Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, Vol. 35, 1995

Chivalry unmasked: courtly spectacle and the abuses of romance in Sidney's 'New Arcadia.'

by Clare R. Kinney

In 1584, an exiled Italian Protestant humanist dedicated his translation of twenty-five of the Psalms into Latin hexameters to Philip Sidney. According to Katherine Duncan-Jones, Scipio Gentile laid particular emphasis, in praising Sidney's accomplishments, on his "most magnificent devising of shows and his equestrian feats."(1) Gentile was presumably referring to Sidney's regular participation in Elizabeth I's Accession Day tilts, as well as the speeches and lyrics he wrote for other chivalric spectacles - most notably the pageants of May 1581, in which he appeared as one of the four Foster Children of Desire who laid siege to the queen's "Fortress of Perfect Beauty."(2) Yet despite his frequent assistance at such public performances, Sidney's treatment of chivalric spectacle in the more private "devisings" of his revised Arcadia suggests that he might have found Gentile's encomium somewhat ironic. The elaborate knightly devices and "shows" that play such a large part in the unfinished third book of the romance do not so much celebrate chivalric rituals as place them within a larger design that invites their demystification.

Book 3 of the revised Arcadia departs entirely from the matter of Sidney's original narrative when its relatively small-scale intrigues are displaced by civil war. Books 1 and 2 describe the attempts of the disguised princes Pyrocles and Musidorus to penetrate the pastoral retreat of King Basilius and woo his sequestered daughters, Philoclea and Pamela; they also introduce us to Amphialus, Philoclea's cousin and Pyrocles' rival for her love. Amphialus's unrequited desires are exploited by his ambitious mother, Cecropia, who, at the start of book 3, kidnaps both princesses, hoping to marry her son to one of the Arcadian heiresses; although Amphialus has no political ambitions of his own, his desperate passion for Philoclea leads him to consent to her imprisonment and to raise an army to repulse Basilius's attempts to liberate his daughters.

Sidney's representation of the ensuing hostilities includes a lengthy description of the first encounter between the forces of Basilius and Amphialus. His narration initially stylizes and aestheticizes the battle, but eventually lays bare its material consequences: "at the first, though [the battle] were terrible, yet terror was decked so bravely with rich furniture, gilt swords, shining armours . . . that the eye with delight had scarce leisure to be afraid; but now all universally defiled with dust, blood, broken armours, mangled bodies, took away the mask and set forth horror in his own horrible manner."(3) Yet although Sidney unveils the terrible face of war for his readers, another mask remains in place for lovelorn and self-deceiving Amphialus, who surveys the "mangled bodies" of the battlefield undismayed: the horrors of his surroundings cannot "seem ugly to him whose truly-affected mind did still paint it over with the beauty of Philoclea" (p. 345). Amphialus's "painting" of his beloved continues to occlude the reality of the dismembered body politic.

While the narrative that contains Amphialus relates the dire public consequences of the uncontrolled passion of a princely individual, Amphialus refigures his experience in terms of a private erotic quest. Immediately after he redecorates the bloody field of war with the features of Philoclea, he does battle with Musidorus, who, as the Forsaken Knight, is supporting the Basilians incognito: "they approaching one to the other (as in two beautiful folks love naturally stirs a desire of joining, so in their two courages hate stirred a desire of trial), then there began a combat between them worthy to have had more large lists, and more quiet beholders" (p. 345). The description of the martial skill and grace of the two men continues for another ten lines, and although it is in the third person, its perspective tends toward the Amphialan. From the idealizing viewpoint, the encounter is "worthy" to be detached from the brutal chaos of the surrounding battle and reimagined as a ceremonial spectacle, a single combat fought for a lady in the lists of romance. But it nevertheless constitutes only one part of a larger and infinitely more complicated action - as we are abruptly reminded when an old mentor of Amphialus slays Musidorus's steed and upbraids his lord for "stand[ing] now like a private soldier, setting your credit upon particular fighting while, you may see, Basilius with all his host is getting between you and your town!" (p. 346).

It is characteristic of Sidney's narrative practice in the New Arcadia that he does not criticize Amphialus in his own voice, creating, instead, another speaker to comment on the inappropriateness of his actions. As book 3 unfolds, Sidney continues to make use of such dialogic strategies to disclose Amphialus's implication in a kind of "romancing" that allows him to pursue his private erotic and martial agenda while obfuscating his responsibility for the larger conflict tearing apart Arcadia. It is important to recognize here that Sidney is not offering a wholesale indictment of the romance mode and its values in themselves. Roger Ascham had insisted that the works of Malory glorified "open manslaughter and bold bawdry" and that both the Morte Arthur and the romances "made in Italy and translated in England" corrupted the minds of young readers, but Sidney was quite prepared to mention Orlando Furioso and the tales of "honest King Arthur" in the same breath as Homeric epic when he defended the virtues of imaginative fiction.(4) The New Arcadia's interpolated histories of the exploits of Pyrocles and Musidorus prior to their arrival in Arcadia approve the possibility that chivalric action may serve the larger community: the princes spend more time restoring order to various disorderly and mismanaged kingdoms than in seeking personal and private glory. The revised work also introduces us to Argalus and Parthenia, representatives of the noblest kind of love, whose moral integrity, perfect fidelity, and exemplary public and private conduct are not only utterly distinct from any notion of "bold bawdry" but also constitute a standard against which the behavior of all the other lovers and questers in Arcadia may be measured.

