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Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, Vol. 37, 1997

Exhibiting class and displaying the body in Sidney's 'Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia.

by Mary Ellen Lamb

New historicism and cultural materialism, swinging away from the primarily formalist approach of new criticism, have in the last decade brought to the attention of the profession the social embeddedness of texts. Contexts for understanding the sociality of texts have been expanded and politicized in writings by Marxist and feminist critics, and in the revival of works by Mikhail Bakhtin and the Russian school. With this strong critical interest in discerning the ways in which texts are constructed by, and also construct, the dominant discourses of their cultures, further refinements in techniques for recovering the originary discursive environment shaping texts are particularly timely.

A recent application of speech act theory offers such a technique. While usually focused on transactions within narratives, a version of transactional analysis developed by Barbara Herrnstein Smith and Ross Chambers provides a method of discerning markers of the sociohistorical conditions producing a text.(1) This approach differs from recent analyses of the complex process of reading the Arcadia; it also moves beyond the earlier critical concern with the characteristics of narrators and their auditors.(2) Instead, transactional analysis treats narratives as forms of social action. Narratives forward specific social goals through the creation of social contracts between narrators and audiences as to the kinds of meanings or "points" understood for a given narrative. While responses from near-contemporaries provide an important check on the accessibility of specific relationships with readers within the discursive environment of the text, the most formative audience is the audience-which-is-always-a-fiction whose power over authors has been so well argued by Walter J. Ong.(3) This audience becomes visible through narratives embedded within a text. According to Chambers, the social actions attempted by narrators of embedded narratives replicate the social goals of the text itself. These social actions encode the historically specific transactions negotiated by a work within its larger social context.

The transactions performed in the two most prominent embedded narratives in the Arcadia - the long narratives told to their beloveds by the princes Musidorus and Pyrocles - imbricate the Arcadia in discourses of class and gender. The Arcadia uses these discourses to cast doubt on the social validity of both transactions; the text's critique of these transactions is finally a self-critique through which it interrogates the value of its own transactions. The class discourse emerging strongly from Musidorus's narratives, designed to convince Pamela of an aristocratic status at odds with his shepherd's disguise, establishes the Arcadia as a signifier of the class status of its author and its audience. But the implied critique of Musidorus's narrative role as a deferral of heroic action extends outward to critique the writing and reading of the Arcadia as an enactment of an aristocratic idleness. Through Pyrocles' disguise as an Amazon in a dress, the discourse of gender represents the effeminacy of Pyrocles' narrative enterprise. At a time when effeminacy was signaled by passionate excess more than by same-sex attraction, Pyrocles' narrative transaction renders the writing and the passionate reading of the Arcadia also as a gendered act. A transactional approach suggests the deep sexuality and even the effeminacy imagined at the core of Sir Philip Sidney's Arcadia and of other romance narratives in the early modern period.


A transactional analysis of Musidorus's narratives makes sense of the early-seventeenth-century reception of the Arcadia as a means of signaling or enabling high class status through linguistic display.(4) This social goal was inherent in the narrative transaction itself. Musidorus's narration of his adventures to a split audience - the princess Pamela and the baseborn Mopsa - implicates the Arcadia in the exclusionary operations marking the boundaries of class. Disguising himself as a shepherd named Dorus to gain access to the princess Pamela, unworthily placed in the household of a herdsman, Musidorus tells stories whose "point" is to establish himself as an eligible suitor by revealing to her his "real" princely identity hidden beneath his shepherd's disguise. Musidorus's narrative situation is complicated, however, by the presence of a lower-class chaperone Mopsa, from whom he must hide his true identity and intentions. Musidorus's skillful manipulation of his narrative material successfully divides his audience according to their own location in class. A worthy audience, Pamela delights in Musidorus's history, interpreting his allusions and praising his words and gestures to Philoclea (pp. 246-7).(5) (Mis)reading only the surface, Mopsa responds to his apparent attempt to gain her favor with an unseemly pleasure which turns to boredom as she breaks off his narrative with her snores (p. 283).

By constructing the proper reception of a text - the ability to discern its qualities and to decipher its cues - as a skill distinguishing upper-class from lower-class auditors, Musidorus's division of his audience extends outward to sort readers of the Arcadia according to their own location in class. This transaction was, in fact, offered in the letter by H. S. (Hugh Sanford) included in the countess of Pembroke's 1593 edition of the New Arcadia. Like Musidorus, H. S. classifies the readers of this work according to their ability to appreciate it; their positive responses measure their own "worthiness." Signifying their "affinity" with this book-child, pleasure in The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia even places readers in a relationship of literary kinship with its father-author, so that they partake of a form of readerly nobility. Those who approve it are "the noble, the wise, the virtuous, the courteous" who will "with all love and dearness entertain it, as well for affinity with themselves as being child to such a father." Anyone else is dismissed as a "worthless reader" who "can never worthily esteem of so worthy a writing" (p. 60). This classification of readers is also performed on the title page, which represents a pig repelled by a bush of marjoram, with the inscription, "Non tibi spiro," explicated by H. S. in this way: "Any place will better like them; for without Arcadia nothing grows in more plenty than lettuce suitable to their lips" (p. 59).(6)

