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Criticism, Vol. 36, 1994

Apologizing for pleasure in Sidney's 'Apology for Poetry': the nurse of abuse meets the Tudor grammar school

by Mary Ellen Lamb

As one of its major strategies for defending poetry, Sidney's Apology describes poetry's capacity simultaneously to teach and to delight, to instruct effectively by appealing to pleasure.(1) According to the Apology, it is pleasure which creates poetry as superior to history and philosophy, for poetry's ability to delight moves readers to virtue, rather than subjecting them to tedious discussions or ambiguous examples. Even in the initial stages of civilization, it was the "sweet delights" (98) of poetry which prepared early peoples to exercise their minds for the reception of knowledge. But on the other side of the Apology's claim that poetry's delight enlivens its teaching lies the inference that the experience of delight must be justified by instruction. This inference becomes explicit in the Apology's limitation of its defense to a definition of poetry as "feigning notable images of virtues, vices, or what else, with ... delightful teaching" (103). When separated from its moral function, poetry's pleasure renders it a "nurse of abuse," dangerously capable of eliciting the wrong sort of pleasure to infect its readers with "pestilent desires" (123). By exploring the "nurse of abuse" image, together with other highly gendered figures, this essay advances the following argument: to the explicit charges against which Sidney's Apology defends poetry--that it lies, it promotes immorality, it was banished from Plato's ideal republic, and that it serves no useful purpose--can be added an implicit charge, that the pleasures offered by poetry rendered it dangerously effeminizing.

A reading of Sidney's Apology as defending poetry against charges of effeminacy was perhaps first performed in a passing comment by Walter Ong, who suggested that the anxiety, common among Renaissance humanists, that "literature, and poetry in particular, was actually soft or effeminate" motivated Sidney's claim that the Amadis de Gaule moved men to courage.(2) More recently, M. J. Doherty's gendered reading of the Apology has also linked Sidney's poet and femininity. Interpreting the Apology's Lady Poesy in terms of the ancient figure of Sophia or Wisdom, Doherty's work represents Sidney's poet as appropriating a feminine self-knowledge which poses no threat, however, to his masculinity.(3) Fran Dolan's essay on the dichotomies between art and nature, on the other hand, locates Sidney's Apology within a tradition representing poetry as an erotic threat precisely because of a long-standing association between poetry's "pleasure and desire with the feminine." Dolan claims that, like Puttenham and Montaigne, Sidney uses a "gendered and eroticized" construction of poetry to "convey the vulnerability and impairment of the masculine poet."(4) While much remains to be done with the gendered metaphors and concepts in the Apology, these discussions of the inextricable entanglement of poetry in gender issues provide a radically new approach which promises to recover ideological operations working deeply within the early modern culture and its texts.

Any full-scale rereading of the Apology in terms of gender must first, however, take into account recent work representing a crisis in early modern gender ideology. Since Laqueur uncovered the one-sex model of early modern gender, scholars have newly understood that in this period, in a more literal sense than in modern times, gender was a question of performance--of costume, of gesture, of status--rather than of ontological being.(5) In her study of Gosson's Schoole of Abuse, a work dedicated to Sidney and convincingly claimed as a major impetus for his Apology, Laura Levine describes how this one-sex model created "an unmanageable anxiety that there is no such thing as a masculine self."(6) Thus, for Gosson and others, the spectacle of boys on stage in women's clothing embodied the culture's worst fantasy concerning the reversability of male gender, as adopting the costume and gestures of femininity, the boy actor became in some sense the part he played. Extending Levine's argument, Stephen Orgel discovers an early modern anxiety that heterosexual love can turn men not only into women, but "back into women," for "in the medical literature we all started as women, and the culture confirmed this by dressing all children in skirts until the age of seven or so."(7) Laqueur's performative version of masculinity further explains Orgel's perception of the essential femininity of early modern boys: in his dependence upon women who dominated him, a boy was not yet able to enact his masculinity. But these essays do not account for the source of this threat of infantilization. What within the nature of heterosexual love was understood to propel boys (or men) helplessly back to this degraded, effeminate state?

Sidney's Apology provides an ideal vehicle through which to study this fear of regression in its representation of the wrong sort of poetry as a "nurse of abuse." Enacting a sort of demonic pieta reducing grown men to the passivity of sleeping infants, this nightmare figure recurs in various texts to embody a widespread anxiety that the pleasures of poetry somehow unleashed the most infantilizing effects of female domination on adult males. In Spenser's Faerie Queene, she appears as Acrasia, cradling the limp Verdant who has left his "suspended instruments" hanging in a nearby tree to sink into a helpless (and seemingly permanent) post-coital lethargy; critics have noted that Acrasia's Bower of Bliss is described in the same terms used by contemporary defenders of poetry.(8) On a lighter note, Shakespeare's comic artist-figure Bottom takes the place of the changeling child to be pleasured and dominated in the arms of the fairy queen in A Midsummer Night's Dream before he attempts to write a "ballad of this dream."(9) In the Schoole of Abuse, Gosson's scorn for men who choose "wallowing in ladies lappes" over "wrastling at arms" includes a warning against "all suche delights as may winne us to pleasure." Gosson's description of how such delights may "rocke us in sleep" enacts this same merger of adult lust with regressive infantilism.(10)

