Torquato Tasso was born in Sorrento in the Kingdom of Naples to a noble Italian family. His father Bernardo Tasso was a courtier for many years in the service of the Prince of Salerno. He was thrown into poverty and exile when his patron ran afoul of the Spanish authorities. The boy lived with his mother and his only sister in Naples and was educated by Jesuits. After his father's fall, he joined him in Rome. In 1557, Bernardo Tasso was offered a place at the court of Urbino. Young Tasso grew up among the cultivated, literary men who gathered there and became a companion of Francesco Maria della Rovere, the duke of Urbino's heir. He was subsequently sent to study law at Padua but spent most of his time on philosophy and poetry. Before the end of 1562, he had produced Rinaldo, a narrative poem. After a short period of further study at Bologna, he entered the service of Cardinal Luigi d'Este at the court of Duke Alfonso II d’Este of the powerful city state of Ferrara. As a young, handsome, accomplished, and well-bred gentleman, Torquato Tasso was much admired. He completed an influential play with music, Aminta, in 1573 (printed 1581) and his masterpiece, the epic poem Gerusalemme Liberata, in 1574. During the years 1575-1577, Tasso's mental health declined, and he developed the persecution mania that led to stories about a restless, moody, half-mad writer with violent outbursts that have come down in history. Bad behavior got him confined to the St. Anna madhouse in Ferrara, where he lived until 1586. From there, he corresponded with princes and men of learning throughout Italy and wrote prose works on philosophical and ethical themes. Tasso left St. Anna's at the intervention of Vincenzo Gonzaga, Prince of Mantua. Beginning in the autumn of 1587, he travelled restlessly between Mantua, Bologna, Naples, Florence, and Rome, where the pope granted him a pension and promised to make him poet laureate.
His health grew worse, and he died at age 51.