Sidney, then, is not offering a blanket condemnation of the literary and didactic possibilities of the romance mode; he is rather inviting his readers to question Amphialus's unexamined appropriation of the protocols of chivalric romance to valorize his problematic desires and actions.(5) (In making the New Arcadia a metaromance that can examine its own informing values, its author of course takes his place in a long line of sophisticated romancers, beginning with Chretien de Troyes and extending to Edmund Spenser, whose fictions regularly interrogate the discourses in which the quest for glory and the quest of love are framed.) As book 3 opens, we are offered a preliminary example of the way in which generic paradigms can be ruthlessly exploited by the solipsistic - or frankly duplicitous - imagination.(6) The wily Cecropia actually captures Pamela and Philoclea by sending female agents disguised as Arcadian shepherdesses to invite the ladies to watch some bucolic interludes (pp. 314-6): she transforms recreative pastoral into a masque/mask concealing a darker plot. Her abduction and adulteration of pastoral anticipate her son's own abduction and deployment of the beguiling ceremonies of knightly romance within his theater of chivalry.

Amphialus's appropriation of the masques of romance for less than noble purposes may offer, furthermore, an oblique commentary on the extratextual abduction of romance in the pageants of Sidney's own queen. Northrop Frye has argued that the idealizing fictions of romance have always tended to be "kidnapped" by power brokers to ratify more or less uninterrogated "social mytholog[ies]":(7) certainly all of the Tudor monarchs, but in particular Elizabeth I, made use of the codes and conventions of chivalric romance in the ceremonies that confirmed their power. When Sidney creates an encyclopedic romance that both celebrates the mode's informing ideals and exposes, in Amphialus's manipulation of the masques of chivalry, the consequences of the alienation of those ideals from chivalry's outward and visible shows, we are presented with a potentially ironic gloss on contemporary rituals of "romancing the throne" - something I shall be returning to later in this essay.

After the inconclusive battle between the Basilians and the Amphialans, the dilettante courtier Phalantus instigates a new action that directly speaks to Amphialus's fantasies. In book 1, Phalantus had arrived in Arcadia accompanied by a peripatetic tournament, a moveable theater in which he played the role, but not the reality, of the chivalric lover: by the time he arrives in Basilius's camp in book 3, he has already been identified with ossified artifice and empty ceremonies. When Basilius forbids further large-scale assaults on Amphialus's fortress, Phalantus, wishing "to keep his valure in knowledge by some private act, since the public policy restrained him" (p. 364), invites any of the foe to meet him on a nearby island "because it stands so well in the view of [Amphialus's] castle as that the ladies may have the pleasure of seeing the combat" (p. 365). He proposes to substitute orderly private combat for generalized warfare, and to transform violence into spectacle. His interest in furthering his own reputation recalls some of the counsels of Federico in the second part of Castiglione's Book of the Courtier:

[W]here the Courtier is at skirmish, or assault, or battaile . . . he ought to worke the matter wisely in separating him selfe from the multitude, and undertake notable and bolde feates . . . with as litle company as he can, and in the sight of noble men that be of most estimation in the campe . . . If he happen moreover to be one to shew feates of Chivalry in open sights, at tilt, turney . . . or in any other exercise of the person . . . he shall provide beforehand to be in his armour no less handsom and sightly than sure, and feede the eyes of the lookers on with all thinges that hee shall thinke may give a good grace, and shall doe his best to get him a horse set out with faire harnesse and sightly trappings, and to have proper devises, apt posies, and wittie inventions that may draw unto him the eyes of the lookers on as the Adamant stone doth yron.(8)

Through their emphasis on a certain kind of knightly display, both Federico and Phalantus translate the lonely trials of the prototypical hero of romance into the self-serving and emphatically public endeavors of the aspiring courtier. Tellingly, Amphialus is delighted to have the opportunity to display his martial skills before Philoclea's eyes, and eagerly takes up Phalantus's challenge, ignoring anew his old mentor's pleas that he not "affect the glory of a private fighter" (p. 366).

Amphialus and Phalantus come to their single combat ornately and tastefully armed: Sidney's description of their array is almost as elaborate as his account of their fighting. Their elegant maneuverings on horseback present "a delectable sight in a dangerous effect, and a pleasant consideration that there was so perfect agreement in so mortal disagreement, like a music made of cunning discords" (p. 368). By the end of the bout, the local and ceremonial rhetoric of discordia concors has temporarily obscured the larger context of their meeting. Phalantus disappears from the narrative immediately afterward, having seemingly conspired with Amphialus to erase from its speaking pictures the brutality and carnage of the previous scenes of war. But despite the fact that the knights part amicably, this decorative and bloodless skirmish gives rise to a sequence of encounters in which Sidney exposes the ultimate inadequacy of chivalric protocols to the task of either glossing over or recontaining the destructive forces unleashed in Arcadia.