While Sidney may have been directly influenced by Gosson, the presence of this figure in the works of Shakespeare and Spenser shows that the fear of this regressive process, elicited by the pleasures of poetry, was widespread in the early modern culture. These anxieties, and their link to poetry, are expressed with special clarity in Sidney's "nurse of abuse" passage: " is the nurse of abuse, infecting us with many pestilent desires; with a siren's sweetness drawing the mind to the serpent's tail of sinful fancies ... both in other nations and in ours, before poets did soften us, we were full of courage, given to martial exercises, the pillars of warlike liberty, and not lulled asleep in shady idleness with poet's pastimes." (123). This splitting of the male self between the warrior of the past and the infant-like reader, nursed and "lulled asleep" in the present controls much of the argument and the imagery of the Apology. Like rabbits and ducks, warriors and infants perform a mental trompe d'oeil as they vie for the prominent position in the Apology which will render the loser invisible. Any victory is only temporary. They repeatedly exchange places because in the binary oppositions which construct them, the existence of each depends upon the absence/presence of the other. The effeminacy of the infantilized readers of poetry is necessary to define the highly phallic masculinity of the warrior: hard (not softened by poetry), strengthened by continual effort (not weakened by idle pleasure), oriented towards war (not towards sexual desire). But like most alien Others, this effeminate infant lies not outside but within the warrior. Following Theweleit's depiction of the soldier-male, the phallic depiction of men as pillars connotes the hard body surface--the armor--of the warrior male, which sharply differentiates him from others and from the desiring "female" (or the effeminate child) which remains within the self.(11)

Pleasure plays a central role in this process. Theweleit describes the conversion of pleasure into anxiety in this splitting of the self between female (or childish) interior and male exterior: for the warrior male, pleasure evokes a fear that "dissolution may occur along the borders of the body" (1:414), that the defined male self might become lost in the "desiring-production of the unconscious" (1:432). The worst fears described in Theweleit's paradigm are realized abundantly in this passage. Dramatizing poetry's irresistible power, the merging of nurse's lullaby with siren's song enacts a destructive female engulfment of readers who are simultaneously infants and adult males. Readers once "full of courage" now have no more will to resist the pleasures of poetry than infants who cannot resist a lullaby or refuse disease-laden nurses' milk. Equating nurses with sirens recasts the narrative pleasures of lullabies, and the closeness with dominant women they enact, as a seductive desire which draws men to their death. Lured by an irresistible pleasure in poetry which dissolves the boundaries between adult love and infantile passivity, readers of love poetry helplessly regress to the time of female dominance when they were not yet male.(12)

If the reader is infantilized, the poet is cross-dressed. It is one matter for poetry to be represented as a woman; it is another to represent even the wrong sort of poetry as nurses' milk and sirens' songs. The lullaby function of "poet's pastimes" which lulls readers' (moral) selves asleep not only blurs the distinctions between adult poetry and the songs and nursery rhymes of childhood; it also blurs the boundaries between the poet's voice and the voices of nurses. Feminizing the poet even more radically, the image of siren acts out the reversibility of gender inherent in the one sex gender system. The homonym of "tail" and "tale" in the description of the "siren's sweetness drawing the mind to the serpent's tail of sinful fancies" locates the wrong kind of poetry within the tails or genitalia of women. This homonym measures the extent to which textual pleasures, even the textual pleasures offered by poems written by adult males, were perceived as sexual pleasures, and both were encoded as female.

It might be argued that the Apology presents the "nurse of abuse" passage as one of various attacks against which Sidney defends poetry. But Sidney's counter-argument does not deny the role of poetry in this regressive process. In his impassioned claim "not that poetry abuses man's wit, but that man's wit abuses poetry" (37), Sidney defends moral kinds of poetry by distinguishing them from love poetry. But, as Helgerson notes, against the wrong kind of poetry which "trains man's wit to wanton sinfulness and lustful love," the charges still stand.(13) Moreover, the very terms of Sidney's counter-argument confirm the gender anxieties elicited by the "nurse of abuse" passage: "I yield that Poesy may not only be abused, but that being abused, by reason of his sweet charming force, it can do more hurt than any other army of words" (125; my italics). Explicity countering the effeminizing force of nurse-sirens in the imagery of poetry as an "army of words," the Apology personifies poetry as masculine for the first time in this text. But the stereotypically feminine adjectives "sweet charming" suggest that even as a military force, poetry's masculinity is vulnerable to the reverses imagined within a one sex gender system.

Anxieties elicited by this reversability of gender identity similarly underlie the rigid polarities contrasting poetry and needlecraft in the counter-argument: "Truly a needle cannot do much hurt, and as truly (with leave of ladies be it spoken) it cannot do much good. With a sword thou mayest kill thy father, and with a sword thou mayest defend thy prince and country. So that, as in calling poets the fathers of lies they say nothing, so in this their agument of abuse they prove the commendation" (126). The silent emendation of the original accusation leveled against poetry as the "mother of lies" to call poets the "father of lies" suggests the extent to which gender has become a sensitive issue in this passage. The phallocentric anxiety revealed by the contrast between the man's large sword to the woman's small needle has pushed the Apology's argument into a false position. Instead of defending poetry's morality, as this passage purports to do, it presents the ability to kill fathers as a necessary, if regrettable, aspect of poetry's virility. This morally dubious assertion of the poet's masculinity is further undercut by the terms it employs. In size, the poet's pen resembles a woman's needle more than a warrior's sword; and like needles, poet's pens mark a flat surface within a private, domestic space. The inherent instability of this comparison of pens to swords calls into question an entire line of martial representations of poetry in the Apology. But to understand the wider cultural context which gives meaning to these representations, it is necessary to return to the "nurse of abuse," this time to consider the social formations by which middle- or upper-class males were installed into a prominent form of early modern masculinity.

Like most nightmare figures, Sidney's "nurse of abuse" embodies both a fear and a wish; it enacts both the desire and the threat of that desire to regress to female nurturance and domination. At this time, when according to Aries, "the effeminization of little boys" "had reached its height,"(14) a natural nostalgia for childhood posed a threat to gender identity. Yet while a desire for a release from masculinity was rendered unspeakable within this highly patriarchal culture, it was also an almost inevitable result of an abrupt childhood transition commonly experienced by privileged males. Sometime between seven and ten years of age, most upper class boys were suddenly separated from a relatively easy-going environment dominated by women to learn Latin from tutors or schoolmasters.(15) A significant force in shaping the elite male subject was not only this abupt separation of seven-year-old boys from their extended families, but the meanings invested in this transition by the culture. One primary meaning was the conferral of a dominant early modern version of masculinity. William Kerrigan has eloquently represented the project of the early modern grammar school as the rebirth of the students' "linguistic ego" into a masculine world of Latin.(16) For Walter Ong, the learning of Latin, and the severe methods through which it was taught, formed a "male puberty rite."(17)