H. S.'s classification of any reader who dislikes the Arcadia as a base lettuce-eater does not merely reveal class; it creates it. In the terms of speech act theory, H. S.'s division of readers is a performative utterance:(7) it confers on any "worthy" reader who appreciates Sidney's Arcadia a membership in a literary elite. To those already installed on the upper pediments of the social hierarchy, this transaction no doubt allayed an "obsessive anxiety about rank and status" common among the aristocracy.(8) By providing an alternative to the class system currently in place, this transaction in the Arcadia offered a compensatory function to readers not so highly placed.(9) At least some readers apparently agreed to this "point"; for soon after its publication, Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia was read as a manual of style for those ambitious for advancement.(10)

This form of compensation also extended to the author of the Arcadia. As Arthur Marotti has noted, an author's circulation of literary material in manuscript was itself an act conferring social prestige.(11) Musidorus's affirmation of his "real" aristocratic nature speaks to Sidney's problematic location in class in the 1580s. The expectations of class status in which Sidney was raised differed enormously from those in which he found himself in the 1580s. The heir apparent of the vast estates and rank of his uncle the earl of Leicester, Sidney was, with the birth of Leicester's son sometime between 1580 and 1581, suddenly reduced in class to merely the son of a gentleman.(12) At the time he began writing the Arcadia, Sidney was living his own form of pastoral retreat at his sister's estate of Wilton. While Katherine Duncan-Jones has recently questioned the perception that the queen exiled Sidney from court for his bold opposition to her proposed marriage to the duc d'Anjou, there can be no doubt that Sidney retired to his sister's estate at Wilton in 1580 to seek relief from a public career that had been going badly.(13)

This reading of the Arcadia for autobiographical implications is itself a product of the transactions performed by the text. Pamela's aristocratic example encourages readers not only to value the text, but also to interpret various topical allusions which pass right above Mopsa's head. As Dorus, Musidorus recounts the heroic deeds of the prince Musidorus so that Pamela "shall see that my estate is not so contemptible but that a prince hath been content to take the like upon him, and by that only hath aspired to enjoy a mighty princess" (p. 227). That he is this prince becomes explicit when he moves from a description of Musidorus's noble parentage to his love for the eldest daughter of the Arcadian king, which Pamela is to understand as herself. Most blatantly, after describing Musidorus's birthmark of a red spot like a lion's paw, he exposes this mark on his own neck. Finally, Musidorus slips into the personal pronoun "I" as he relates the adventures of "Musidorus" (p. 268). Pamela shows her recognition of the allusion with a smile and a blush; Mopsa remains unaware.

The many topical allusions strewn across the Arcadia replicate the transactions performed in Musidorus's narratives by encouraging readers to create themselves as aristocratic insiders rather than ignorant outsiders. Readers who respond to the resemblance between the name "Mira" (a figure in one of Philisides' songs) and "Mary" (perhaps Philip's sister Mary Herbert) with a pleasurable frisson of recognition have placed themselves within an elite of discriminating readers. This decipherment of topical clues which began soon after the Arcadia's publication continues to the twentieth century, as scholars puzzle over the "real" identity of Urania (the countess of Pembroke? Queen Elizabeth?), Philoclea (Penelope Rich?), and others.(14) Transparent answers do not, however, exist for every topical puzzle. Since much of the contemporary information enabling the discovery of all such answers is not generally available, the text's invitation to fulfill the role of knowledgeable readers is, for the most part, a tease. Perhaps for some of the characters it always was. Social contracts, including narrative ones, are not always made in good faith.

The most obvious topical allusion in the Arcadia is to the author himself, whose name is closely figured under "Philisides." As a vehicle through which Sidney projects an image of himself, whether "sincere" or not, the figure of Philisides has attracted much serious study.(15) But it has not yet been remarked that the Philisides episodes create the Arcadia itself in the pattern of Musidorus's tales, as a third-person relation of its author's own beliefs and exploits. Sidney's extra-textual references to his own deeds as performed by "Philisides" function in the same way, and just as blatantly, as any of Musidorus's self-allusions. The most extended allusion to Sidney's own activities in the "world" outside the text is the account of Philisides' performance in the Iberian jousts. Sidney's prominent participation in court jousts has been well documented; he may have even jousted as a shepherd-knight under the name "Philisides" in the Accession Day tilt of 1577.(16) Sidney's jousting provided him temporary prominence as a public figure at court. His allusions to his own jousting function, like Musidorus's self-references, to establish his aristocratic status. In Elizabeth's court as in the Arcadia, one primary "point" of the tournaments was the demonstration of courtliness as well as of prowess, as the knights paraded their expensive costumes and artful imprese before the spectators.(17) Like Musidorus's references, these references to the Accession Day tilts created a hierarchy in the Arcadia's readers, distinguishing an elite audience who had attended Sidney's own courtly jousting (or knew someone who did) from social/textual outsiders who remained unaware.