The discrepancies between the forms of chivalric romance and the context in which they are reinvoked quickly become apparent. After Phalantus's departure, several Basilians challenge Amphialus to single combat in the island theater, each grounding his quarrel in a different cause, as if he were an individual knight errant rather than a member of Basilius's army. This eventually results in the incongruity of a Basilian, officially in arms to oppose Amphialus's unlawful imprisonment of his peerless liege ladies, actually fighting Amphialus to prove that all women are merely "shops of vanities" and "gilded weathercocks" (p. 371). The civil conflict has been temporarily converted into a ritual so evacuated of significance that it can unfold according to a rationale completely at odds with the logic of the circumstances that have engendered it.

In his discussion of the narrative practices of book 3, Richard C. McCoy suggests that in isolating important confrontations from their informing context and disturbing consequences, Sidney substitutes an uninterrogated "glorification of single combat" for "the critical acuity of his early accounts of battle."(9) I am not convinced that Sidney is beguiled by his own depiction of the stylized encounters of romance. His narrative certainly represents them, but as these episodes unfold, the perspective of the controlling authorial persona is characteristically subsumed within a variety of voices and visions that offer their own reconstructions of the action. In a suggestive essay on the mixed modes of the New Arcadia, Stephen Greenblatt identifies a connection between the dialogic narrative technique of Sidney's revised text and the play of genres within the tragical-historical-romantic-comical-pastoral work. Sidney, he argues, "treats the genres, not only as literary categories, but as 'strategies for living"': his juxtaposition of different literary modes within his work has as much to do with the representation of ethical issues as with aesthetic concerns.(10) McCoy maintains that Sidney retreats from laying bare the animating issues - and ghastly results - of the Arcadian rebellion to conjoin beauty and violence in the aestheticized spectacles of chivalric romance.(11) If one accepts Greenblatt's thesis that Sidney's portrayal of the conduct of his characters emphasizes their predilection for figuring forth modally constituted "versions of reality," it is not the author who is retreating from the complex circumstances he has delineated: it is Sidney's characters, in contradistinction to their creator, who persist in glorifying the rituals of chivalric romance. The second Arcadia is not merely a romance that veers into interesting new territory only to slip back into chivalric fantasies. Sidney offers sundry (near-parodic) elaborations of the protocols of chivalry (just as he has previously offered in books 1 and 2 similar elaborations of Petrarchan convention)(12) to comment on the way individuals appropriate and valorize certain cultural constructs in order to accommodate and obfuscate their most equivocal enterprises.

Sidney's chivalric pageants are nearly all original to the New Arcadia; he departs from the first Arcadia's predominantly pastoral and classical "romancing" when he augments books 1 and 2 of his revised narrative with episodes imbued with the elaborate neomedievalism characteristic of Ariostan - and, later, Spenserian - romance.(13) The pages devoted to Phalantus's tournament in book 1 (pp. 90-104), and to the Iberian jousts in book 2 (pp. 253-7) describe relatively self-contained spectacles in which warriors direct their energies almost exclusively toward the enhancement of their martial reputation. These passages are full of courtly challenges on behalf of fair ladies, highly stylized accounts of single combats, and lovingly detailed renditions of knightly armatures and impresas: they give much more emphasis to the manners than to the sustaining ideals of chivalric romance.

Such episodes are simultaneously thoroughly nostalgic and thoroughly up-to-date. Both literary critics and cultural historians have pointed to parallels between Pyrocles' description of the tournament held between the Iberian and Corinthian knights in book 2 of the revised Arcadia and surviving records of the 1577 Accession Day Jousts in which Sidney appeared as Philisides the Shepherd Knight.(14) Interestingly enough, Pyrocles praises the unmarried Helen of Corinth (one of the two queens presiding over the ceremonies) in terms that might seem familiar to an Elizabethan courtier:

[H]er government . . . hath been no less beautiful to men's judgements than her beauty to the eyesight . . . she using so strange and yet so well-succeeding a temper that she made her people (by peace) warlike, her courtiers (by sports) learned, her ladies (by love) chaste . . . [H]er sports were such as carried riches of knowledge upon the stream of delight; and such the behaviour both of herself and her ladies as builded their chastity, not upon waywardness, but by choice of worthiness: so as, it seemed that court to have been the marriage place of love and virtue, and that herself was a Diana apparelled in the garments of Venus.

(pp. 253-4)

Pyrocles' celebration of this monarch's beauty, chastity, and good government, as well as his final allusion to Diana, recalls the mythologizing of Elizabeth I as Cynthia/Astraea. Furthermore, his description of Helen's schooling of her male and female courtiers in both improving "sports" and chaste behavior reads like an idealized description of Elizabeth's policing of her courtiers' sexuality and her encouragement of the rituals and pageants that confirmed her own power. In the tournament within Sidney's text, however, the Shepherd Knight whose trappings are so reminiscent of the Philisides who jousted before Elizabeth in 1577 is not in the service of this exemplary queen - he is an Iberian subject of the promiscuous and designing Queen Andromena (p. 255), a woman who repays the faithful service of her lover Plexirtus by seeking his destruction after she marries his father, the King of Iberia. Louis Montrose has argued that Elizabeth I's promotion of the protocols of romance in her own courtly pageants ceremonially reinforced the subservience of aspiring members of the aristocracy to their Virgin Queen;(15) in this light, Sidney's narrative placement of this other Philisides in the service of the fickle and ungracious Andromena rather than the Corinthian "Diana" might be viewed as an ironic commentary upon the masterplot informing the official "romancing" of Elizabeth Tudor. (The author of the New Arcadia would at the very least be quite aware that loyal participation in the rituals of courtly neomedievalism might not be particularly generously requited by the monarch whom they celebrated. His performances in Elizabeth's own theater of chivalry did not even win him a knighthood until 1583, and then only because John Casimir, Count Palatine, had requested that he stand proxy for him in his investiture as Knight of the Garter.)(16)

