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Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, Vol. 42, 2002

Politics and shifting desire in Sidney's New Arcadia

by Benjamin Scott Grossberg

Sir Philip Sidney's shepherd Claius articulates a wider ideal than he realizes when he asks his friend and erstwhile rival Strephon: "'Hath in any but in her, love-fellowship maintained friendship between rivals, and beauty taught the beholders chastity?'" By "'her,'" Claius refers to Urania, the virtuous shepherdess who is the object of his and Strephon's "'love-fellowship.'" The significance of the two shepherds and Urania is one of the mysteries of the New Arcadia. In terms of their dramatic function, the shepherds serve to guide Musidorus through the opening scenes. But as the first draft of the Arcadia suggests, these scenes are not crucial to Sidney's dramatic arc. The Arcadian characters, then, must serve a critical function thematically. But what is that thematic function? Their place in the text gives them prominence, as does the nature of their roles--essentially outside all dramatic action. They belong to almost another genre, a purer pastoral, rather than the hybrid text--romance, epic, drama, an d pastoral--in which Sidney works. If nothing else, they seem represented less through irony than other characters; their ideal of beauty, Urania, is a purer ideal, one the reader might take more seriously.

Claius's question about "'love-fellowship,'" rivalry, and chastity points to two related aspects of male-male interaction apparent in any patriarchal environment. Bonds are characterized by violence and the constant threat of violence; and bonds are also characterized by a desire which is almost indistinguishable from the erotic in its primacy, passion, and articulation. Claius's formulation acknowledges the former when he identifies his companion Strephon and himself as "'rivals,'" and the latter when he describes their friendship as maintained by "'love-fellowship,'" invoking just the kind of erotic triangle Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick has identified with male-male desire. (2) Claius also notes that "'beauty,'" the figure of the shepherdess Urania, has "'taught the beholders chastity.'" Urania's virginity instructs her devotees, who become similarly chaste in controlling their desires. Their actively sexual desire is subjugated to the nonsexual demands of loving her, and their desire for each other, the idealize d homoeroticism suggestive of Elizabethan male friendship, is also subjugated to her because it is expressed through her. (3) Sexual desire is repressed; patriarchal desire, which might exclude her, is rerouted. What Claius calls chastity, we might call containment. His description of loving Urania echoes the ideal functioning of the Elizabethan court. (4)

The shepherds are also "'chaste'" in restraining violence. They have "'friendship between rivals.'" This restraint is especially important in terms of Elizabethan politics. The need for Elizabeth to contain male-male violence was dire due to the constant possibility that such violence might move beyond her control. Her courtiers might attempt to kill each other, as was threatened in the rivalry between Sidney and the earl of Oxford, which compelled Elizabeth to write Sidney a chastising letter in order to stem a duel. The escalation of such feuds might also lead to factional violence, to courtiers keeping retainers, forces of their own that could potentially threaten the realm. (5) An equally dangerous possibility was that her courtiers might become involved in violence outside the kingdom. Such involvement could embroil England in foreign struggles, such as the rebellion by the Protestant Netherlands against Catholic Spanish rule. The dynamics fostered by Elizabeth's chivalric revival served to redirect vio lence toward safer avenues, functioning as both an outlet for masculine physical aggression and as a contained way to compete for power, to present a suit to queen and public. (6)

Previous readers have recognized representations of Elizabethan politics and Elizabeth herself throughout the New Arcadia. (7) But in most cases these readings have been confined to specific characters and specific situations, a one-to-one correspondence with historical persons or events. The introduction of Strephon and Claius indicates a broader design, one which requires Sidney to introduce the theme of a courtier ideal in the opening pages, in characters who leave the dramatic action for good after playing a central role in the initial episodes. Sidney introduces an ideal and then leaves it alone so that the ensuing dramatic action cannot sully it, so that it informs our experience of all the text that follows, a kind of shadow narrative or frame. My study of Sidney's New Arcadia traces the characterization of this frame, especially the prominence of homoerotic desire for the two shepherds and how such desire becomes the primary animating force for the dynamics of the opening motions of Sidney's text, wh at I shall call Urania's Arcadia. I also explore a shift in desire, a movement from the ideal to the real, from triangulated eroticism and contained violence to a much more recognizably messy sexual and political situation. This shift is evidenced primarily through the material Sidney added to the first draft of his text, the new characters and inset narratives of the New Arcadia. These revisions taken together, the opening frame and the inset narratives, move the reader more fully toward a political reading.

My concerns, finally, are twofold: I wish to explore how the New Arcadia characterizes male-male desire and to trace a political animus in the arc of the text as Sidney left it. Sidney uses an idealized Arcadia to dramatize how both the homoerotic bonds and the potential violence of patriarchy were supposed to be contained in the Elizabethan adaptation of chivalry. He then evolves that Arcadia into a situation more closely resembling the real. Exposed to the realities of conflicting desire and a fallible queen figure, the state proves unable to contain male-male relations and erupts into civil war.


There are three mentions of Urania and her shepherds in the New Arcadia, two of which are substantial: their central role in the opening chapters: the poem about them in the first eclogue, added to the 1593 version of the Arcadia by the countess of Pembroke; and the brief mention during Phalantus's triumph, in which the shepherd Lalus hopes to defend Urania but is not allowed to do so. In her study "Sidney's Urania," Katherine Duncan-Jones speculates a fourth mention. Through a reading of their "devices," she suggests that the two anonymous knights who aid Musidorus in the battles of book 3 may be Strephon and Claius. (8) Duncan-Jones acknowledges that this reading is only possible if the shepherds are really gentlemen in disguise. In their contemplation of the heavens, the shepherds seem more like scholars than gentlemen, but perhaps Duncan-Jones's idea is satisfying; if nothing else, she posits a consistent use for these characters--Musidorus's unseen allies. But in the absence of further evidence, the sce nes opening the New Arcadia seem to be singular in the use of the shepherds. This only furthers confusion about their importance. Why give them such prominence if they never return?