The learning of Latin functioned not only to mark gender, but to justify it as a means of transforming young boys into men worthy of assuming power. This process left little time for play. As T. W. Baldwin put it, Elizabethans "did not found schools to let boys play; in fact, invented all kinds of sinister devices to attempt to thwart that natural instinct.... They wanted taught to be men."(18) The discipline required for a boy to spend most of his waking hours memorzing Latin grammar, translating from Latin and then back to English, and reciting lessons from rote, installed him within the prevailing grammar school ethic of "instinctual renunciation."(19) This considerable mental discipline, reinforced at most schools with whippings and canings, was to be internalized to create a student population "'broken and bridled'" into strict control of the passions.(20) The theory advanced for this submission appealed to the elite nature of its population: training in obedience enabled children better to claim their proper positions of authority over others as adults. This rationalization is, in fact, explicitly stated in a letter to Philip Sidney from his father: "Be humble and obedient to your masters, for, unless your frame yourself to obey others--yea, and feel in yourself what obedience is, you shall never be able to teach others how to obey you."(21) This obedience was to be internal as well as external, as stated in, for example, the common schooltext Erasmus's Adages: "Nemo bene imperat": "A man must fyrst rule his own lustes, and be himselfe obedient to ryght reason, ere he can well governe other."(22)

Central to the grammar school project was the forceful assertion of the difference of boys both from women and from androgynous children they had been under their charge. Richard Halperin's general argument, that the Tudor education and culture were shaped by a troubling awareness of a vagrant class of the new poor which it could not quite "banish from its unconscious" (60), is even more true for the determinative influence of the women and "effeminate" children of childhood. In the schoolroom culture where reason and self-control were constructed as masculine, the intensely desiring body had no legitimate space.(23) For Vives, physical pleasures decrease virility and even threaten penetration:(24) "Therefore our inner judgement must discover this inclination toward the love of our body, and the desire of things here in this life, which is customarily called our self-love. Such self-love enervates the strength and virility of our minds to such a degree that nothing can be so minute but that it is easily able to penetrate therein" (italics mine). The simple, sensual pleasures of early childhood became something that, by and large, schoolboys were to give up. Not to give up the pleasures of the maternal environment meant not to enter the arena where male adulthood was achieved, according to a "learned man," a friend of Vives, who thanked God for the death of his mother, for "if she had lyved, I had never come to Paris to lerne: but had syt styll at home all my lyfe, among dicying, drabbes, delycates, and pleasures, as I begonne."(25)

The immense power given by Vives's friend to his mother, who had to die before he could attend school in Paris, resembles the power given to the mothers, nurses, and other women of childhood, who formed a silent binary term shaping (and threatening) the projects and even the curriculum of the early modern grammar school. One sign of their power appears in pedagogical writings which endow the vernacular fictions or nursery rhymes first heard in childhood with a dangerously effeminizing power. As Halperin has mentioned, one function of this educational system was to alienate boys from a popular and a specifically female culture whose influence was embodied in its stories (27). Erasmus's advice reveals the extent to which these tales were contaminated by the gender of their female narrators: "A boy learn a pretty story from the ancient poets, or a memorable tale from history, just as readily as the stupid and vulgar ballad, or the old wives' fairy rubbish such as most children are steeped in nowadays by nurses and serving women."(26)

As an enactment of an affectionate bond between children and women, the vernacular tales of childhood were rendered almost unspeakable. But scattered evidence--a childhood reminiscence, warnings in books on childrearing, histories of nursery rhymes--strongly suggests that these seldom-mentioned stories--of fairies, ghosts, and goblins--told by women to children remained widespread.(27)

While the few remaining references to this oral tradition identify (and usually disparage) the narrators as women, sometimes narrators could, of course, be male. The Apology's allusion to a domestic scene of narration draws on this possibility in its argument that poetry teaches morality more effectively than philosophy. Enticing readers with delight rather than boring them with definitions, the poet begins "with a tale which holdeth children from play, and old men from the chimney corner" (113). Conflating the pleasure offered by simple domestic narratives with that offered by all poetry, the Apology insists upon the childishness of literary response, a childishness which most adults never outgrow: "So it is in men (most of which are childish in the best things, till they be cradled in their graves): glad they will be to hear the tales of Hercules, Achilles, Cyrus, Aeneas" (113--4). The contrast between the childishness of this delight to direct instruction in morality which most readers resist, swearing "they be brought to school again," stresses its incompatibility with schoolroom experience. This contrast merges this childish delight, essential to the effectiveness of poetry, with the narrative pleasures later so infantilizing to readers of love poetry. The threat of this identification accounts for a troubling discrepancy in this passage. What is the significance of the fact that the heroes claimed for these tales--Hercules, Achilles, Cyrus, and Aeneas--were, in fact, the heroes of texts universally taught in schools?(28) Were tales of Hercules prominent among the tales "which holdeth children from play," or were the more common "old wives' fairy rubbish" indefensible within the argument of the Apology?

The actual gender of Sidney's narrators of vernacular tales is less important than the ambiguous gendering of the boys who heard them; it was their childhood effeminacy which created fictions as a threat to later masculinity. Still, the Apology's substitution of a male narrator of tales of Hercules for the more usual narrators of "old wives' tales" participates in a wider silence within the culture. The erasure of the influence of the women known in childhood could never be complete: abjected from the schoolroom, they returned as spectres inhabiting the psyches of early modern males and the texts they produced.