I do not wish to oversimplify the relationship between Elizabeth Tudor's ceremonial mythologizing of her power and the critical reexamination of "kidnapped" chivalric romance in Sidney's fictional anatomy of rebellion in Arcadia.(17) But the revised Arcadia undeniably opens up an imaginative space within which an author very familiar with the Elizabethan masques of chivalry can suggest how easily a privileged cultural form may frame a performance that has more to do with the political needs of the moment than with the affirmation of a transcendent ideal.(18) If the sixteenth-century tournament entangled art and life in a manner that allowed "meanings (moral, political, social) to be read, truths glimpsed,"(19) the jousts of Sidney's New Arcadia offer equally intricate "symbolic actions."(20) But the meanings available to the readers of the Arcadia are quite different from those adduced by the readers within the romance.

I have already argued that Sidney's critique of chivalric protocols is particularly evident in his characterization of the erring Amphialus, himself a significant addition to the cast of the original Arcadia. Amphialus's public self-justifications for his rejection of Basilius's authority cloak his questionable actions in dissembling rhetoric; he circulates manifestos "which with some glosses of probability might hide indeed the foulness of his treason, and from true commonplaces fetch down most false applications" (p. 325). Ethically and etymologically between two seas, torn between his nobler aspirations and his selfish desires, Amphialus bears witness to his inner confusion by invoking "the exigencies of monarchic politics"(21) in his own justification, even as he attempts to reconstruct his circumstances according to the anachronistically feudal ideals of romance. At the same time, he cannily tests the loyalty of his own followers by employing informants to report their responses to rumors and libels he spreads against himself (p. 326). The prince's practices recall Machiavelli's advice that the aspiring ruler should play both lion and fox; Sidney's account of his sleights introduces into the Arcadian scene the strategems of Renaissance Realpolitik"(22) and ensures that Amphialus's later efforts to frame his actions according to the protocols of romance are compromised by his duplicitous beginnings.

If Amphialus's chivalric fictions are tainted from their very inception, the combats that take place in Phalantus's theater of chivalry complete their subversion. After Amphialus overthrows all of Basilius's challengers, the Arcadian ruler decides that "his honour, and (as he esteemed it) felicity" stand upon finding a knight to defeat Amphialus in single combat (p. 371). Succumbing to the romantic Amphialan vision, Basilius illogically allows the governing fantasies of his rebellious subject to determine the nature of his own honor. (The suggestive Sidneian parentheses quietly invite us to wonder where Basilius's "felicity" might actually lie.) Significantly, the proper defense of Basilius's honor is made the responsibility of the exemplary Argalus, who is summoned to Basilius's aid from the domestic bliss in which he had been left at the close of book 1. Argalus and his bride Parthenia - whose history, like that of Phalantus, is an addition to the Old Arcadia - are paragons of virtue and fidelity: their much-enduring love ends in wedded joy and they become an ideal against which all other noble lovers might be measured. Book 3, however, reverses the moral hierarchy suggested by book 1's account of their perfections. The chain of events set in motion by Phalantus - the knight who, understanding love only as a game, a mannered performance, is the very antithesis of the sincerely devoted Argalus - sacrifices the couple's hard-won happiness to the arbitrary code of honor punctiliously followed by Phalantus and blindly embraced by Amphialus and Basilius.

Argalus expends no more time than Basilius in asking what constitutes "honorable" behavior in a country racked by civil conflict. When Parthenia begs him to stay with her, he tells her "how much [the king's command] imported his honour (which since it was dear to him he knew it would be dear unto her)" (p. 372). Argalus has accepted that his honor is defined by his willingness to fight for his lord in no matter how questionable a contest. When, however, the authorial voice remarks that Argalus is carried away from Parthenia "by the tyranny of honour" (p. 373), Sidney's readers may be encouraged to conclude that tyrant honor, like the "tyrant love" that Amphialus invokes to excuse his imprisonment of Philoclea (p. 323), is a construct of the imagination, an arbitrary rather than an absolute term of value. Amphialus had sacrificed perfect honor to "tyrant love"; now we are offered the complementary spectacle of Argalus sacrificing perfect love to tyrant honor.