Urania, classical muse of astronomy, has a long history as a figure of celestial knowledge and the desire for learning. In Plato's Symposium, Pausanias describes Urania as a goddess of love that has no part in the female; she is descended from the male only, and therefore followers of Urania pursue only male-male desire. (9) Uranian love is informed by temperateness and reason, a love of the soul, as opposed to earthly or common love, which is indiscriminate and of the body. Throughout the Renaissance, Urania was further associated with poetry and contemplation of the transcendent, that which is inspired by heaven. Beginning in Salluste du Bartas's Uranie, and most famously in Milton's Paradise Lost, Urania becomes a figure of specifically Christian inspiration hailed as superior to the Greek figuration of her, a turn on the Greek tradition of invoking the muses. Urania takes on the resonance of Christian rather than pagan theology. (10)

Sidney's use of Urania is consonant with much of this history. Although his Urania is not an explicitly Christian figure, she does serve both as a spur to heavenly contemplation and as a homoerotic conduit, reinforced by the location in Arcadia. (11) Her and the shepherds' importance may be linked to these dynamics. Duncan-Jones notes that in the Old Arcadia Claius describes the shepherdess as "of farr greate byrthe," perhaps indicating that she is a goddess. Urania is "Venus Urania, a type of the Heavenly Beauty which inspires Heavenly Love...She is consistently described in the Neoplatonic terms of outward beauty but faintly reflecting inner virtue." (12) "Heavenly Beauty" allows for a very specific interaction; Urania deflects eroticism aimed at herself but provides a means for eroticized exchange between the two shepherds.

This erotic triangulation is evident in Strephon's description of the shepherds' last encounter with Urania. They participate as much with each other as they do with her. The shepherds are walking together, by the shore, when Urania first approaches on horseback. Strephon reminds Claius: "'I saw reverence and desire so divide thee that thou didst at one instant both blush and quake, and instead of bearing her wert ready to fall down thyself" (p. 62). Note the role of Strephon watching. It is not just the sensual experience of Urania approaching in which he takes part, but the sensual experience of his friend's reaction to Urania, his "'blush and quake."' The role of watching may be especially crucial in the New Arcadia, in which seeing often substitutes for sexual participation, enactments of Miso's Cupid, a "thousand eyes, / Some gazing still, some winking wily shifts" (p. 309). (13) There is no reason the act of watching should be understood differently in a homoerotic context.

The role of Urania as a site for male-male desire is especially strong in a poem added to the first eclogues that describes a game of barley-brake, roughly equivalent to our own red rover. In this poem, the virginal nature of Urania is suggested emblematically. She chases a sparrow that she eventually binds in an "ivory cage": "How rosy moist'ned lips about his beak / Moving, she seem'd at once to kiss, and speak" (p. 200). The sparrow, traditionally associated with loose sexuality, is chastened, but happy to be. Urania is a paradox. She is sensual; she elicits desire. Her red lips caress the phallic white beak. But she is not in herself sexual. She "binds" the bird in a virginal cage (p. 200). This paradox informs her interaction with the shepherds. She elicits desire she will not satisfy, thus their constant disappointment. In the eclogue, the game of barley-brake proceeds until Claius, who has been watching Strephon play, runs in and disrupts it. The point of barley-brake is to hold or "tackle" a player, to keep that player from running to his/her base. In this episode, it is Urania who runs and Strephon who attempts the tackle. But spectator Claius runs in medics, in order to "protect" Urania. Both shepherds end up embracing her, Claius carefully from the front, Strephon from behind:

[Claius] met her full, but full of warefulness,

With inbowed bosom well for her prepar'd,

When Strephon cursing his own backwardness,

Came to her back, and so with double ward

Imprison her who both them did possess.

(p. 208)

The shepherds stand face to face with only Urania between them. From there, the dual embrace becomes even more sexual:

With how sweet saws she blam'd their sauciness;

To feel the panting heart, which through her side,

Did beat their hands, which durst so near to press.

(p. 208)

Strephon and Claius have become one participant. They have one "sauciness"; their hands are considered together. Erotic union with Urania is, in effect, erotic union with each other. (14)

The poem also suggests how Urania serves to deflect the potential for violence or rivalry between the shepherds. Claius's desire to displace Strephon and break up the orderly game is contained in Urania, just as she is literally contained between them. She is kept prisoner by their competition, and yet she also channels that competition through her, stopping their aggression from causing physical harm or spreading beyond themselves. It is a telling figure of containment: who, after all, is holding whom? The poem acknowledges this doubleness: "Imprison her who both them did possess." Urania's ability to deflect violence also comes up later, when Claius discusses her role in bettering the shepherds. Claius asks: '"Hath not the only love of her made us, being silly ignorant shepherds, raise up our thoughts above the ordinary level of the world, so as great clerks do not disdain our conference?"' (p. 63). She is a force for education, a particularly male endeavor for the Elizabethans, echoing the classical tradi tion of the Uranian muse. Her role as homoerotic conduit is also further emphasized: '"Hath not she thrown reason upon our desires and, as it were, given eyes unto Cupid? Hath in any but in her, love-fellowship maintained friendship between rivals, and beauty taught the beholders chastity?"' (p. 64). The move toward "'reason"' especially echoes the Symposium. Plato's Pausanias recalls classical ideals when he aligns earthly love with excessive passion, a lack of self-control, and either a male or female beloved. Venus Urania, on the other hand, a conduit for only male-male desire, fosters intelligence and "'reason."' She further allows men to maintain friendship, disarming the potential violence of competition.