The value of the courtliness enacted in the Iberian tilts has, however, been questioned. As has been noted elsewhere, it seems hardly worth celebrating the anniversary of the marriage of the king of Iberia to the flagrantly adulterous "man mad" Andromana, who uses her authority to usurp inappropriate political power.(18) Moreover, given the self-referential name Philisides, the meaning of "spot" as "disgrace" in the evocative motto of Philisides' imprese, "Spotted to be known,"(19) invites speculation concerning Sidney's own retreat from court in disgrace subsequent to his letter advising the queen against a marriage to the duc d'Anjou. The aristocratic status performed by Musidorus is similarly open to question. Just as Sidney's writing of the Arcadia enacted his absence from military or political action, so Musidorus's narrations enact his absence from heroic action. Even in the process of narrating his brave deeds to Pamela, Musidorus is deferring his rescue of Queen Erona, who will be executed by the evil Artaxia unless Musidorus and Pyrocles come in person to save her within two years. Paradoxically, in Musidorus's very construction of himself as an active adventurer, he is enacting his absence from action.

This aspect of Musidorus's narrative transactions reveals a central problem with class in the Arcadia: its separation from the opportunities to display an active self, from "real" work. In this context, Musidorus's shepherd's disguise implicates the genre of pastoral in a conflict between puritan and aristocratic values. Louis Adrian Montrose has pointed out that the repression of shepherds' real labor conventional to pastoral creates them as convenient figures for "otiose" gentlemen, whose conspicuous leisure signifies their high location in class.(20) By the end of the sixteenth century, this leisure was increasingly under attack by the puritans, the "industrious sort of people" who did not distinguish between otium and idleness, who judged even the upper classes according to a work ethic.(21) With his militant Protestant alliances, Sidney could hardly ignore this critique. This value placed on work explains the perception, voiced by several critics, that in the Arcadia pastoral itself becomes a genre under suspicion. In this context, pastoral otium does not excuse Musidorus, any more than Basilius and others, for his retreat from necessary duties.(22) In the Arcadia, the absence of aristocrats' real labor comes back to haunt the text. Instead of raising the New Arcadia to the dignity of epic, as is usually claimed, the expansion of the heroic episodes in Musidorus's tales widens the discrepancy between his past activity and present leisure, to intensify the Arcadia's critique of his narrative transactions and, by implication, of its own.

A transactional analysis of Musidorus's narrative creates problems with the claim that Sidney dismissed the Arcadia as an "idle work" to obfuscate his "real" political designs.(23) Is the Arcadia a serious political work or an idle romance? These opposed readings co-exist in an oscillating duck-and-rabbit fashion. The evasion of public responsibilities associated with the narratives Musidorus tells to Pamela and Mopsa implicates the Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia, represented in its title as a long story told to a woman. Like Musidorus's tales, the Arcadia required a conspicuous consumption of "idle" time largely unoccupied by political or military activities. Like Musidorus's narration, the writing of the Arcadia itself enacted absence from active duties. The inclusion of political and military material does not necessarily redeem the Arcadia from the charge of idleness any more than did Musidorus's accounts of his heroic exploits. The sense that Sidney's retreat, like Musidorus's, represented an evasion, although possibly an unwilling one, of public responsibilities is explicit in his letter written from Wilton in 1580 to Edward Denny, which notes that he, like Sidney, has been kept "from fitte imployments" by the "unnoble constitution of our tyme."(24) As Neil L. Rudenstine has demonstrated, the repeated admonishments by Hubert Languet to Sidney for his retirement are reiterated in the conflict between duty and pleasure facing the princes.(25) From this perspective, whether Sidney's exile was more a matter of necessity or choice, the desire to indulge in pastoral delights, including the writing of the Arcadia, was tinged by shame.

This criticism of the idleness inherent in the narrative act, no matter how eloquently aristocratic, extends outward to implicate those readers receptive to the transactions of the Arcadia. While they revel in their "worthiness" by appreciating the ornate language of the text and by divining its topical allusions, readers also, like the pastoral characters, enact their own absence from business in the world. In this absence, they become not only idle, but possibly effeminate; for the Arcadia's discourses of class and gender begin to intertwine.(26) In the Arcadia's critique of pastoral, there emerges a lurking sense that reading a long romance, represented in its title as written for Sidney's sister, was not entirely an appropriate use of time for an active male. This perception of listening to (or reading) narratives as an appropriately feminine activity underlies the princes' transactions. Within the Arcadia, the princes tell their long narratives only to women characters, who listen receptively; long narratives told to male characters require either heroic deeds, such as the rescue of Kalander's son, or the narrator's repeated apologies.(27) With the decline of the prestige of the aristocracy in the decades preceding the civil wars, combined with the increasing value given to industry by militant Protestants, the otium once dignifying country gentlemen was beginning to resemble the idleness imagined for aristocratic women.


In direct contrast to the elusiveness of the class conferred by Musidorus's narrative transactions, Pyrocles' transactions assert the solid materiality of the text by conflating it with the body of his beloved. This conflation of text and beloved occurs early in Pyrocles' interactions with Philoclea when, disguised as the Amazon Zelmane, Pyrocles textualizes Philoclea's hand to signify his own erotic desire:

But Zelmane that saw in him [Musidorus] the glass of her own misery, taking the hand of Philoclea, and with burning kisses setting it close to her lips (as it should stand there like a hand in the margin of a book to note some saying worthy to be marked) [she] began to speak these words: "O love, since thou art so changeable in men's estates, how art thou so constant in their torments?"