Before doing battle with Amphialus, Argalus strives to persuade him to give up his larger enterprise. The latter responds to Argalus's suggestion that his current course of action is unjust and perilous by remarking that "love, which justifieth the unjustice you lay unto me, doth also animate me against all dangers, since I come full of him, by whom yourself have been (if I be not deceived) sometimes conquered" (p. 374). Amphialus once more makes tyrant love the excuse for his unjust actions; he also directly equates his situation with that of Argalus. In the midst of the civil rebellion he has helped to promote, he insists that there are continuities between his own experience and endeavors and those of this exemplary heroic lover. The authorial voice makes no comment, but Sidney's suggestive juxtaposition of the two characters obliges us to recognize that Amphialus's actions in pursuit of his desires have placed him in a very different moral universe from the narrative space of "true romance" inhabited by Argalus in book 1.

Amphialus and Argalus seem to begin their martial encounter as equally chivalric heroes. Argalus wears Parthenia's sleeve as his favor; Amphialus, in the manner of Chretien de Troyes's Lancelot,(23) fights with his gaze fixed on Philoclea's window, "as if he had fetched all his courage thence" (p. 375). But we are not, after all, in a medieval romance. When Argalus, near to defeat, will not accept his foe's mercy - will not, that is, confirm him in the role of perfect, gentle knight - Amphialus "forg[ets] all ceremonies" (p. 376) and wounds Argalus mortally. I find it significant that when Amphialus's generosity is slighted, Sidney has him forget "all ceremonies," drop the chivalric mask/masque, and regress to a more brutal and unconstrained mode of action.(24) The refining rituals with which Amphialus has sought to mystify his involvement in an immoral conflict are revealed to be ultimately inadequate to this task; moreover, his chivalrous play has real and fatal consequences. His attempt to translate an anarchic civil conflict born out of passion and deception into a series of aesthetically pleasing encounters from the world of courtly romance results in the destruction of that universe's most exemplary representative.

Amphialus's next challenge comes from a new arrival among the Basilians, a knight clad in "an armour all painted over with such a cunning of shadow that it represented a gaping sepulchre . . . His bases, which . . . came almost to his ankle, were embrodered only with black worms, which seemed to crawl up and down, as ready already to devour him" (p. 395). The baroque ornament almost obscures the armor's wearer; as the hypertrophied rituals of Amphialan romance become increasingly detached from the ethical questions raised by Sidney's romance, such overdetermined devices and insignia acquire a narrative life of their own. The Knight of the Tomb is already embraced by the sepulcher he seeks.

In his meeting with this unknown knight, Amphialus reinvokes the ceremonies he had abandoned in the fight against Argalus. As soon as he realizes that his adversary is seriously out-matched, he chivalrously seeks to end the fight, begging the knight to employ his valor against a more worthy enemy, since he, Amphialus, has "'not deserved hate of you"' (p. 397). But when his opponent tells him he is a liar to say so, Amphialus furiously deals the stranger his death blow. Amphialus's courteous insistence that there is no reason for the fight to continue testifies to his persistent desire to divorce his participation in these exemplary encounters from his actions in that other, more ambiguous universe where he is at once faithful lover, cruel captor, noble warrior, and disloyal promoter of civil strife. But his nonchalant assertion of the nonsignificance of the contest is rendered meaningless when he unhelms his dying foe and discovers the widowed Parthenia (p. 397). His opponent has every reason to hate him: the train of events set in motion by his rebellion has resulted in the death of her lord. And in killing her, Amphialus once again destroys an exemplary representative of the world of ennobled and uncompromised desire with which he had aspired to ally himself.

Sidney offers his readers a remarkable description of the dying Parthenia:

[H]er beauty then, even in despite of the past sorrow, or coming death . . . was nothing short of perfection: for her exceeding fair eyes having with continual weeping gotten a little redness about them; her roundy, sweetly swelling lips a little trembling, as though they kissed their neighbour, death . . . her neck (a neck indeed of alablaster) displaying the wound which with most dainty blood laboured to drown his own beauties, so as here was a river of purest red, there, an island of perfittest white, each giving lustre to the other . . . [T]hough these things to a grossly-conceiving sense might seem disgraces, yet indeed were they but apparelling beauty in a new fashion, which, all looked upon thorough the spectacles of pity, did even increase the lines of her natural fairness, so as Amphialus was astonished with grief, compassion and shame.

(pp. 397-8)

The passage discomfitingly grafts a Petrarchan celebration of female loveliness onto a scene of violent death. Conventional praise of the play of red and white in the beloved's countenance is recast in the disquieting aestheticization of the dramatic contrast between Parthenia's alabaster neck and the pools of blood from her wound; even as the spectators contemplate the dying woman, the marks that the fatal contest has left upon her body are refigured as additions to her beauty and further provocations to the desiring eye. The blazon of Parthenia's deathly loveliness is ultimately resituated in the controlling perspective of the "astonished" Amphialus. It is his gaze, in effect, that "apparel[s] beauty in a new fashion" - just as it had previously repainted the horrors of war with the beauty of Philoclea (p. 345), transforming the carnage of battle into the inspiring erotic object of a private quest. The death scene of Parthenia, herself a victim of the chain of events set in motion by Amphialus's ruinous desires, subtly revises that earlier metamorphosis. Amphialus's attempts to substitute the ritualized performances of chivalric romance for the brutal realities of civil conflict have actually inscribed the violence he has engendered on the body of another beloved woman. When the disfigurements of death and the graces of the cynosure are collapsed together in the paradoxes that figure forth the dying Parthenia, the almost unbearable preciosity of Sidney's oxymoronic discourse speaks all too precisely to the equally intolerable contradictions within the Amphialan vision.(25)