Given her initial prominence and the dynamics she encourages, I take Sidney's Urania as a figure for Queen Elizabeth. The shepherds' interaction under her influence offers a ready parallel to the myth of the Petrarchan beloved that Elizabeth used to such good advantage. Like the Elizabethan myth, Urania is a bridge for homoerotic contact; she creates a stable court, a space in which her influence orders male-male relations. The New Arcadia opens with Strephon telling Claius how "'remembrance"' reprimanded them for their long absence from Urania: "Did it not still cry within us 'Ah, you base-minded wretches, are your thoughts so deeply bemired in the trade of ordinary worldlings, as for respect of gain some paltry wool may yield you, to let so much time pass without knowing perfectly her estate, especially in so troublesome a season: to leave that shore unsaluted from whence you may see to the island where she dwelleth; to leave those steps unkissed wherein Urania printed the farewell of all beauty?"' (pp. 61 -2). Such advice might be appropriate for any Elizabethan noble more interested in tending his flock than attending court, but it is especially tempting to see the new opening as an appeal by Sidney directly to Elizabeth in the figure of Urania. If Sidney intended the revised Arcadia to have a currency wider than the first draft, this passage might have functioned as an indirect apology to his sovereign for extended absences in the years immediately preceding the revision of the text, and for his repeated excuses to remain at Wilton or on the Continent. (15) The shepherds discuss Urania, a poor shepherdess, in language that resonates with monarchy. For example, the site where they last saw her "'doth call [their] thoughts to appear at the court of affection, held by that racking steward remembrance"' (p. 62). Urania has a sun-staining excellency"' which can be better apprehended "'by her works upon some meaner subject employed'" (p. 63). If the dynamics Urania fosters did not suggest a parallel with Elizabeth , Sidney's language, words such as "'court,", '"steward,"' "'excellency,"' and "'subject,'" and the insistence on the shepherdess's virginity, surely would have.

The remainder of the opening, until Pyrocles disappears from Kalander's estate, occurs under the star of Urania, in her Arcadia. Male-male desire colors most of the interaction in this world. No female characters appear in book 1 until Parthenia enters about a third of the way through. Kalander, whose name denotes "beautiful man," is no longer married. The result is that there is no female to confuse the dynamics of the Arcadians and their shepherdess, or of the male Arcadians with each other. These dynamics also characterize the interactions involving the two princes. For example, the rescue of Musidorus and the attempted rescue of Pyrocles are both described in terms of homoerotic desire. Musidorus, like Pyrocles, is discovered naked: "So drew they up a young man of so goodly shape and well-pleasing favour that one would think death had in him a lovely countenance, and that, though he were naked, nakedness was to him an apparel. That sight increased their compassion. . . they laid him upon some. of their g arments and fell to rub and chafe him... At length opening his eyes, he gave a great groan" (p. 641). The two shepherds pause to admire Musidorus in his nakedness. His beauty provides greater impetus to care for him. Furthermore, there is something erotic in "rub[bing] and chaf[ing]" the naked prince, even down to his terminal "groan," a word as loaded with sexual connotations for the early moderns as for us. The rescue of Pyrocles is also eroticized. Bruce Smith notes that during the encounter at sea in which the shepherds and Musidorus spot a strange figure adrift on a wrecked mast, Sidney is coy, withholding the gender of the object from the reader, just as it is withheld from those sailing with the shepherds. (16) Just as the sailors are fascinated by this androgynous, long haired, naked figure, just as they enjoy a moment of gender confusion, the reader does as well. In this "distinctly sexual atmosphere," (17) it is easy to hear a sexual subtext in Musidorus's lament over Pyrocles' capture by pirates: " 'Shall those victorious hands of thine be commanded to base offices? Shall virtue become a slave to those that be slaves to viciousness?"' (p. 67). (18)

Pyrocles and Musidorus's reunion takes place in this context. If the New Arcadia is understood as a quest for lovers to come together, it should be noted that the text begins with the consummation of such a quest, but on a smaller scale--Musidorus's quest to find Pyrocles. Their reunion manifests both the passionate male-male desire characteristic of Urania's Arcadia and an equally passionate physical violence, the heroic correspondent to the rivalry of Strephon and Claius. Such a bond may have suggested another Elizabethan ideal of friendship, a pair of idealized warriors, what Smith calls the "Myth of Combatants and Comrades." Smith characterizes these warriors as guided by the "conflicting imperatives . . . 'fight this man' and 'love this man."' (19) There is equal temptation to love and to violence.

Pyrocles and Musidorus are just such friends as evidenced by their encounter on the Laconian battlefield. The princes are disguised by their armor, unaware of each other's identity, fighting on opposite sides. Yet each is attracted by the other's valor. The language of this attraction suggests conflicted desire: "the captain of the Helots . . . saw that he [Musidorus] alone was worth all the rest of the Arcadians: which he so wondered at, that it was hard to say whether he more liked his doings, or misliked the effects of his doings. But . . . disdaining to fight with any other, sought only to join with him" (p. 98). The last phrase especially echoes erotically. The battle between them ensues with its "delightful terribleness" (p. 98). At first, they pursue each other with swords, in an image of aggressive sexuality: "till both sides beginning to wax faint, and rather desirous to die accompanied than hopeful to live victorious, the captain of the Helots with a blow whose violence grew of fury not of strength . . . struck Palladius" (p. 98). The heroes "wax faint": they are "desirous to die accompanied." But just when their aggressive sexuality seems about to climax, Pyrocles' blow "astonishes" Musidorus and knocks his helmet off, both making him vulnerable and identifying him to his heroic friend (p. 98). Sidney is being coy here as well. Like Musidorus, we do not realize it is Pyrocles he is fighting. We, too, are invited to wonder about, and thrill to, this anonymous combatant. In the continuation of the fight, the combatants turn from aggressive stances to "yielding" stances with close symmetry: "[Musidorus's] helmet fell off, he remaining bare-headed, but other of the Arcadians were ready to shield him from any harm might rise of that nakedness. But little needed it, for his chief enemy, instead of pursuing that advantage, kneeled down, offering to deliver the pommel of his sword in token of yielding" (p. 98). Musidorus's exposed head immediately becomes "nakedness," and the rest of the soldiers "shield" him . The moment has come for penetration, for the consummation that would be death: but Pyrocles, recognizing his friend, turns his sword away and "yields" himself--thereby also becoming an image of female sexuality. The encounter manifests the equality central to all expressions of idealized Elizabethan homoerotic desire; the heroes move from mirroring sexual aggression to mirroring sexual passivity. This episode ends happily; the violence between the two friends is averted, if just barely, by a fortunate accident. Such containment is possible in the opening of the New Arcadia. It will not be later.