(pp. 175-6)

This textualization plays with the contemporary practice of sketching hands in margins of books to note sentences of special, and often moral, value. The substitution of Philoclea's hand, with Pyrocles' "burning kisses" still upon it, for a sober gnomic marker empties the text of "serious" meaning to substitute the pleasure of erotic desire. Semiotically dismembered with a kiss, Philoclea's hand is wittily textualized as a gloss on Pyrocles' desire.(28)

The implications of this merging of sexual and textual pleasures are made visible by the most obvious difference between the scenes of Pyrocles' narrations and those of Musidorus: Pyrocles is wearing a dress. As Pyrocles' poem, "Transformed in show, but more transformed in mind" reveals (p. 131), his cross-dressing signifies an inner change caused by his "poor reason's overthrow" by his passion for Philoclea. This construction of heterosexual passion as effeminating also informs Musidorus's reaction to "this effeminate love of a woman" which "doth so womanize a man" (p. 134). While this perception may seem alien to twentieth-century readers, scholars have recently demonstrated that it was not uncommon in the early modern period, when the word "effeminated" meant "degraded in subjection to a woman" (OED).(29)

This "effeminate" passion signaled by Pyrocles' cross-dressing permeates his narrative transaction with Philoclea with a steamy sexuality. By the time he narrates his stories, Pyrocles (unlike Musidorus) has nothing to prove, for his beloved already loves him; so the "point" of his narratives is to postpone the consummation of sexual desire. This delay is represented as tantalizingly difficult, for from the inception of his narration, Pyrocles' "love straight stood up" while Philoclea, fearful yet "sick with a surfeit of joy," feels a "shrugging kind of tremor through all her principal parts" (p. 329). As he embraces Philoclea with the promise of marriage, "which fain Pyrocles would have sealed with the chief arms of his desire" (p. 331), she demands a story, not to deny his desire, but to defer it, so that she might "purloin all occasions of remaining with Zelmane" while remaining a virgin, still "worthy to be beloved" (p. 331). The sense of illegality evoked by the word "purloin" suggests the illicit eroticism pervading this transaction. The sexual pun on "kindness" draws together the pleasure of the text and erotic desire, as Pyrocles "was content with kindness to put off occasion of further kindness" (p. 331). Pyrocles' story-telling has become itself a "kindness," a deferral of sexual intercourse which only heightens desire. With the pureness of Philoclea's "virgin mind" already "stained" (p. 330), Pyrocles' transaction does not enact a disciplined self-denial so much as a narrative form of foreplay, suffused by the meanings of the sexual act.

In addition to his passion for Philoclea, Pyrocles is "effeminated" or subjected to her authority as his "reader." Worn out by telling the longest narration in the Arcadia, Pyrocles finally moves to the direct approach, begging her to "be gracious" to him, presumably by granting sexual favors. It is no doubt in response to her threatening freedom as a reader (she can comply with or refuse his highly sexual textual transaction) that he reverses the direction of textuality to make himself the reader of Philoclea's eyes:

Ah sweet Philoclea, do you think I can think so precious leisure as this well spent in talking? Are your eyes a fit book, think you, to read a tale upon? Is my love quiet enough to be an historian? Dear princess, be gracious unto me.

(p. 375)

In this image, Pyrocles turns the direction of his beloved's gaze: instead of looking, her eyes are books to be looked upon. And these books do not tell of Philoclea's experiences; they record Pyrocles' adventures. In this objectification of her eyes, Pyrocles has appropriated Philoclea's subjectivity as the text of his own narratives, which have been "readings" or measures of her desire for him. For Pyrocles, "readings" are no longer enough, as he urges her to enact the appropriate culmination of his narrative in sexual intercourse.

The effeminacy associated with the narration of seductive texts to women is even more evident in a highly voyeuristic scene in the revised Arcadia. Watching Philoclea and her ladies bathing naked in a river, the aroused Pyrocles sings an extended blazon detailing the beauty of his beloved. Winfried Schleiner contextualizes this "nexus between transvestism and music" in contemporary representations of singing as erotically exciting precisely because the often ungendered voice of early modern singers exists in the border realm between male and female.(30) Schleiner notes that gender boundaries have become especially "fuzzy" in this passage:

Her hands accorded the lute's music to the voice, her panting heart danced to the music - while, I think, her feet did beat the time - while her body was the room where it should be celebrated, her soul the queen which should be delighted. And so together went the utterance and the invention that one might judge it was Philoclea's beauty which did speedily write it in her eyes, or the sense thereof which did word by word indite it in her mind, whereto she (but as an organ) did only lend it utterance.

(p. 287)

The representation of Pyrocles' soul as a queen clouds his core gender identity with further ambiguities already present in his Amazon disguise and the references to him as "she." As Schleiner notes, when Pyrocles becomes only an "organ" voicing Philoclea's beauty, the "line of demarcation between celebrant and celebrated is expressly obliterated."(31) Schleiner's argument can be extended in a more textual direction: according to the gendering of narration in the Arcadia, Pyrocles has assumed the truly female position, to become a text "written on" by the sight of Philoclea's naked body. This apparent erasure of Pyrocles' subjectivity to become a passive text is, however, soon recuperated by the explicit blazon he sings. Her body dispersed through Pyrocles' blazon, it is now Philoclea, not Pyrocles, who has become a text.