Sidney's famous evocation of the poet's golden world is one such text haunted by the ghosts of childhood. As set apart from astronomers, mathemeticians, musicians, and other intellectual professionals, poets alone attain true masculinity through the creativity of their minds:

Only the poet, disdaining to be tied to any such subjection,

lifted up with the vigor of his own invention, doth grow in

effect another nature, in making things either better than Na-

ture bringeth forth, or, quite anew, forms such as were never

in Nature, as the Heroes, Demigods, Cyclops, Chimeras, Fu-

ries, and such like: so as he goeth hand in hand with Nature,

not enclosed within the narrow warrant of her gifts, but

freely ranging only within the zodiac of his own wit ... her

world is brazen, the poets only deliver a golden. (100) In her exploration of early modern distinctions between nature and art, Dolan has aptly read this passage as the poet's attempt to create "a world that surpasses nature and bypasses the female role in reproduction," to ally his art with the "masculine and the divine" (225). Dolan's interpretation of this passage can be pressed further, as an expression of the project of the early modern grammar school to provide the "rebirth" of the male subject into "another nature," where masculinity is constructed through the constant exercise of the intellect, with an ensuing disregard for the "natural" pleasures associated with the body and women. Through the study of Latin, and the process through which that study was conducted, the male subject moved beyond the "old" nature now perceived as a confinement "within the narrow warrant" of Nature's "gifts." Through the sheer effort of intellectual endeavor, "lifted up with the vigour of his own invention, "the schoolboy learned to participate in a new subjectivity centered on the mind, taking precedence over the former subjectivity centered on the body.

Especially resonant of the early modern grammar school is the Apology's peopling of this new nature of the mind with figures encountered in a standard classical education. Besides revealing an educated familiarity with classical texts, the figures themselves embody in exaggerated from the privileges of class and gender forming the basis for the early modern grammar school. Through military deeds or the privilege of birth, male figures can be elevated to heroes or even (following Aeneas and Caesar) demigods. They can also be degraded to the stupidity of the despised Cyclops, the strong but clod-dish wooer of Galathea so easily outwitted by Ulysses. (Indeed Erasmus used the Cyclops figure to warn his students to study by comparing him to a person "who has great strength of body, but not of mind."(29))

Within this new and misogynistic nature, women can only appear as monsters. Their depiction as furies embodies the anger projected upon women and the guilt they elicit, the "painful remorse and gnawing of conscience, horribly tormenting wicked mindes" in hell.(30) Their representation as chimeras, or "unreal creatures of the imagination" (OED), points to their elision from the misogynistic discourses informing the grammar schools. Constructed within yet outside language, women are yet present in this wholly male environment as dangerous illusions. This chimera image may also refer to women's narratives. According to Puttenham, chimeras were bred only by "distempered imaginations" rather than the fantasies of "good poets."(31) In its resemblance to the serpent's tail of the chimera, Sidney's image of poetry with a serpent's tail/tale of "sinful fancies" enacts the denigration of women's fictions within the humanist culture of the schoolroom.

This rejection of the brazen world of sensual pleasures for a golden world of intellectual accomplishments created a problem within an institution designed to transform androgynous boys into virile leaders of men. Poetry remained essential to students as a repository of eloquence, but because of its pleasures, poetry became a site of conflict, or at least of suspicion, in the grammar school curriculum.(32) Helgerson points out that among humanists, whose ideas were so formative for early modern schools, poetry was "soft and effeminate, weakening boys and leading them to lascivious pleasure rather than manly and courageous accomplishment" (35). The dangers posed by poetry to the establishment of the disciplined schoolboy were eloquently expressed in Gosson's passage describing their progress from the lower to the upper forms in the Schoole of Abuse:

You are no soner entred but libertie looseth the reynes and

geves you head, placing you with poetrie in the lowest

forme, when his skill is showne too make his scholer as good

as ever twangde: he preferres to pyping, from pyping to play-

ing, from play to pleasure, from pleasure to slouth, from

slouth to sleepe, from sleepe to sinne, from sinne to death,

from death too the Divil, if you take your learning apace, and

passe through every forme without revolting. (14--5) Richard Halperin has argued that this crisis posed by poetry to humanist teaching derived from its subject matter, which was "pleasure itself" (52) without reference to "social utility or seriousness"; poetry offered the possibility of "detaching language's pleasing or persuasive force from its ideological anchor." But a startling contrast in gendered metaphors describing poetry's role in education reveals the extent to which the pleasure of poetry brought on a crisis of gender as well as of meaning. Simultaneously representing poetry as a nurse and a military agent, works such as Thomas Elyot's The Book Named the Governor signal radically unstable gender assignments for boys as (effeminate) infants and (masculine) warriors.(33) The presence of both of these contradictory identities corresponds to the uneasy splitting of the self between the effeminate child of the nursery and the masculine youth of the schoolroom.

These radically opposed metaphors for poetry, and the unresolved gender identities for students they imply, enter the Tudor grammar school curriculum in its two contrasting strategies for dealing with the effeminizing potential of poetry. On the one hand, the emphasis on epic poetry, and especially the martial episodes of epic poems by Homer and Virgil, in the curriculum was to promote not only morality but martial courage. Ong's claim that the "masculine" appeal of epic was responsible for its privileging in grammar schools and in the culture generally (118) is well substantiated by, for example, Thomas Elyot's recommendation of the reading of "noble poets," particularly Virgil and Homer, to teach boys the "marciall and discipline of armes" as well as to inflame their "courage" (fols. 31v, 35). The second strategy presented the pleasures of poetry as especially appropriate for younger students, who needed to be "nursed" or enticed into learning Latin at this early stage of their education. Any effeminizing effects of the pleasure offered by poetry in the lower forms were then to be counteracted by dispensing a healthy antidote of history and moral philosophy in the upper forms.

The prominence of both of these strategies in Sidney's Apology creates the Tudor grammar school as an important cultural context through which to read Sidney's defense of poetry. By moving readers to martial rather than purely moral ends, military representations of poetry in the Apology attempt to recuperate poetry's pleasure as "courage." The Amadis de Gaule, for example, has moved readers' hearts to the exercise of "courtesy, liberality, and especially courage" (114). For the citizens of Hungary, songs of their "ancestor's valour" were the "chiefest kindlers of brave courage" in that "soldier-like nation" (118). Sidney attests to the power of that "the old song of Percy and Douglas" to move his own heart "more than with a trumpet" (118). Alexander's admiration for the "pattern of Achilles" stirred up his courage on the battlefield. Edward Berry has analyzed these and other military allusions as Sidney's attempt to transform the "marginal figure of the poet's vocation into the leader of a militant aristocracy."(34) But surely both Sideney's metaphors and his military aspirations participate in a wider project: to assert the masculinity of poets (including himself) and their readers. More than the actual utility claimed for fictional works, the claim that "Orlando Furioso, or the honest King Arthur will never displease a solider" (126) attests to the masculinity of the pleasure taken by soldier-readers in these texts.