This first motion of the romance functions as a frame, a context in which to read the rest of the text. Unlike the Old Arcadia, which begins almost immediately with Pyrocles falling in love, the revised text makes a point of first establishing an Elizabethan ideal of chastity in patriarchal relations. There is a moment of order in Arcadia, and the homoerotic bonds, the friendships of the shepherds and the princes, are celebrated alongside the heteroerotic, the marriage of Parthenia and Argalus. (20) Urania and the shepherds establish this frame by enacting dynamics that the princes realize only momentarily, on the Laconian battlefield and at Kalander's estate--that is, so long as they, too, remain in Urania's Arcadia. The frame remains intact because the shepherds and Urania leave the action. These characters can therefore serve as a yardstick to measure the princes' interaction: their relationship remains ideal even as the relationship between the two princes changes radically.

Sidney's use of such a dramatic frame, sketched only in the opening chapters of his text with characters who seldom appear afterward, echoes Edmund Spenser's use of Gloriana's court in "A Letter of the Authors" which begins The Faerie Queene. Spenser introduces his frame more briefly than Sidney does, but the effect is similar: a kind of political stage on which to view the ensuing dramatic action. Such a frame may have allowed an author to set up and explore a political context without running the risk of a fuller, more explicit portrayal of the Elizabethan court. The friction between the frame and the ensuing action serves to praise or criticize through comparison only, a comparison which is effected in the reader's mind, rather than by the author's pen. There is nothing on the page for a censor to blot. Such an off-stage frame also allowed the writer to modulate toward and away from the realm of politics--to draw the reader into the imaginary only to provide occasional glimpses back to the political, to s urprise the reader into re-evaluation. Thus Sidney moves from his frame into the princes' struggle to win Basilius's daughters--but the text makes it progressively clearer that the pursuit of desire cannot be separated from the political workings of Arcadia.


I have called the framing moments of Sidney's romance Urania's Arcadia because the balance of violence and desire characterizing the dynamics echoes Urania's chastising influence on the two shepherds. If the first Arcadia belongs to Urania, the second belongs to no one. What I am calling the second Arcadia is the major setting of Sidney's text, Basilius's woods. In this world, no presiding figure appears to effectively order male-male relations or to assure that male-female relations are subjugated to the needs of the patriarchy. The text introduces characters that one might expect to assume such a role, Basilius and Gynecia, but both fail for different reasons. Basilius fails because he retreats from his kingship physically in his decision to abandon court, and mentally as he no longer focuses on the smooth functioning of his kingdom. He is unaware, for example, of the discontent of Cecropia at the end of book 1 and of that of his subjects in book 2, which eventually sparks a minor revolution. Although such political carelessness is also manifested in the Old Arcadia, in the revised text Sidney makes the consequences much wider and more explicit. Along with a peasant rebellion that the two princes can put down with rhetoric and sword play, the revised text presents a civil war that includes the passionately described violence dominating book 3, violence that the princes are powerless to stop.

One way to understand Basilius's failure is to see it as part of a shift in emphasis toward heteroerotic desire that characterizes Sidney's revised text. As king, Basilius's job is to govern the homosocial spectrum, to regulate both male-male desire and the violence of patriarchal relations. In the original Acradia, the potentially disastrous rebellion in book 4 is specifically due to his failure in this area. Under the command of Timautus, some of the nobles rebel ostensibly because of the jealousy they feel for Philanax, who has been temporarily left in power. But the root cause of the rebellion is actually the absence of a presiding figure. No ruler is present to focus the nobles' desire or redirect their violence with an eye toward ensuring the health of the kingdom. The result is a destabilizing factionalism and unrestrained violence--if not with Philanax's position as the excuse, then with whatever excuse presented itself. Basilius's failure in the revision is similarly due to a shift in desire: instea d of focusing on the relations between men, he focuses on the relations between men and women-or at least on what he thinks are the relations between men and women, his own desire for Zelmane.

A comparison of Urania and Gynecia reveals the same shift in desire. Comparison of the two women is suggested simply because they occupy overlapping space. Who is the queen of Arcadia? Gynecia, the king's consort, comes closest, but Urania also functions as a queen figure both symbolically and in terms of the Arcadians' devotion. At Phalantus's tournament, for example, three Arcadians come to answer Artesia's challenge. Two of them are incensed for Urania; only one chooses to fight for Gynecia. The third of these challengers is Lalus, in many ways the archetypical Arcadian: "a shepherd stripling ... very lovely withal ... perfectly proportioned ... doing all things with so pretty a grace" (p. 162). He desires to tilt for only Urania, unaffected by his queen's discomfiture. Urania, unlike Gynecia, is a native, a shepherdess like the Arcadians. Gynecia's position is further suggested by her name; she is specffically physical, "woman." She is not "queen" (to match Basilius, "king") or "heavenly" suggesting anot her kind of queenship. Sidney's Arcadians have a queenship that recalls Elizabeth's interpretation of the doctrine of the king's two bodies. They have both a "heavenly" virgin and a physical, fallible "woman." But these figures do not coincide in one person or even operate side by side: the latter displaces the former. Mention of Urania all but disappears. Gynecia, like Basilius, focuses on her body and heteroerotic desire, rather than regulating male-male desire; and, again like her husband, she is in love with Pyrocles.