Offered by the narrator of the Old Arcadia directly to his readers, this blazon identifies Pyrocles' sexual/textual transactions as those of the Arcadia itself, as a textual analogue to sexual consummation. Pyrocles thinks of this blazon, once sung by Philisides to his mistress, as he eyes the scantily clad body of his princess who has forgotten her "natural bashfulness." The narrator recites the poem to his readers at the precise moment of intercourse, when Pyrocles is occupied in the "excess of all kind joys" (p. 242). It would be shortsighted to discount the intended erotic effect of any poem occurring to a character at the height of sexual excitement; and this blazon of Philisides' mistress clearly functions to reproduce a similarly aroused state in readers. It describes her face, eyes, ears, lips, neck, breasts ("Of Venus' babe the wanton nests"), belly, navel (a "dainty seal of virgin wax"), "Cupid's hill" ("where in that sweet seat the boy doth sport"), thighs ("two sugared flanks" which "lift up their stately swelling banks"), haunches, knees, calves, feet, back, shoulders, and hands. Just as intercourse with his beloved represents an appropriate culmination of Pyrocles' narrative transactions, so this highly erotic blazon represents an appropriate culmination of a similarly sexual transaction enacted between the text of the Old Arcadia and its readers.

The use of the blazon as an analogue for sexual consummation becomes further apparent in its opening couplet, which creates the reading (or copying) of this poem as a form of intercourse: "What tongue can her perfections tell, / In whose each part all pens may dwell?" According to this image, the mistress's body has indeed become a page, a surface receptive to penetration by pens. She has become passively promiscuous: her recesses exposed to readers' eyes, she has no more power of refusal than a book, unable to control which "part" is explored. The plural number of pens suggests the possibility of at least three kinds of powerful readings: the description of her body by various other authors; the imitation of Philisides' blazon by other authors; or the copying out of Philisides' blazon into miscellanies, as was common practice for especially popular texts. The anticipation of this last readerly response was completely accurate, for this blazon became, in fact, the most-copied part of the Arcadia in the seventeenth century.(32) While William A. Ringler explained its popularity by noting its excellence as an early example of metaphysical wit,(33) surely the tracing out of arousing words such as those describing the mistress's nipples as "dearest tips of porphyry" must have represented, to many readers/writers, an erotic act. Similarly, the opening couplet conflates reading and sexual pleasure in the double meaning of the word "tell" as knowing as well as speaking. The "tongue" that would "tell" her perfections would belong not only to Philisides but to Pyrocles and to anyone else reciting or reading the blazon aloud.

The erotic connotations of reading/copying the Arcadia implicate readers fully in Pyrocles' guilty sexuality. If anything, readers are worse, for the consummation of Pyrocles' narrative transactions is somewhat redeemed by love. In the Old Arcadia, the sexual/textual climax between Pyrocles and Philoclea evokes, at least temporarily, the censure of "everlasting justice" and, for Pyrocles, a sentence of death before Basilius revives to reprieve him. Critics differ as to whether this pardon represents the higher judgment of an overseeing Providence or a contradiction between moral values and fictive rewards.(34) Whichever way it is understood, this judgment extends to the Arcadia and its readers as well. Whether or not they are finally vindicated by a higher principle, readers cooperating in the transactions enacted by Philisides' blazon have been caught, like the lovers, in flagrante delicto.

At stake in the Arcadia is not only the guilt of its readers, but their gender. The narrator of the Old Arcadia addresses the lovers' narratives, including the scene of Pyrocles' intercourse with Philoclea, to "fair ladies." How were "fair ladies" to respond to Philisides' description of his mistress's nipples as "dearest tips of porphyry"? While a lesbian reading must not be discounted, other possibilities present themselves. More than referring to actual women, the audience of "fair ladies" seems to function as a narrative device to entrap readers of both genders into passionate readings of the events of the first three books. In the last two books, references to "fair ladies" disappear, as these events are reread according to the judgments of the masculine reason of Euarchus. According this opposition of gendered readings, a male or female reader sympathetic to the lovers occupied the textual position of a "fair lady." That is, a male reader cooperating in Pyrocles' narrative transactions, culminating with the erotic blazon, was himself (like Pyrocles) effeminized by passion. Similarly, in the New Arcadia, readers who visualized the bathing Philoclea as they read Pyrocles' blazon were also implicated in his gender ambiguity.

The erotic potential of narratives explored in Pyrocles' transactions drew on an identification of textual and sexual pleasures widely shared within early modern culture. For this reason, moments of gender ambiguity were probably not limited only to the blazon or even to the romantic interludes between Pyrocles and Philoclea. There is reason to believe that male readers may also have been judged effeminate for their pleasure in other aspects of the Arcadia - its more languid pastoral eclogues, its lush descriptions, its ornate language - all of which appeal more to the passions than to the reason. As Richard Helgerson has noted, for the Elizabethans the energy released by a beautiful poem was libidinal; and the sheer sensuousness of the text of the Arcadia may have been partially responsible for contemporary statements of its erotic appeal.(35) Even more specifically, however, Pyrocles' conflation of the mistress's body with a text seems to have worked both ways: texts were also commonly conflated with women's bodies.