The Apology does not adopt this strategy for defending poetry uncritically; it also tests it to reveal its limitations and the limitations of the version of masculinity it constructs. As in the comparison of swords to needles, a disturbing gender instability lurks within the representation of poetry as the "companion of the camps": the phrase could as easily apply to the male and female prostitutes commonly following the troops. In the emphasis on poetry as a warrior-art, the Apology's argument shows more signs of strain. As Katherine Duncan Jones has succinctly put it, Sidney's own poems were "hardly the stuff to give the troops."(35) With what "seriousness" was this military use for poetry advanced? Was it part of an intellectual experiment to see how strongly a position could be defended, according to oratorical practice in schoolrooms and law courts?(36) As Peter Herman has recently noted, at the time he wrote the Apology, Sidney also directed a letter to Edward Denny to recommend books to further his knowledge of "soldiery"; all mention of poetry is conspicuously absent.(37)

Within the Apology itself, the representation of the warrior-reader is most undercut by its portrait of John Pietro Pugliano in its opening frame. The admiration for soldiers expressed in the Apology is exaggerated to absurdity in Pugliano's overly enthusiastic defense of soldiers as the "noblest estate of mankind, and horsemen the noblest of soldiers" (95). The "strong affections and weak arguments" of this soldier, whose very name means "fighter," cast into doubt the plausibility of the soldier/reader who reads Homer before battle. Pugliano's unthinking fervor validates, by contrast, Sidney's delicate irony; Sidney's wit makes the martial form of masculinity look obtuse so that poets, even effeminate ones, seem attractive by contrast.

But Pugliano presents too broad a target. Despite Sidney's own death from battlewounds, the feudal warrior was fast becoming an anachronism in this proto-capitalistic society; the majority of grammar school graduates finally entered the professions or the court's bureaucracy rather than the military.(38) The primary function of the warrior-reader within the grammar school was not, then, so much to improve courage in battle, as to cast a mystique over a less glamorous masculinity better adapted to the hierarchical social structures of early modern England. This masculinity of the disciplined subject revived a model dating from classical times by which (male) passion was to exert mastery over (female) passions within the self. Pleasure threatened these gender boundaries; for yielding to a pleasure, especially a sensual pleasure, strong enough to overturn reason's control transformed otherwise rational men to not-men: to women or, I would argue, to children, dominated by passions.(39) This hierarchical model of masculinity enacted a defense not only against the desiring female within the self, but also against the androgynous child, whose traces it records.

The Apology contests the effeminizing threat posed by poetry by appropriating its power to inculcate a disciplined form of masculinity delineated especially well in its portratis of Cyrus and Aeneas. The Apology's treatment of these two denizens of the poet's golden world of intellect may well reflect the way the Cyropedia and Aeneid were read at Sidney's own grammar school; for both works figured prominently as required texts at Shrewsbury.(40) In praising Xenophon for his "effigiem justi imperii, 'the portraiture of a just empire'" (103) under the name of Cyrus, the Apology alludes not so much to Cyrus' skill in battle as to his ability to create order both in his realm and within himself by exerting rigorous control over his passions and sensual desires. The ascetic Cyrus presents an especially good example of a disciplined subject; his contempt for physical pleasures may well have contributed a military panache to grammar school discipline, as he addresses his soldiers, for example: "yt becometh a ruler to excede hys subjectes, not in easines of lyfe, but in the care of provision, and prest courage of travell."(41) Thus, by bestowing the Idea of Cyrus "upon the world to make many Cyruses" (101), the poet was imitating not only his heavenly Maker but also the project of the grammar school curriculum.

In its depiction of how Virgil's Aeneid "stirreth and instructeth the mind ... with desire to be worthy, and informs with counsel how to be worthy" (119), the Apology explicitly argues poetry's power to produce within its readers the ideal of the disciplined subject, who like Aeneas excels both in his "inward self" and his "outward government." These traits are revealed in Aeneas' reverence to patriarchal values shown in "preserving his old father, and

carrying away his religious ceremonies." They are revealed in his obedience to duty, including "god's commandment" to leave Dido to fulfill his epic destiny. Obedience to hard patriarchal duty, the suppression of soft emotions emerging from relationships with women, the choice of a future destiny over a present pleasure: each of these triumphs of (masculine) reason over the(effeminate) desiring body was as essential to the creation of the disciplined grammar school subject as to the founding of Rome. Suzuki's recent reading of the Dido episode as representing "Aeneas' passage from a dependence on a maternal figure to a position of leadership in a society of male comrades"(42) suggests an apt analogy to the similarly difficult passage experienced by grammar school boys. The protest expressed in Sidney's description of Aeneas's abandonment of Dido despite "all passionate kindness," against even "the human consideration of virtuous gratefulness" (119-120), suggests a conflict in Sidney's own loyalties to patriarchal values. Like his subversion of the warrior-reader in his portrait of Pugliano, this empathy with Dido suggests that Sidney's interpellation as a disciplined subject was not complete.