The shift to heteroerotic desire and the accompanying disorder is even more pronounced in the two princes. Musidorus loses Pyrocles even before Pyrocles secretly leaves Kalander's estate. Regardless of his location, heteroerotic desire affects Pyrocles dramatically. Immediately after the wedding of Parthenia, Musidorus notes the change in his friend: "he would ever get himself alone, though almost when he was in company he was alone, so little attention he gave to any that spake unto him" (p. 109). Later, Musidorus confronts his friend directly: "'I have marked in you, I will not say an alteration, but a relenting truly, and a slackening of the main career you had so notably begun... you were wont in all places you came to give yourself vehemently to the knowledge of those things which might better your mind, to seek the familiarity of excellent men in learning and soldiery, and lastly, to put all these things in practice"' (p. 110). In the continuation of this sentence, Musidorus further explains how Pyrocl es has let his mind "'fall asleep."' Pyrocles has given up both company and learning, "'knowledge of those things which might better this] mind"' (p. 110). Desire for Phioclea has an effect on him just opposite of that which desire for Urania has on the shepherds. They specifically increased learning, became wise men. Furthermore, Urania's love allows them to stay together, unlike Pyrocles and Musidorus who now spend most of their time apart.

The new material Sidney added to the New Arcadia especially shows the increasing disorder wrought by heteroerotic desire. The potential danger that accompanies such conflicted desire is first suggested by Musidorus's encounter with Helen of Corinth, immediately following Pyrocles' disappearance. After Pyrocles steals away from Kalander's estate, Musidorus and Clitophon set out to search for him. The first character they encounter is Queen Helen. Helen narrates her failed love, the story of Philoxenus's suit carried out by Amphialus. Helen, like Musidorus, is searching for her love object, Amphialus, who has fled her because of her "punish[ment]" of Phioxenus (p. 125). Helen's tale contains a double echo. Not only does she parallel Musidorus as a jilted lover in search of the beloved, but Amphialus also foils Musidorus. In this scene, another heroic friendship is introduced, one with telling similarity to that of the two princes. Amphialus and Philoxenus are half-brothers, just as the two princes are cousins. Also, just like the princes at this juncture, one of these friends has fallen in love with a woman--only one. The result is disastrous. One friend ends up killing the other. This is a moment of dramatic suspension. The reader cannot know the outcome for the two princes, but the text builds tension by dramatizing one possibility, probably the worst. After this scene, how can one read Musidorus's directives to Pyrocles after their reconciliation in Basilius's woods without irony?: "'[T]he last commandment shall be, you command me to do what service I can towards the attaining of your desires"' (p. 139). No doubt Amphialus exacted a similar promise.

Helen's story implies the instability of a homoerotic friendship when only one partner desires heteroerotic coupling. Not only is there the possibility of Helen's failure of affection, the woman loving the wrong man, but there is also Phioxenus's own failure. Without a corresponding heteroerotic desire or the continuing primacy of the male-male bond, there is a strong temptation toward jealousy. Would Philoxenus have reacted the same way if Amphialus was courting his own woman? Such speculation is impossible, of course, as these dynamics are written into the characters. Amphialus's nature is to be, as his name indicates, "between two seas," to be caught in such situations. And Phioxenus, whose name literally means, "lover of foreigners," is similarly designed to love "foreignly," which I take to mean outside his heroic friendship. But Pyrocles and Musidorus are caught in a similarly unstable position. The danger is illustrated by Pyrocles' incipient jealousy when Musidorus reveals that he is in love without specifying the identity of his beloved. Neither Pyrocles nor the reader knows if the beloved is Phioclea, Pyrocles' love object. The occasion threatens uncontainable violence. Pyrocles is "racked with jealousy"; he is "not able to bear [Musidorus] any longer" (p. 171).

The debate between Musidorus and Pyrocles-as-Zelmane in Basilius's woods is at the center of the tension between homoerotic and heteroerotic desire in the New Arcadia. Almost immediately after this debate, Musidorus himself falls in love, and heteroerotic desire takes over as the primary motivating force for the princes. The debate is a crucial liminal point; it is in this debate that one section of text abuts another. The landscape in which this transition occurs is itself eroticized, suggesting the fluctuating role of desire in the princes' relationship. Musidorus, deep in his search to find Pyrocles, notices a beautiful woman in the woods. He catches a glimpse of "the small of her leg" and is motivated to see more (p. 130). So he follows her into "a fine close arbor": "It was of trees, whose branches so lovingly interlaced one the other that it could resist the strongest violence of eyesight" (p. 131). Again, eyesight is aligned with male sexuality, potentially penetrating the female "arbor." Musidorus he sitates here. Only when he hears the Amazon sing does he realize her true identity: "[T]he voice gave him almost assurance who the singer was; and therefore boldly thrusting open the door, and entering into the arbour, he perceived indeed that it was Pyrocles" (p. 132). Musidorus "boldly thrust[s]" only after he realizes the beautiful woman is a man. It is only after the context resolves into homoeroticism that he makes his sexualized entrance. This hesitation characterizes their current relationship. The heteroerotic context causes hesitation and necessitates new boundaries, such as Pyrocles' earlier decision not to tell Musidorus why he leaves Kalander's estate.

The debate itself is framed in terms of conflicting desire, the homoerotic opening of the text against the heteroerotic bulk to follow. Pyrocles' defense of heteroerotic desire largely rests on a single word: "'enjoying"' a sexual union with Philoclea (p. 137). Musidorus's attack arrays a host of virtues before him. Homoerotic desire is aligned with masculinity and the general stability of the social order. Musidorus informs Pyrocles that he is "'so great a prince, and of so rare not only expectation but proof, desired of [his] old father, and wanted of [his] native country"' (p. 132). The desire for Philoclea, then, is placed at odds with both familial and political desire. Furthermore, the decision to cross-dress endangers his mind, because, as Musidorus explains, effective cross-dressing requires mental transformation. Musidorus says. '"[Y]ou must resolve, if you will play your part to any purpose, whatsoever peevish imperfections are in that sex, to soften your heart to receive them--the very first down- step to all wickedness"' (p. 133). Indeed, Pyrocles has already "'[broken] laws of hospitality with Kalander and of friendship with me [Musidorus]'" (p. 133). Musidorus clearly sees that they have come to a crossroads. He tells Pyrocles he is "'now upon the point of falling or rising"' (p. 138).