Wendy Wall's recent discussion of publishing has amply demonstrated this early modern identification of texts with women's bodies, vulnerable to ravishment and exposed to the public eye by printing, which performed a textual strip tease.(36) The Arcadia's construction of readers as voyeurs was also not uncommon. As Wall points out, prefaces to printed works often represented reading as voyeurism, in which the reader's eyes were allowed to freely roam over the body of a text (pp. 48-53). This conflation of texts with women's bodies was not limited to published texts. In his study of orgasm and poetic form in Donne's poems, Christopher Ricks has commented on the "entwining of the poetic and the sexual act" in manuscripts as well, as Donne described his manuscripts which had circulated as "virgins (save that they have been handled by many)" and those private as "so unhappily sterile that no copies of them have been begotten."(37) If Pyrocles was feminized by his passion for Philoclea, then readers were similarly feminized by "handling" the sensuous Arcadia, as a virgin manuscript or as ravished text, perhaps even begetting copies upon its body.


These charges of idleness and effeminacy would seem to apply more directly to the Old Arcadia than to the New Arcadia. While both versions of the Arcadia include the princes' narrative transactions, most critics perceive in the New Arcadia a strengthening of didactic purpose and an increase in epic characteristics.(38) The captivity episode plays a major role in most of these arguments; and in its direct response to problems of class and gender, this episode may have in fact been written to absolve Sidney's work of these charges. Thus, rather than describing his past heroic deeds to Pamela, Musidorus engages in skillful and valiant combat with Amphialus. Disguised as the forsaken knight, Musidorus fights valiantly and skillfully, gaining the respect of Amphialus, who declares, "in troth . . . thou art the best knight that ever I fought withal" (p. 542). The captivity episode responds to the problem of gender by revaluing the feminine to mediate the stigma of Pyrocles' effeminacy. As critics have noted, the Stoic virtues of the princesses emerge as the most notable heroism in this episode.(39) This revaluation is also performed in the change of Pyrocles' female name from Cleophila (a scrambling of Philoclea) to Zelmane, the name of a woman who disguised herself as a page to serve Pyrocles, loving him silently until her death (pp. 366-7). According to this model, the femininity created through passionate excess leads not to moral laxity but to Stoic fortitude even in the face of death.

It is the argument of this essay, however, that the captivity episode does not succeed in providing a viable form of heroism either for the princes or, by extension, for the writer/readers of the Arcadia. There is no conclusive victor in Musidorus's combat with Amphialus. The brothers of Anaxius interrupt the match when Amphialus falls, and both combatants must be carried off the field. Left brooding in a nearby castle over his failure to rescue Pyrocles and the princesses, abhorring "all visitation or honour" (p. 544), Musidorus absents himself from action or even interaction. The gory details and the inconclusive ending are only two cues that the Arcadia no longer wholly endorses heroic deeds. Battles in the captivity episode are more gruesome than glorious; too many sympathetic characters die. The combined pathos and morbidity of these military encounters cancel heroic activity as a viable alternative to aristocratic idleness.(40) Similarly, Pyrocles never conforms well to the Stoic model of passive suffering. After seeing what he believes is Philoclea's execution, Pyrocles attempts suicide in "a wild fury of desperate agony" (p. 563). Refusing consolation for Philoclea's supposed death, he specifically labels resignation to suffering as "woman's philosophy" (p. 567). Near the end of the fragment, he momentarily slips into masculinity as, sword in hand, he steps forward as Pyrocles. Represented more as a triumph than a failure, Pyrocles' lapse into active heroism constructs the Stoic fortitude of the princesses as a virtue best suited to women.(41)

The captivity episode does not finally justify high class status through the performance of heroic endeavors; and its revaluation of femininity does not completely remove the stigma of effeminacy for males. The problems with class and gender raised by the princes' narrative transactions are complicated but not resolved, and these problems continue to implicate the New Arcadia as a narrative act.


1 Barbara Herrnstein Smith, "Narrative Versions, Narrative Theories," CritI 7, 1 (Autumn 1980): 213-36; and Ross Chambers, Story and Situation: Narrative Seduction and the Power of Fiction (Minneapolis MN: Univ. of Minneapolis Press, 1984). See also Mary Louise Pratt, Toward A Speech Act Theory of Literary Discourse (Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press, 1977).

2 See for example Alan Hager, Dazzling Images: The Masks of Sir Philip Sidney (Newark: Univ. of Delaware Press; London and Toronto: Associated Univ. Presses, 1991), pp. 130-44; Shelley Thrasher-Smith, The Luminous Globe: Methods of Characterization in Sidney's "New Arcadia, "Salzburg Studies in English Literature 94 (Salzburg: Institut fur Anglistik und Amerikanistik, 1982), p. 130; Nancy Lindheim, The Structures of Sidney's "Arcadia" (Toronto: Univ. of Toronto Press, 1982), pp. 87-108; Thelma N. Greenfield, The Eye of Judgment: Reading the "New Arcadia" (Lewisburg PA: Bucknell Univ. Press; London and Toronto: Associated Univ. Presses, 1982), pp. 50-68; Ronald Levao, Renaissance Minds and Their Fictions: Cusanus, Sidney, Shakespeare (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1985), pp. 190-4; 218-32.