Amphialus's final performance in the theater of chivalry matches him once more against Musidorus (a.k.a. the Forsaken Knight). Before the encounter, Sidney describes Amphialus's armor and caparisons in loving detail:

[A]s if he would turn his inside outward, he would needs appear all in black, his decking both for himself and horse being cut out into the fashion of very rags - yet all so dainty joined together with precious stones as it was a brave raggedness and a rich poverty; and so cunningly had a workman followed his humour in his armour that he had given it a rusty show, and yet so, as any man might perceive was by art and not negligence.

(p. 404)

Like the disguised Parthenia, who sought only death and who therefore reinvented herself as a memento mori, Amphialus refigures his fragmented psyche and his dark despair in his dress. Such intricate self-fashionings (where even "negligence" is artful) are book 3's equivalent of the disguisings that follow hard upon the inner transformations wrought by love in books 1 and 2 of the revised Arcadia - but here, characters like Amphialus and Parthenia are nearly obliterated by the baroque elaboration of their overdetermined devices. Indeed, their insignia do not only record their present condition but almost seem to constitute their future narratives, not so much marking a surrender to the transforming power of eros as proclaiming and predicting a desire to embrace the consuming power of death. Parthenia finds the tomb she represents; Amphialus, clad in rusty black armor and draped in rags, finishes his last single combat with his armor "rusty" with blood and his body torn to shreds.

The encounter between Musidorus and Amphialus begins in accordance with the usual rituals of the theater of chivalry. An exhibition of heroic action is offered up to the eyes of Pamela and Philoclea, with "each [warrior] fetching still new spirit from the castle window," and both knights evincing more interest in remaining in sight of their ladies than in getting the sun behind them (p. 406). But even as he elaborates upon the fray and celebrates the martial skills and dogged endurance of both participants, Sidney uses Musidorus's perspective to interrogate Amphialus's moral position and expose the essential bad faith of his chivalry. When Musidorus's steed is slain, the "courteous Amphialus" begs his pardon for inadvertently dispatching the animal:

"Excuse thyself for viler faults!" answered the Forsaken Knight, "and use this poor advantage the best thou canst . . . ""Thy folly," said Amphialus, "shall not make me forget myself," and therewith . . . alighted from his horse, because he would not have fortune come to claim any part of the victory - which courteous act would have mollified the noble heart of the Forsaken Knight, if any other had done it besides the jailer of his mistress.

(pp. 407-8)

The exemplary behavior (in terms of chivalric protocol) of "the courteous Amphialus" is irrelevant to his opponent. Musidorus has not been so hypnotized by the rituals of romance as to forget his fury at Amphialus's entirely discourteous and unchivalrous imprisonment of the Arcadian princesses, which has "blotted out all complements of courtesy" (p. 411). He refuses to be beguiled by Amphialus's virtuoso chivalry, and both men gradually abandon all punctilio, all artifice: the no longer courteous Amphialus bears "fury in his eyes and revenge in his heart"; Musidorus, in his turn, "give[s] himself wholly to be guided by the storm of fury" (p. 409).

The encounter ends brutally: while each knight is sorely injured, it is Amphialus who receives "upon the belly so horrible a wound that his guts came out withal" (p. 411). The masque of chivalry disintegrates; the final stages of the engagement transform a courtly joust into a savage free-for-all. Amphialus's seconds, "not recking law of arms nor use of chivalry," assault the Forsaken Knight, Musidorus's seconds come to his defense, Cecropia sends a squadron of Amphialan reinforcements to the island, and the Basilians respond to her "traitorous" practices by dispatching their own troops to the fray (pp. 411-2). We have come full circle. Amphialus began to translate civil war into private knightly combat when he fixed his attention on Musidorus and ignored his public responsibilities in the midst of the initial bloody encounter between the Basilians and the Amphialans. The series of single combats into which the energies of both sides have been diverted culminates in this second engagement, at whose conclusion all martial sports give way to a final melee that once more unveils the cruel face of war.

Sidney suggests in this scene the utter exhaustion of the (misappropriated and much-abused) protocols of chivalric romance - protocols that have certainly offered Amphialus no final deliverance from his moral perplexities, obliged as he is to reconfront the destructive and escalating consequences of his errancy. At the onset of hostilities, the outcome of his revolt could not "seem ugly to him whose . . . mind did still paint it over with the beauty of Philoclea" (p. 345). But after Amphialus has returned from battling Musidorus, his conscience lays "before his eyes his present case, painting every piece of it in most ugly colours" (p. 413). His idealizing desire no longer reinvents his circumstances: where horror was previously translated into the countenance of the inspiring Beloved, the ugly image of his compromised situation is now the only speaking picture available to his view. Nor does this vision mark the end of his miseries. Once he has retreated to his chamber to nurse his wounds, his mother takes control of affairs within the besieged castle and proceeds to torture the captive princesses in an attempt to force one of them to marry her son. When Amphialus eventually discovers these latest, brutal consequences of his countenancing Cecropia's abduction of Pamela and Philoclea, he attempts suicide, stabbing himself repeatedly until he presents "a pitiful spectacle, where the conquest was the conqueror's overthrow, and self-ruin the only triumph of a battle fought between him and himself" (p. 442).