The instability in Sidney's loyalties is symptomatic of a larger instability within the early modern culture which proceeds from the splitting of the male self between effeminate child and masculine adult. This splitting is reflected in the widespread metaphor of poetry as nurse, which makes visible the effeminate child it was precisely the function of the warrior imagery to conceal. Within grammar school pedagogy, nurse imagery permitted the pleasure of poetry as appropriate to an early stage in what Kerrigan has aptly termed a "rebirth" of the pedagogical subject into the masculine world of intellect (285). Thus, William Kempe's ideal schoolmaster acts as a "paineful nurse" to beginning students as, reducing Latin to its simplest elements, he "cheweth it all in small pieces, and thrusteth it into the childs mouth."(43) Elyot recommends Virgil as a nurse to young students: "this noble Virgile like to a good norise/ giveth to a childe if he will take it/ every thing apte for his witte and capacities" (fol. 34v). Robertello, an Italian scholar, revived Strabo's representation of poems as functioning as nurses to entire cultures, for their "fables gradually suckled and nurtured men until the time they would be more capable of understanding matters in philosophy which are most difficult."(44) The representation of poetry and the schoolmasters who taught it as "nurses" in this early stage of the educational process appropriated the formative pleasures of the child's earlier experience with female nurses even as it attempted to erase the traces of their influence.

In its own use of nurse imagery, the Apology draws on the grammar school strategy of justifying the pleasures of poetry as part of a longer process. The Apology's description of "the poet as food for the tenderest stomachs" (109) presents literature as uniquely qualified to teach because of the pleasure it offers to those who are very young in intellect. Its specific reference to Aesop's tales as an example of pleasureable teaching draws upon current educational practice, for these fables (in Latin or Greek) were commonly recommended for beginning students precisely for the charm of their arguments in which "children moche do delite."(45) The Apology extends the range of grammar school practice in its representation of poetry as a necessary preliminary for more difficult subjects, not only for students but for nations: even for the "noblest nations and languages," poetry acted as the "first nurse, whose milke by little and little enabled them to feed afterwards of tougher knowledges" (95). The Apology represents poetry as operating for Indians the same way it was to operate for boys in grammar schools, to prepare their minds for more difficult studies ahead: "Until they find a pleasure in the exercises of the mind, great promises of much knowledge will little persuade them that know not the fruits of knowledge" (98).

This strategy for justifying poetry as a stage in learning depended on the introduction of more serious subjects--especially history and moral philosophy--later in the curriculum. To some extent, this pattern prevailed in the grammar schools, although it was no means absolute, for it competed with the pressure to begin with the easier Latin texts before moving on to more difficult ones. Thus, Philip Sidney would have read some moral philosophy in the relatively simple Latin of Vives and Cato in his early years at Shrewsbury before he advanced to the sophisticated Latin poetry of Ovid and Virgil.(46) But Sidney's own general sense that history and moral philosophy were appropriate for older students emerges in his recommendations to Edmund Denny for a course of study. If Denny were younger, Sideny would have directed him to study Latin, Greek, and logic. Since Denny is older, however, he recommends history and moral philosophy.(47) Sidney's recommendations to Denny lend credence to Sidney's own deprecatory representations of the Arcadia as a "toyfull book" and an "ink-wasting toy" as more than simple modesty.(48) As Ong has noted, "literary studies in the Renaissance were for youngsters"(114). This perception of poetry sheds insight on Joseph Loewenstein's findings, drawn from the many references in the Astrophel and Stella to the schoolroom and the nursery, that poetry was perceived as essentially childish.(49)

What, then, can be made of the Apology's claim that pleasure creates poetry as a more efficient teacher of morality than history or philosophy? Not only does this argument run counter to Sidney's advice to Denny, but within the context of the grammar school curriculum, the Apology's advocacy of poetry's pleasure was no less than revolutionary. The privileging of history and moral philosophy in grammar schools was more than a curricular choice; this hierarchy of studies was to replicate itself within the subjectivities of schoolboys. Read according to grammar school dieologies, the Apology's defense of poetry subverted not only the early modern curriculum but also the pedagogical subject it attempted to shape. The very desire for pleasure which history and philosophy were to "bridle" as schoolboys advanced in discipline became, in the Apology, the standard of judgment by which these later studies are found wanting. In the Apology, pleasure becomes equated with, rather than opposed to, morality; for without offering pleasure, texts can have no effect upon the minds and actions of their readers.

The seriousness of Sidney's argument hinges on whether the representations of philosophers and historians are read as portraits or as caricatures. Read as portraits, they further subvert the grammar school project by questioning the ability of philosophers and historians to inculcate virtues they obviously do not possess. Moral philosophers are unable even to follow their own teaching that "passion... must be mastered," for the passions dominating their own souls are only too apparent as they approach "with a sullen gravity," "angry with any man in whom they see the foul fault of anger" (105). A very "tyrant in table talk," the historian is no better. The very "great chafe" with which he denies that "any man for teaching of virtue, and virtuous actions is comparable to him" in fact reveals the falsity of his position. But these representations can also be read as caricatures, as vicious as they are hilarious. Read this way, the presence of these morally dubious pleasures undercuts the Apology's defense of pleasure as a moral force.

In this section of the Apology, any pretense of reasonable fairmindedness has begun to slip. In its passionate defense of its own highly self-interested argument, the Apology employs the unfair tactic of contrasting the worst traits of historians and philosophers to the best traits of poets: only the "peerless poet" appears as a model of rationality as he combines moral teachings and uplifting examples to "entice any man to enter" upon the path of a virtuous life (107, 113). The exclusion of the amoral poets who offer pleasure without instruction--the writers of love poetry or (even worse) the lower-class, female narrators of fairy tales--finally grants to them the considerable power of very bad dreams. Hovering in the moonlit spaces around and between the words of the text, these ghostly presences assume silent control of the central arguments of the Apology.

More than poetry, and even more than pleasure, is at stake in Sidney's Apology for Poetry. Sidney's text marks a transitional stage in the history of the bourgeois subject; it traces the process through which anxiety became installed in the very experience of pleasure. The stringent civilizing process shaping the privileged male subject provides a context through which to read the Apology, which recapitulates its figures, its experiences, and its ideologies in its imagery and its argument. Like the Cartesian subject described by Francis Barker, the early modern privileged male had begun to harbor a "profound and corporeal guilt," to internalize a "self-disciplinary fixation predicated on the outlawing of the body and its passions."(50) The stirrings of the Cartesian splitting of the self, with the location of subjectivity securely in the cogito, were already present in the early modern grammar school, where the desiring body was tainted with effeminacy. Unable to reject absolutely this emerging gender ideology, Sidney strains logic to clear a legitimate space for the pleasure offered by poetry. While Sidney records his own interpellation as an early modern masculine subject, he also contests it, casting a lingering look backward to the androgynous subjectivity of childhood.