3 Walter J. Ong, S.J., "The Writer's Audience Is Always a Fiction," PMLA 90, 1 (January 1975): 9-21.

4 Greenfield, pp. 184-90; Greenfield represents the New Arcadia as a manual of style, pp. 87-105.

5 Because this essay deals with reception, citations are taken from Sir Philip Sidney, The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia, ed. Maurice Evans (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1977) which takes as its copytext the 1593 version edited by the countess of Pembroke, commonly accessible to later centuries. References are to this edition and will be cited parenthetically in the text. The unrevised version of The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia, or Old Arcadia, edited by Jean Robertson (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1973), was not widely accessible until the twentieth century, although a version of books 4 and 5 was appended to the 1593 edition. The princes' narratives appear in both versions.

6 Margery Corbett and Ronald Lightbown, The Comely Frontispiece: The Emblematic Title-Page in England, 1550-1660 (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1979), p. 62, identify an emblem source to suggest that the pig signifies an unethical reader; however, a proverbial source, "a pig among roses" (p. 63), also reveals that the pig signifies bad taste. For Sidney's interest in emblems, see for example, Katherine Duncan-Jones, "Sidney's Personal Imprese, "JWCI33 (1970): 321-4.

7 John Austin, How To Do Things with Words (Cambridge MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1975), p. 133 and passim.

8 Lawrence Stone and Jeanne C. Fawtier Stone, An Open Elite? England, 1540-1880 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984), p. 7.

9 In this sense the Arcadia functions as the courtesy books described by Frank Whigham, Ambition and Privilege: The Social Tropes of Elizabethan Courtesy Theory (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1984), p. 22. Louis Adrian Montrose, "Of Gentlemen and Shepherds: The Politics of Elizabethan Pastoral Form," ELH 50, 3 (Fall 1983): 415-59, 431-52 also applies to the pastoral of the Arcadia.

10 See various citations in Greenfield, pp. 87-105.

11 Arthur Marotti, John Donne, Coterie Poet (Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 1986), pp. 8-10.

12 Katherine Duncan-Jones, Sir Philip Sidney: Courtier Poet (New Haven and London: Yale Univ. Press, 1991), pp. 46, 194-5; see also Alan Sinfield, "Power and Ideology: An Outline Theory and Sidney's Arcadia," ELH 52, 2 (Summer 1985): 259-77, 269; and Richard McCoy, Rites of Knighthood: The Literature and Politics of Elizabethan Chivalry (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1989), pp. 62-3. Hager pp. 7, 170-1; p. 188 n. 1 lists autobiographical parallels. This sense of a gap between Sidney's "real" and apparent class would have only been exacerbated by the discrepancy between his chilly treatment in the English court and his entertainment as a near-celebrity on the Continent, where he had been created "Baron de Sidenay" by the king of France, and befriended by leading scholars and statesmen (Duncan-Jones, Sir Philip Sidney, pp. 58, 85).

13 Duncan-Jones, Sir Philip Sidney, pp. 168-9, 174-5.

14 Anne Clifford, wife to Sidney's nephew Philip, wrote the "real" identities of numerous characters in the margins of her copy, described in Sotheby's sale catalogue for 22-23 July 1985; annotations observed by an anonymous observer. John Aubrey, Brief Lives, ed. Andrew Clark, vol. 2 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989), pp. 250-1 made available to the public a key to the characters written by D. Tyndale. See Duncan-Jones, Sir Philip Sidney, p. 16; Thrasher-Smith, pp. 145, 175-80; Dennis Moore, The Politics of Spenser's Complaints and Sidney's Philisides Poems, Salzburg Studies in English Literature 101 (Salzburg: Institut fur Anglistik und Amerikanistik, 1982), pp. 92-3, 109-10, 126-32.

15 Much has been written of Philisides' melancholy (and whether it reflects Sidney's own) and Sidney's general self-alienation from the court party (Duncan-Jones, Sir Philip Sidney, pp. 42-3, 69, 100, 139-40, 144; A. C. Hamilton, Sir Philip Sidney: A Study of His Life and Works (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1977), pp. 35-7; Neil L. Rudenstine, Sidney's Poetic Development (Cambridge MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1967), pp. 36-7, 121; Hager, pp. 28-30. Philisides' beast fable, "As I my little flock on Ister bank," has evoked speculation concerning Sidney's possible radical politics. See Annabel Patterson, Censorship and Interpretation: The Conditions of Writing and Reading in Early Modern England (Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 1984), pp. 24-43; and Sinfield, p. 266. Hager discusses Sidney's use of such autobiographical poses as elusive masks (p. 177).

16 Alan Young, "Sir Philip Sidney's Tournament Impreses," SNew 6, 1 (Fall 1985): 7-10; Peter Beal, "Poems by Sir Philip Sidney: The Ottley Manuscript," Library 33 (1978): 284-95 remains skeptical; see also Victor Skretkowicz, ed., Sir Philip Sidney: "The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia (The New Arcadia)" (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987), p. xv. For Sidney's participation in tournaments see Frances A. Yates, Astraea: The Imperial Theme in the Sixteenth Century (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1975), pp. 88-91; and Duncan-Jones, "Sidney's Personal Imprese."

