioned by the latter’s unfulfilled expectations.

   8.      Carducci, Pascoli, D’Annunzio

The greatest Italian poet of the second half of the nineteenth century, Giosuè Carducci (1835-1907), Professor of Italian Literature at the College of Bologna and winner of the 1906 Nobel Prize for Literature, in reacting against the excesses of the second generation of Romantic poets (Prati, Aleardi), advocated a Classical style, a return to Italy’s great literary tradition and, drawing inspiration from the virtues of Ancient Greece and Rome, a strong patriotic and civic commitment. Nevertheless, influenced by Victor Hugo, Goethe and Heine, his poetry does also reflect elements of pessimistic and elegiac Romanticism, while his concern with the beauties of Nature will have an impact on Pascoli and D’Annunzio.

In fact, Giovanni Pascoli (1855-1912) went so far as to view life in terms of the Rousseauesque clash between evil Society and beneficent Nature. His deep love of the latter — referred to as “madre dolcissima”, no longer the cruel and insensitive “natura matrigna” of Leopardi — finds expression in his pantheistic vision, which is reminiscent of a Franciscan perspective in his interest in humble creatures and things.
The prolific literary production of Gabriele D’Annunzio (1863-1915), regarded as the most representative exponent of Decadentism in Italy, is far removed from the gentle mystical quality of Pascoli’s profound love of Nature. In D’Annunzio’s poetic masterpiece, Alcyone, free from political considerations and the Nietzschean myth of the superman, there is the purely sensual delight in all the varied sights, sounds and atmosphere of a Tuscan summer.

   9.      Pirandello

Luigi Pirandello (1867-1936), winner of the 1934 Nobel Prize for Literature, renowned above all as a playwright, was one of the most important literary figures of the twentieth century at an international level. He contributed a great deal both to the establishment of the modern novel and to far-reaching theatrical innovations. He was also fully aware of the identity crisis felt by twentieth-century man.

One of the most important leitmotifs of his work is the relativity and subjectivity of all our thoughts and actions. It could be said that, in effect, Pirandello was making a plea for the mutual respect and tolerance which are essential for peaceful coexistence.

  10.     Dissertation

Of 15,000 words, on any topic, subject to the mentor’s approval.