Sidney's description of Amphialus in extremis represents a final embodiment of the forces the prince sought to contain in the rituals of romance. The New Arcadia's account of the initial skirmish between the Basilians and the Amphialans had suggested that Amphialus's uprising had displaced the violence of his rebellious passions, as well as his own self-division, onto the Arcadian body politic:

In one place lay disinherited heads, dispossessed of their natural seigniories; in another, whole bodies to see to, but that their hearts, wont to be bound all over so close, were now with deadly violence opened; in others, fouler deaths had uglily displayed their trailing guts. There lay arms whose fingers yet moved . . . and legs which, contrary to common nature, by being discharged of their burden were grown heavier.

(pp. 340-1)

Amphialus's beguiling fantasies temporarily permit him to mask the violence he has unleashed in the refining ideals of romance; it is only when the bodily integrity of Philoclea, his causus belli, is violated by Cecropia, that he explicitly confronts and catalogues all the injuries his actions have inflicted upon the people and polis of Arcadia (p. 441). Turning on himself the ruin he has wrought, the hero who has consistently refused to recognize the disjunction between his chivalric fictions and the actual consequences of his erring desires at last inscribes the spectacle of his self-division on his own person. And it is as a mutilated, barely breathing body that he makes his final appearance in the unfinished New Arcadia, when he is carried out of the narrative by his long-suffering admirer, Queen Helen of Corinth - that same "Diana apparelled in the garments of Venus" whom Pyrocles praised so highly in book 2.

The ultimate consignment of Amphialus to Helen's care seems particularly revealing in the light of my observation that the latter is depicted in terms that recall conventional celebrations of Sidney's monarch and is represented as presiding over a centralized and carefully policed "Elizabethan" court. Sidney has not only purged his narrative of the beguiling masks of chivalry and set a limit upon the self-deceptions of their chief patron. He has also created a half-buried but suggestive allegory in which a thoroughly problematized, morally exhausted, and practically moribund version of chivalric romance is repossessed by a virgin queen whose public mythology is akin to that of Elizabeth Tudor. Sidney's critique of the "kidnapping" of the protocols of knightly romance for morally ambiguous or politically self-serving purposes may have played itself out within his unfinished narrative, but that same narrative points to the continuation of this phenomenon within the author's historical moment. Amphialus makes no more appearances in the New Arcadia, but the ambiguous ceremonies over which he has presided will be represented anew, outside the Arcadian text, in Cynthia's revels.(26)


1 Katherine Duncan-Jones, Sir Philip Sidney: Courtier Poet (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1991), p. 271. Duncan-Jones cites Scipio Gentile, Scipii Gentilis in xxv. Davidis Psalmos epicaeparaphrases (London, 1584), sig. *[4.sub.v].

2 For an account of the Foster Children of Desire entertainment see Louis Adrian Montrose, "Celebration and Insinuation: Sir Philip Sidney and the Motives of Elizabethan Courtship," RenD n.s. 8 (1977): 3-36, 24-7.

3 Sir Philip Sidney, The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia (The New Arcadia), ed. Victor Skretkowicz (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987), pp. 344-5. All subsequent citations of the New Arcadia refer to this edition.

4 Roger Ascham, The Schoolmaster, ed. Lawrence V. Ryan (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1967), p. 69; Sir Philip Sidney, An Apology for Poetry, ed. Forrest G. Robinson (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1980), pp. 61-2. For an illuminating discussion of the complicated attitudes of Renaissance writers toward the simultaneously "necessary and dangerous" energies of romance, see Gordon Teskey's introduction to Unfolded Tales: Essays on Renaissance Romance, ed. George M. Logan and Gordon Teskey (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1989), pp. 1-10.

5 We might note at this point that the revised Arcadia employs several different strains of romance - Sidney borrows from the late classical romances of Heliodorus, appropriates some of the characteristics of the sixteenth-century pastoral romances of Sannazaro and Montemajor, and is also influenced by the late medieval chivalric romance Amadis de Gaula. It is specifically the misuse and misprision of the codes of chivalric romance that are at issue in book 3 of Sidney's text.

6 In The Text of Sidney's Arcadian World (Durham NC: Duke Univ. Press, 1989), Michael McCanles investigates the New Arcadia as a palimpsest of prior texts and modes of fiction-making, which is productive of a "discursive archaeology." He argues that the second Arcadia, in contrast to the relatively generically unified Old Arcadia, criticizes those "pure generic distinctions which cannot accommodate the dialectics of human moral identity" (pp. 160-2).

7 Northrop Frye, The Secular Scripture: A Study of the Structure of Romance (Cambridge MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1976), pp. 29-30, 168. Harry Berger offers an interesting elaboration on Frye's thesis in relation to Spenserian narrative in "'Kidnapped Romance': Discourse in The Faerie Queene," in Logan and Teskey, pp. 208-56.