17 McCoy, Rites of Knighthood, p. 21 cites other motives as well.

18 McCoy, Rites of Knighthood, p. 68; Sinfield, p. 266.

19 D. Coulman, "'Spotted To Be Known,'" JWCI20 (1957): 179-80. 20 Montrose, "Of Gentlemen and Shepherds," pp. 431, 452.

21 Christopher Hill, Society and Puritanism in Pre-Revolutionary England (New York: Schocken, 1967), pp. 136-41.

22 Hamilton, pp. 44-5; David Norbrook, Poetry and Politics in the English Renaissance (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1984), pp. 91-6.

23 See Patterson, pp. 42-4 for a political reading. See also Sinfield; Norbrook; and Martin N. Raitiere, Faire Bitts: Sir Philip Sidney and Renaissance Political Theory (Pittsburgh PA: Duquesne Univ. Press, 1984).

24 James M. Osborn, Young Philip Sidney, 1572-1577 (New Haven and London: Yale Univ. Press, 1972), p. 537; and Louis Adrian Montrose, "Celebration and Insinuation: Sir Philip Sidney and the Motives of Elizabethan Courtship," RenD n. s. 8 (1977): 3-35, 7-14.

25 Rudenstine, pp. 3-22.

26 The intersections of discourses of class and gender have been well discussed by Wendy Wall, The Imprint of Gender: Authorship and Publication in the English Renaissance (Ithaca and London: Cornell Univ. Press, 1993), pp. 169-226.

27 Mary Ellen Lamb, Gender and Authorship in the Sidney Circle (Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 1990), pp. 87-8.

28 Jonathan Goldberg, Writing Matter: From the Hands of the English Renaissance (Stanford CA: Stanford Univ. Press, 1990), pp. 83-95 claims that pictures of dismembered hands in writing manuals suggest the underlying violence of textuality.

29 OED noted in Susan C. Shapiro, "'Yon Plumed Dandebrat': Male 'Effeminacy' in English Satire and Criticism," RES 39, 155 (August 1988): 400-12, 403; for the early modern perception of heterosexual passion as effeminizing also see Mark Rose, "Sidney's Womanish Man," RES 15, 60 (November 1964): 353-63; Winfried Schleiner, "Male Cross-Dressing and Transvestism in Renaissance Romances," SCJ 19, 4 (Winter 1988): 605-19; and Phyllis Rackin, "Foreign Country: The Place of Women and Sexuality in Shakespeare's Historical World," in Enclosure Acts: Sexuality, Property, and Culture in Early Modern England, ed. Richard Burt and John Michael Archer (Ithaca and London: Cornell Univ. Press, 1994), pp. 68-95.

30 Schleiner, p. 619.

31 Schleiner, p. 617.

32 Peter Beal, comp., Index of English Literary Manuscripts: 1450-1625, vol. 1, part 2 (London: Mansell; New York: R. R. Bowker, 1980), pp. 482-3.

33 Poems of Sir Philip Sidney, ed. William A. Ringler (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1962), p. 410. Dorothy Jones, "Sidney's Erotic Pen: An Interpretation of One of the Arcadia Poems," JEGP 73, I (January 1974): 32-47, 37 has claimed that the "deceptively smooth" texture of the blazon would have "lulled" its early readers into "accepting the poem at its face value."

34 Richard C. McCoy, Sir Philip Sidney: Rebellion in Arcadia (New Brunswick NJ: Rutgers Univ. Press, 1979), pp. 132-7; Lanham, pp. 316-7; and Rudenstine, p. 44. Constance Jordan, Renaissance Feminism: Literary Texts and Political Models (Ithaca and London: Cornell Univ. Press, 1990), pp. 235-40, sees this ending as the operation of equity. This judgment extends, by implication, to include the genre of romance: see Richard Helgerson, The Elizabethan Prodigals (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1976), p. 154; Margaret W. Ferguson, Trials of Desire: Renaissance Defenses of Poetry (New Haven and London: Yale Univ. Press, 1983), pp. 137-8, 146; and Lamb, pp. 78-80.

35 Helgerson, p. 130. Sources such as Alexander Pope, Richard Lovelace, Charles Cotton, and Joseph Warton are discussed in John Buxton, Elizabethan Taste (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1964), p. 252.

36 Wall, pp. 180-2, 203-5.

37 Christopher Ricks, "Donne After Love," in Literature and the Body, ed. Elaine Scarry (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1990), pp. 33-69, 50.

38 Various of these critics are summarized in Paul Salzman, English Prose Fiction, 1558-1700: A Critical History (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1985), pp. 50-4. This viewpoint is also strengthened by the omission of the princes' crimes committed in the Old Arcadia: Pyrocles does not engage in premarital intercourse with Philoclea, and Musidorus does not attempt to rape Pamela. It is less commonly thought that the countess of Pembroke was responsible for these revisions.

39 See, for example, Myron Turner, "The Heroic Ideal in Sidney's Revised Arcadia," SEL 10, 1 (Winter 1970): 63-82; and McCoy, Sir Philip Sidney, pp. 205-6; the implications of this revaluation for Zelmane are discussed at greater length in Lamb, pp. 102-9.

40 Josephine Roberts, Architectonic Knowledge in the "New Arcadia" (1590) (Salzburg: Institut fur Englische Sprache und Literatur, 1978), pp. 260-5.

41 Lamb, p. 105.

Mary Ellen Lamb is a professor at Southern Illinois University. She has written Gender and Authorship in the Sidney Circle as well as essays on Shakespeare and early modern women writers.