Southern Illinois University


(1.)I thank Paula Bennett, Peter Herman, William Oram, Catherine Pesce, and Gary Waller for reading drafts of this essay.

All citations are from Sir Philip Sidney, The Apology for Poetry, ed. Geoffrey Shepherd (London: T. Nelson, 1965). Poetry's ability to teach and delight has been mentioned by virtually every article on the subject; see for example Andrew Weiner, "Moving and Teaching: Sidney's Defence of Poesie as a Protestant Poetic," in Essential Articles for the Study of Sir Philip Sidney, ed. Arthur F. Kinney (Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, 1986), 91--112. For a competing view, see James A. Devereux, "The Meaning of Delight in Sidney's Defence of Poesy," Studies in Literary Imagination 15 (1982): 85--97. Richard Helgerson, The Elizabethan Prodigals (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975), 42 has noted that "the union of poetry and moral philosophy was always ready to disintegrate at the first touch of social or psychological strain, as I think it did when Sidney got around to defending love poetry in the Apology."

(2.)Walter J. Ong, "Latin Language Study as a Renaissance Puberty Rite," Studies in Philology 56 (1959): 116.

(3.)M. J. Doherty, The Mistress-Knowledge: Sir Philip Sidney's Defence of Poesie and Literary Architectonics in the English Renaissance (Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 1991).

(4.)Fran Dolan, "Taking the Pencil out of God's Hand: Art, Nature, and the Face-Painting Debate in Early Modern England," PMLA 108 (1993): 227.

(5.)Thomas Laqueur, Making Sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1990).

(6.)Laura Levine, "Men in Women's Clothing: Anti-theatricality and Effeminization from 1579 to 1642," Criticism 28 (1986): 136. One of various other important essays on this topic is Peter Stallybrass, "Transvestism and the 'body beneath': speculating on the boy actor," in Erotic Politics: Desire on the Renaissance Stage, ed. Susan Zimmerman (London: Routledge, 1992), 64--83.

For Gosson's importance to Sidney's Apology, see Roger Howell, Sir Philip Sidney, Shepherd Knight (Boston: Little Brown, 1968), 172--73; Katherine Duncan-Jones and Jan Van Dorsten, eds., Miscellaneous Prose of Sir Philip Sidney (Oxford: Clarendon, 1973), 62; A. C. Hamilton, Sir Philip Sidney: A Study of His Life and Works (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977), 107--8; and Peter Herman's forthcoming book, Squitter-Wits and Muse-Haters: Spenser, Sidney, Milton and Renaissance Antipoetic Sentiment.

Levine's study participates in a wider exploration of anti-theatric and antipoetic sentiments. See especially Jonas Barish, The Anti-theatrical Prejudic (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981) and Russell Fraser, The War Against Poetry (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1970).

(7.)Stephen Orgel, "Nobody's Perfect: Or Why Did the English Stage Take Boys for Women?" South Atlantic Quarterly 88 (1989): 14.

(8.)Patrica Parker, "Suspended Instruments: Lyric and Power in the Bower of Bliss," in Cannibals, Witches, and Divorce: Estranging the Renaissance, ed. Marjorie Garber, Selected Papers from the English Institute, 1985 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1987): 21--39. Arguing primarily from a colonialist perspective, Stephen Greenblatt draws the comparison between Acrasia's bower and defenses of poetry, in Renaissance Self-Fashioning (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982), 189, 192.

(9.)Gail Kern Paster, The Body Embarrassed: Drama and the Disciplines of Shame in Early Modern England, 125--43 discusses Bottom in terms of this regressive relationship with a maternal Titania.

(10.)Stephen Gosson, The School of Abuse, Shakespeare Society of London, 15 (Nendeln, Liechtenstein: Kraus, 1966), 24.

(11.)Klaus Theweleit, Male Fantasies, trans. Stephen Conway (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), 1:434--5.

(12.)These infantilized readers locate Levine's tenuous and appetitive self, "both inherently monstrous and inherently nothing at all" (123) in childhood.

(13.)Richard Helgerson, 128--29.

(14.)Philippe Aries, Centuries of Childhood (New York: Vintage, 1962), 58--59. Boys were breeched sometime between the ages of five and seven: see Lawrence Stone, The Family, Sex, and Marriage in England 1500--1800 (New York: Harper and Row, 1979), 258. The indulgent nature of this early environment is qualified by Stone's descriptions of severe childbeating; these have been countered by Linda A. Pollack, Forgotten Children: Parent-child Relations from 1500--1900 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), 144--48. Stone's generally pessimistic view of early modern parent-child relationships has been widely questioned.

(15.)Stone 84, 273. Sidney was ten when he entered Shrewsbury: Katherine Duncan-Jones, Sir Philip Sidney, Courtier Poet (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991), 25.

(16.)William Kerrigan, "The Articulation of the Ego in the English Renaissance," in The Literary Freud: Mechanisms of Defense and the Poetic Will, ed. Joseph H. Smith (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1980): 277, 285.

(17.)Ong, 103.

(18.)T. W. Baldwin, William Shakspere's Small Latine & Lesse Greek (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1944), 1:561.

(19.)Keith Thomas, Rule and Misrule in the Schools of Early Modern England (Reading, 1976), 8. See also Jonathan Goldberg, Writing Matter: From the Hands of the English Renaissance (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1990), 42--48, 116 and passim.

(20.)Thomas, 5--6; see also Ong, 109--23; the routines and punishments are amply documented in Baldwin, 1:353--72, esp. 364--65. For a competing view of humanist restraint, see Richard Halperin, The Poetics of Primitive Accumulation (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991), 26--9, but see also 35--36.