Musidorus's argument is incomplete. He himself later acknowledges "'that all is but lip-wisdom, which wants experience"' (p. 170). He may be partially correct about the risks of heteroerotic desire; it complicates the ideal of familial and political desire under which the two princes have been operating, Urania's ideal. He is also correct that pursuing heteroerotic desire leads the princes into behavior they consider compromising. But this argument is incomplete because the sort of male-female coupling Pyrocles intends is no less a patriarchal necessity than the ideal of homoerotic desire. Rather than such a union being apolitical, it is deeply political, as such dynastic marriages were the nobility's chief means of obtaining heirs and making political and economic alliances. On a political level, it is more than appropriate for the two virtuous princesses to marry two virtuous princes; it is potentially enriching and empowering. The problem is not that the princes pursue heteroerotic desire, but that they p rivilege it. As a member of the patriarchy, Pyrocles is expected to marry consonant with the needs of male-male relations. But his desire to "'enjoy'" Philoclea is not contained within that patriarchal structure. The result is that it leads to increasingly antisocial behavior, behavior violating male-male bonds--those actions for which Musidorus criticizes him. Musidorus is right about the ideal embodied in Strephon and Claius: they have remained friends; they are the ideals of their community, continually laboring to better their minds. The difference is the influence of Urania, how she orders and triangulates desire. (21)

There is one other set of heroic friends that Sidney added to the New Arcadia, who also suggests a pointed comparison with Musidorus and Pyrocles. The fate of Tydeus and Telenor shows that while uncontained heteroerotic desire leads to chaos, exclusively privileging male-male relations--abandoning heteroerotic desire altogether--is similarly unsustainable. In other words, if there is danger in loving women too much, there may be an equal danger in refusing to love them at all. Tydeus and Telenor are brothers, just as the princes are cousins, and Amphialus and Philoxenus were half-brothers. They are presented as a foil for the princes when they come to rescue their own prince, the repeatedly traitorous Plexirtus. In the battle that ensues, the princes have met their match, their exact match: "'Pyrocles and Musidorus had never till then found any that could make them so well repeat their hardest lessons in the feats of arms. And briefly so they did that if they overcame not, yet were they not overcome'" (pp. 2 80--1). When this battle occurred, before Pyrocles saw and loved Philoclea, the sets of heroic friends were also equal in exclusively pursuing male-male desire. But Tydeus and Telenor's eventual fate is closer to that of Amphialus and Phioxenus; unlike the latter, they both end up dead by the other's hand, in a battle orchestrated by Plexirtus. They present another image of the potential fate of Musidorus and Pyrocles, the possibility that their violence can be used against them. If uncontained by a virtuous prince or unmediated by heteroerotic desire, heroic friendship itself becomes an unstable commodity. This instability is further suggested by Tydeus and Telenor's hamartia; they value friendship too much. Because they are friends with Plexirtus from birth, they overlook his traitorous nature in the name of friendship: '"they willingly held out the course rather to satisfy him than all the world, and rather to be good friends than good men: so as though they did not like the evil he did, yet they liked him that did the evil"' (p. 280). This evil will inevitably be turned against them. Tydeus and Telenor embody an extreme of heroic friendship, the complete exclusion of heteroerotic desire. The result is uncontained violence--exactly where Amphialus's decision to privilege heteroerotic desire for Philoclea over homosocial bonds to Basilius will lead all of Arcadia.


Louis Montrose relates a fascinating episode involving Elizabeth and one of her maids of honor. According to the letters of the queen's godson, Sir John Harington, Elizabeth asked this woman if she liked to think about marriage. The woman replied guilelessly; she told the queen that she loved a man and hoped to marry him if her father consented. In response, Elizabeth went to the woman's father and obtained permission to act as arbiter in the issue of marriage. In their next interview, Elizabeth told the maid that her father had given consent. Harington directly quotes the exchange that followed: '"Then, replied the ladle, I shall be happie and please your Grace.'--'So thou shalte; but not to be a foole and marrye. I have his consente given to me, and I vow thou shalte never get it into thy possession... I see thou art a bolde one, to owne thy foolishnesse so readilye" (22)

The interest Elizabeth took in the marriages of the English upper class suggests the extent to which she was sensitive to the potential danger of uncontained male-female desire. In this context, to contain desire is to route it through herself, through her approval--which is in effect to subjugate heteroerotic to patriarchal desire, the machinery of the state. The story of Elizabeth's woman-in-waiting illustrates such a tension. Rather than being channeled through Elizabeth, the maid's desire excludes her. If the maid marries, it will mean the end of her service at court. She will no longer be a maid; she will have a husband to serve. Aside from whatever personal motivation animated the queen's response, the political motivation is suggestive: the bonds of patriarchy must remain primary. Sidney himself skirted such danger in his marriage to Frances Walsingham, carried out without the queen's consent. The apologetic and self-debasing letter Sir Francis Walsingham wrote to Christopher Hatton suggests Elizabeth' s indignation. Walsingham is compelled to defend his action; he claims that he did not believe the match between his daughter and Sir Philip Sidney, recently knighted, was noble enough to merit royal attention. (23) The queen's potential discomfort at such an alliance is not difficult to understand. Uncontrolled alliances between powerful families could set the stage for a challenge to her throne. Her relationship to Sidney's family, the Sidneys and the Dudleys (including the powerful earl of Leicester), was strained by religious division and the possibility of the queen's marriage to a foreign prince. The further extension of such a family alliance might well have been the kind of situation in which Elizabeth would have wanted male-male relations triangulated through her person, in which she would have wanted to be an integral part of the bond--if, that is, she decided to allow it at all.