8 Baldassare Castiglione, The Book of the Courtier, trans. Sir Thomas Hoby (1561; London: Dent, 1974), pp. 95-6.

9 Richard C. McCoy, Sir Philip Sidney: Rebellion in Arcadia (New Brunswick NJ: Rutgers Univ. Press, 1979), pp. 174, 182. See also pp. 177-8.

10 Stephen Greenblatt, "Sidney's Arcadia and the Mixed Mode," SP70, 3 (July 1973): 269-78, 272.

11 McCoy, p, 182. See also Ronald Levao, Renaissance Minds and Their Fictions (Berkeley and Los Angeles: Univ. of California Press, 1985), p. 242.

12 For a discussion of Sidney's interrogation of Petrarchan masternarratives of desire in books 1 and 2 of his revised romance, see Clare R. Kinney, "The Masks of Love: Desire and Metamorphosis in Sidney's New Arcadia," Criticism 33, 4 (Fall 1991): 461-90.

13 For a general discussion of the implications of Sidney's invocation of medieval and Ariostan romance in the New Arcadia, see Nancy Lindheim, The Structures of Sidney's "Arcadia" (Toronto: Univ. of Toronto Press, 1982), pp. 111-4.

14 See, for example, Frances A. Yates, Astraea: The Imperial Theme in the Sixteenth Century (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1975), pp. 88-94; Roy Strong, The Cult of Elizabeth: Elizabethan Portraiture and Pageantry (London: Thames and Hudson, 1977), p. 149; and Thelma N. Greenfield's discussion of Elizabethan court entertainments in The Eye of Judgment: Reading the "New Arcadia" (Lewisburg PA: Bucknell Univ. Press, 1982), pp. 143-58. Of related interest is Maurice Keen's description of the protocols of late medieval tournaments in Chivalry (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1984), pp. 201-6.

15 Louis Adrian Montrose, "Of Gentlemen and Shepherds: The Politics of Elizabethan Pastoral Form," ELH 50, 3 (Fall 1983): 415-59, 447. For other interpretations of Elizabethan neomedievalism, see Yates, pp. 109-10 and Strong, p. 161.

16 Duncan-Jones, p. 249.

17 My caveats notwithstanding, these episodes do seem to support Arthur E Kinney's argument that the New Arcadia is "a contemporary epic (despite its settings) that translated the antique past into the present's most pressing needs"; see "Sir Philip Sidney and the Uses of History," in The Historical Renaissance: New Essays on Tudor and Stuart Literature and Culture, ed. Heather Dubrow and Richard Strier (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1988), p. 311.

18 In The Rites of Knighthood: The Literature and Politics of Elizabethan Chivalry (Berkeley and Los Angeles: Univ, of California Press, 1989), Richard C. McCoy argues that Elizabeth's formal pageants could be exploited in both directions. Aspiring courtier-politicians (including Sidney himself) "joined in the 'rites of knighthood' to assert their own rights and interests": the chivalric ceremonies became "symbolic power struggles" in which "aristocratic militarism and traditional notions of honor and autonomy" were celebrated in the guise of "rituals of devotion" (pp. 2-18). His analysis of the significance of the martial rituals diverges from those of Montrose, Strong, and Yates, but supports my more general suggestion that contemporary reproductions of the ceremonies of romance (whether in texts or in life) lend themselves to the furthering and mystification of personal and political agendas.

19 Greenfield, p. 152.

20 This term (borrowed from the critical terminology of Kenneth Burke) is applied to Elizabethan chivalric spectacle by McCoy, Rites of Knighthood, p. 4.

21 Martin N. Raitiere, "Amphialus's Rebellion: Sidney's Use of History in New Arcadia," Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies 12, 1 (Spring 1982): 113-31, 130. Raitiere argues that Sidney's juxtaposition of aristocratic martial ideals with the political contingencies of the Amphialan revolt results in an ironic examination of the warrior ethic comparable with that offered by Cervantes in Don Quixote.

22 Cf. Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince, trans. Peter Bondanella and Mark Musa (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1984), p. 66.

23 Cf. Chretien de Troyes, Lancelot, in Arthurian Romances, trans. D. D. R. Owen (London: Dent, 1987), p. 234, where the hero will not remove his eyes from his lady in his duel with the false knight Meleagant.

24 Discussing this episode, Arthur K. Amos Jr. notes that "once the ceremonial distinction between joust and war is lost, the death of at least one of the knights is ensured" (Time, Space, and Value: The Narrative Structure of the "New Arcadia" [Lewisburg PA: Bucknell Univ. Press, 1977], p. 164).

25 For a rather different reading of the narrative implications of this episode, see Mary Ellen Lamb, Gender and Authorship in the Sidney Circle (Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 1990), pp. 106-7.

26 I would like to thank an anonymous SEL reader for various suggestions that have influenced the final form of this article.

Clare R. Kinney is associate professor of English at the University of Virginia. She is the author of Strategies of Poetic Narrative: Chaucer; Spenser, Milton, Eliot (1992) and is currently working on a study of gendered representation and the metamorphoses of Petrarchism in Elizabethan romance.