(21.)James M. Osborn, Young Philip Sidney, 1572--1577 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1972), 12.

(22.)Erasmus, Proverbes or Adagies, gathered by R. Taverner (London, 1552), A2.

(23.)There may, however, have been an illegitimate space; Bruce Smith, Homosexual Desire in Shakespeare's England: A Cultural Poetics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991), 82--89, posits the presence of a homosexual agenda, officially disavowed, in educational institutions for adolescent boys.

(24.)Vives, Introduction to Wisdom, cited in Baldwin, 1:114.

(25.)Vives, Instruction of a Christen Woman, trans. Richard Hyrde (London, 1529), M3v; cited in Mary Beth Rose, "Where are the Mothers in Shakespeare? Options for Gender Representation in the English Renaissance," Shakespeare Quarterly 42 (1991): 301.

(26.)Erasmus, De pueris instituendis, in William Harrison Woodward, Desiderius Erasmus concerning the Aim and Method of Education (New York: Columbia University Teacher's College, 1964), 214; also cited in Halperin, 25.

(27.)John Aubrey, as quoted by Oliver Lawson Dick, "The Life and Times of John Aubrey," prefatory to Brief Lives (London: Secker and Warburg, 1950), xxix; Bartholomeus Battus, De Oeconomia Christiana, trans. William Lowth as The Christian Mans Closet (London, 1581), O2; John Dod and Robert Cleaver, A Godly Forme of Householde Government (London, 1612), Q6v; William S. and Cecil Baring-Gould, The Annotated Mother Goose (New York: Clarkson N. Potter, 1962), passim.

(28.)Baldwin, vol. 1, passim.

(29.)Erasmus, Christian Prince, cited Baldwin, 1:609; see also Erasmus's representation of Polyphemus in Colloquies, trans. Craig R. Thompson (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1965), 415--17.

(30.)Thomas Thomas, Dictionarium Linguae Latinae (London: 1586), Bb2.

(31.)George Puttenham, The Arte of English Poesie, ed. Gladys Doidge Willcock and Alice Walker (1936; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970), 19. This work circulated in manuscript in court circles long before its publication in 1589; Puttenham was related to the Dyers, close family friends of the Sidneys, through marriage (Willcock and Walker, xxiv--xxviii).

(32.)Various contradictory purposes organized curriculum at this time, as detailed in Anthony Grafton and Lisa Jardine, From Humanism to the Humanities: Education and the Liberal Arts in Fifteenth- and Sixteenth-Century Europe (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1986); Ramism oriented Latin language learning away from morals and towards dialectic (161--209).

(33.)Thomas Elyot, The Book Named the Governor (London, 1531), fols. 31v, 34v, 35, 41; Elyot's instructions, originally designed for tutors in private households, gained considerable influence on pedagogical thought in grammar schools of this time.

(34.)Edward Berry, "The Poet as Warrior in Sidney's Defence of Poetry," Studies in English Literature 29 (1989): 26.

(35.)Katherine Duncan-Jones, "Philip Sidney's Toys," Proceedings of the British Academy 66 (1980): 175.

(36.)Margaret W. Ferguson, Trials of Desire: Renaissance Defenses of Poetry (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983), 152--53; Ronald Levao, "Sidney's Feigned Apology," PMLA 94 (1979): 223--33. Shepherd, 12--16, demonstrates the Apology's oratorical form.

(37.)Peter C. Herman, "'Do as I say, Not as I Do': The Apology for Poetry and Sir Philip Sideney's Letters to Edward Denny and Robert Sidney," Sidney Newsletter 10 (1989): 14--17.

(38.)Halperin, 24--26; also see Ong.

(39.)For the classical model see Michel Foucault, The Use of Pleasure, Vol. 2 of The History of Sexuality, trans. Robert Hurley (New York: Vintage Books, 1986), 84--85. Sidney's The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia, ed. Maurice Evans (New York: Penguin, 1977), 131--32 clearly alludes to it in Pyrocle' song, performed in women's clothing, "Transform'd in show, but more transform'd in mind," which asserts that his mind, not just his clothes, have become feminized through passion. Musidorus's futile attempt to dissuade his friend describes this form of masculinity: "If we will be men, the reasonable part of our soul is to have absolute commandment, against which, if any sensual weakness arise, we are to yield all our sound forces to the over-throwing of so unnatural a rebellion ... to say "I cannot," is childish, and "I will not," womanish" (132--32).

(40.)Baldwin, 1:389.

(41.)Bookes of Xenophon contayning the discipline, schole, and education of Cyrus noble King of Persie, trans. William Barkar (London, 1550), E3.

(42.)Mihoko Suzuki, Metamorphoses of Helen: Authority, Difference, and the Epic (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1989), 118; and see especially the role of Cupid's masking himself as the young Ascansius to entice Dido into loving Aeneas.

(43.)William Kempe, The Education of Children in Learning (1588) in Four Tudor Books on Education, ed. Robert Pepper (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1966), 228.

(44.)Cited Shepherd, 146. Leverenz, Language of Puritan Feeling, 142--46, describes the American Puritan use of breast imagery by American Puritans to mean churches or ministers; as in Tudor schools, this imagery uses fantasies of regressive union to enhance male authority.

(45.)Elyot, fol. 30; Baldwin, 1:297, 304, 352, 370, 374, 383, 404, 425--6, 491, 607--9.

(46.)Baldwin, 1:388--92; see also Osborn, 10--16.

(47.)Osborn, 538; discussed Herman, 15--18.

(48.)Duncan-Jones, 161.

(49.)Joseph Loewenstein, "Sidney's Truant Pen," Modern Language Quarterly 46 (1985): 128--42.

(50.)Francis Barker, The Tremulous Private Body: Essays on Subjection (London: Methuen, 1984), 59. This work has been especially influential on my thinking throughout this essay, together with treatments of similar issues in Norbert Elias, The Civilizing Process, 2 vols., trans. Edmund Jephcott (New York: Pantheon, 1978), and Theweleit.