Because it is unfinished, Sidney's New Arcadia does not take an altogether clear stand on the effectiveness of the Elizabethan court in ordering relations between men. Like Spenser's, Sidney's frame remains unclosed, and it is unclear how or even if he would have brought back his Uranian shepherds, and in exactly what state he would have left Greece. The extant text does document a progressive breakdown of patriarchal bonds, especially as exemplified in the relationship of the two princes. Pyrocles and Musidorus meet only once in book 2, during the scene in which Musidorus relates how he revealed his identity to Pamela, a narrative within a narrative. Pyrocles-as-Zelmane makes it clear how little time they now spend together, as they must be separated in pursuit of the princesses. '"Alas, my Dorus,"' Zelmane says, "'thou seest how long and languishingly the weeks are passed over us since our last talking"' (p. 220). Notably, this separation--of weeks--is no longer of emotional import. The "languishing is for Philoclea, not Musidorus. Musidorus's reply further characterizes their relationship: '"Alas . . . dear cousin, that it hath pleased the high powers to throw us to such an estate as the only intercourse of our true friendship must be a bartering of miseries"' (p. 221). This is certainly true from a reader's point of view.

The princes' bond has become completely displaced by their pursuit of male-female coupling. The structure of Pyrocles' narrative, what makes up the bulk of this scene, is mimetic of their new relationship. The scene almost seems to switch location; a reader might easily forget that this scene is between the two princes and imagine it as a scene between Musidorus and Pamela. Of course, critics may read more closely and consider how Pyrocles, as auditor, influences Musidorus's narrative. But the other impulse exists as well, to forget the frame, a mere four paragraphs, and experience the pages and pages of inset narrative as the primary one--that is, to forget the male bonds altogether. The scene never returns to the interaction of Musidorus and Pyrocles; it closes with the narrator's explanation of how Dametas broke up the parley. Musidorus and Pyrocles do not meet at all in the unfinished third book of the New Arcadia. Though they do mourn, it is for separation from the princesses, not for separation from eac h other.

The political consequences of the displacement of male-male desire are equally extreme. The New Arcadia dramatizes the slow dissolution of Arcadia. The patriarchal state becomes completely undermined by heteroerotic drive: the princes' desire for Basilius's daughters; Basilius and Gynecia's desire for Zelmane; and most disastrously, Amphialus's desire for Philoclea. At the point the text leaves off, the civil war escalates with the generally belligerent Anaxius assuming control of the rebel forces--and, of course, falling in love with Philoclea. The war has moved further and further from any rational cause, feeding on its own disorder. The text as Sidney left it offers a harsh comment on the effectiveness of the Elizabethan medieval revival to contain male-male relations. Book 3 presents a political situation much more familiar than Urania's Arcadia, a situation reminiscent of sixteenth-century affairs in France and elsewhere on the Continent. (24) The ideal of Urania is effective in keeping order in an ideal landscape, but the closer that landscape comes to resemble Elizabethan England, the more completely the ideal becomes lost. In a more recognizable Arcadia, Urania is replaced by the figure of Gynecia. Patriarchal bonds break down.

It seems likely that a finished New Arcadia would have dramatized a return to the order of the original, perhaps again through the love potion and the miracle of Basilius's resurrection. The Delphic prophecies are the same in both versions, so maybe, despite the geometrically greater carnage and chaos of the revised text, their fulfillment would have been the same too. But even though the texts use the same armature, there is no way to know exactly how Sidney would have revised and filled out his last two books. Would he have balanced the romance by returning to Strephon and Claius, to the ideal world sketched in the first pages? If so, what kind of accommodation would he have made between the political and erotic confusions of Arcadia as it evolves and the idealized landscape of the shepherds and their shepherdess? What sort of change, if any, would have been appropriate for the frame? In short, what place would Sidney have found for the ideal in a situation more closely resembling the reality of sixteenth-c entury politics? If the shepherds and Urania cannot surface this late in the work, if they would seem out of place in the world Arcadia has become, that in itself suggests a strong criticism of Elizabeth's ideal--the extent to which it got lost in the political reality.

Benjamin Scott Grossberg is assistant professor of Literature and Creative Writing at Antioch College in Ohio. His recent work includes a study of Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Blithedale Romance in Studies in American Fiction and a study of Coleridge's "Christabel" in The Journal of Homosexuality.


My thanks to Ann Christensen and David Mikics for helping me to revise this essay, and especially to John Bernard for multiple careful readings. I also thank Bruce Smith and Robert Patten at SEL for their time and attention. An earlier draft was presented at the "Sidney Section" of the Congress of Medieval Studies in May of 1998.

(1.) Sir Philip Sidney, The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia, ed. Maurice Evans (New York: Penguin, 1977], p. 64. All subsequent references to the New Arcadia will be to this edition and will appear parenthetically in the text by page number.

(2.) Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1985).

(3.) In Homosexuality in Renaissance England (Boston: Gay Men's Press, 1982). Alan Bray differentiates between the idealized desire between men that formed the basis of Elizabethan male friendship and the stigmatized desire for male-male genital sexuality, which was considered one of the many roads to "sodomy." a state of damnable, politically subversive debauchery. In this essay. I follow Mario DiGangi's The Homoerotics of Early Modern Drama (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1997) in using the term "homoerotic" to refer to either erotic or sexual impulses between men, with no cultural baggage--a neutral force which might be manifested in any sort of relationship. I also do not wish to suggest (or deny) any continuity between Elizabethan manifestations of desire and our twentieth-century conceptions of a gay individual. I therefore avoid use of the term "homosexual" even as an adjective. which might be understood to suggest individual identity, a homosexual person, which current scholarship argues was not a part of how Elizabethans constructed their erotic desire. I similarly use "heteroerotic" to signify desire for the opposite sex, but avoid the term "heterosexual," as heterosexual Identity seems contingent upon our division between homosexual and heterosexual persons.

(4.) On the interception of Elizabethan politics and pastoral, see Louis Adrian Montrose, "Of Gentlemen and Shepherds: The Politics of Elizabethan Pastoral Form," ELH 50, 3 (Fall 1983): 415-59.

(5.) Eric S. Mallin, "Emulous Factions and the Collapse of Chivalry: Troilus and Cressida," Representations 29 (Winter 1990): 145-79, 146. Mallin discusses the possibility that Elizabeth employed factionalism in order to deflect aggression from herself. I refer not to encouraged or orchestrated political factionalism but to the kind of armed struggle that occurred in 1601, when the earl of Essex attempted to march troops into London in order to displace William Cecil, Lord Burghley. The critical difference is between contained violence and uncontained violence, what was useful versus what was potentially very threatening.

(6.) See Richard C. McCoy's The Rites of Knighthood: The Literature and Politics of Elizabethan Chivalry (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1989); and Stephen Orgel, "Making Greatness Familiar," Genre 15, 1/2 (Spring/Summer 1982): 41-8, 41. Montrose, in "The Elizabethan Subject and the Spenserian Text," argues that this homoerotic triangulation captured Elizabeth as thoroughly as it allowed her to manipulate her courtiers (Literary Theory/Renaissance Texts, ed. Patricia Parker and David Quint [Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1986]. pp. 303-41). Susan Frye makes a similar argument in terms of the competition between Elizabeth and various factions for control of her image (Elizabeth I: The Competition for Representation [New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1993]).

(7.) There are many examples of this connection. Frye suggests that Sidney uses Cecropia's kidnapping of Philoclea and Pamela to show how courtly structures silence female subjects (p. 140). Katherine Duncan-Jones discovers figures for Elizabeth in characters such as Helen and Andromana in Sir Philip Sidney: Courtier Poet (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1991), pp. 17, 211. McCoy also explores how Andromana echoes Elizabeth's use of courtly spectacle (p. 68).

(8.) Duncan-Jones, "Sidney's Urania," RES 17 (1966): 123-32, 130.

(9.) Plato, Symposium, ed. Sir Kenneth Dover (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1980).

(10.) See Lily Bess Campbell's Divine Poetry and Drama in Sixteenth-Century England (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1959), in which she documents the evolution of Urania into a Christian muse figure; and John M. Steadman's Milton's Biblical and Classical Imagery (Pittsburgh: Duquesne Univ. Press, 1984).

(11.) Bruce R. Smith discusses the intersection of homoeroticism and Arcadia in Homosexual Desire in Shakespeare's England: A Cultural Poetics (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1991). Smith quotes Byrne R. S. Fone who calls Arcadia "'a place where it is safe to be gay'"-"even," Smith adds, "in a culture where 'gay' did not exist as a term of self-definition. Virgil's second eclogue creates a fantasy world of sexual pleasure" (p. 114).

(12.) Duncan-Jones, "Urania," p. 127.

(13.) Clare Kinney, 'The Masks of Love: Desire and Metamorphosis in Sidney's New Arcadia," Criticism 33, 4 (Fall 1991): 461-90. Kinney finds "the implicit equation of 'Love' with the masculine I/eye" (p. 468).

(14.) This eclogue was inserted in the 1593 Arcadia, probably by the countess of Pembroke, so it is impossible to know if Sidney envisioned it in his finished New Arcadia or If it was intended as an independent work. This scene is not completely consistent with the opening of the New Arcadia the tone is lighter, and there is a somewhat sharper note of jealousy between the shepherds than the friendly competition dramatized earlier.

(15.) See Duncan-Jones, esp. chaps. 10 and 11.

(16.) Smith, p. 140.

(17.) Ibid.

(18.) Pyrocles also functions as an object of desire for the narrator and the men on Kalander's estate, displacing Musidorus in their admiration because he is younger and newer to them: "For being now viewed to have no hair of his face to witness him a man, who had done acts beyond the degree of a man, and to look with a certain almost bashful modesty... a Mars' heart in a Cupid's body... all that beheld him (and all that might behold him, did behold him) made their eyes

quick messengers to their minds that there they had seen the uttermost in mankind that might be seen" (p. 103).

(19.) Smith, pp. 58, 59.

(20.) A parallel between the heroes' reunion and male-female marriage is suggested by the sexualized language of their encounter and by the foil with Parthenia and Argalus. These lovers come together almost immediately after the princes do, in the very next scene, which makes the comparison inevitable: the ideal of erotic friendship and the ideal of erotic love side by side. The reunion of Musidorus and Pyrocles is certainly as loving as the latter. The narrator notes Kalander's efforts to please the princes: "no way he saw could so much pleasure them as by leaving the two friends alone" (p. 106). The friends spend their time "embracing and kissing each other" (p. 108). Kalander further highlights the comparison by conflating the celebration of Parthenla's wedding to Argalus with a celebration of Pyrocles and Musidorus: "Their loving host... as much for their sakes as for the marriage, set forth each thing In most gorgeous manner" (p. 109).

(21.) Another way to consider this move toward heteroerotic desire is in terms of its inevitability. Can Pyrocles really choose otherwise than to fall? Smith's characterization of Arcadia points out that it is an ideal adolescent state. Perhaps this transition also dramatizes the princes' maturation. Lisa Celovsky makes a similar argument in her article, "Pyrocles' Warlike Peace: Sir Philip Sidney and Androgyny," in Gender Rhetorics: Postures of Dominance and Submission in History, ed. Richard C. Trexler (Binghamton NY: Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, 1994), pp. 235--44. Celovsky understands Pyrocles' decision to cross-dress as a step in his education, a way of acquiring the "feminine powers" necessary for effective kingship (p. 239).

(22.) Montrose, "'Shaping Fantasies': Figurations of Gender and Power in Elizabethan Culture," Representations 1, 2 (Spring 1983): 61--94, 79.

(23.) Duncan-Jones, p. 249, who quotes the letter in full, is understandably skeptical about the sincerity of this response.

(24.) See Martin N. Raitiere, "Amphialus' Rebellion: Sidney's Use of History in New Arcadia," JMRS 12,1 (Spring 1982): 113--31.