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Sir Philip Sidney and stoical virtue
Richard James Wood

In this chapter (and the two that follow immediately after it), I examine how the Philippist ethos that Sidney inherited from Hubert Languet informs his revision of the Arcadia, particularly as it is evident in the adventures of the character Amphialus. In this chapter in particular, I show that Languet’s Philippism informs Sidney’s invention of the apparently irredeemable Amphialus, who is not, to the alert reader, beyond redemption. By inviting his readers to adopt the moderate ethos of his mentor Sidney places himself in the role of the ‘right poet’; by the means of his ‘erected wit’ he hopes to restore humanity’s ‘infected will’. I also highlight Sidney’s assumption of a pragmatic, if not philosophically sincere, stoical position, which is particularly evident in the episodes featuring his female characters. This last aspect of Sidney’s ethical outlook is discussed in more detail in Chapters Six and Seven.

in Sidney's Arcadia and the conflicts of virtue
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Richard James Wood

Here I will show how my readings of Sidney’s works relate to, and build on, the work done by the editors of the different versions of Sidney’s romance. Sidney’s literary texts have complex textual histories, and my particular focus on the revised version takes this context into account. I will also relate my readings to a generic understanding of the revised Arcadia, drawing on Victor Skretkowicz’s work on the ancient Greek erotic romances that were so influential for Renaissance authors such as Sidney. I will introduce my methodology, drawing on the work of Louis Montrose and Colin Burrow, and eschewing the biographical method employed by Blair Worden in his book The Sound of Virtue (1996). Indeed, Worden’s work on the neostoical aspects of Sidney’s Arcadia will provide one critical context (among others) for my synthesis, under the umbrella of Philippism, of various apparently contradictory philosophical and religious standpoints evident in the Arcadias. Sidney’s theological inheritance will also be introduced here.

in Sidney's Arcadia and the conflicts of virtue
A Philippist reading of Sidney’s New Arcadia
Richard James Wood

In this chapter, I introduce the critical paradigm of Sidney’s Philippism as a means by which to read Sidney’s New Arcadia. I examine the alternative modern critical approaches to Sidney’s piety and the significance of his religious outlook for reading his literary works. As well as highlighting the status of Melanchthon’s theology in Sidney’s society, I demonstrate the peculiar suitability of the romance form for articulating a Philippist ethos. Moreover, I show how the Arcadia, especially its revised version, which has been conventionally seen as a less than serious literary project, centred on the amorous encounters of its characters, can express a profound moral earnestness – indeed, can communicate a sincere and devout Christian message.

in Sidney's Arcadia and the conflicts of virtue
Sir Philip Sidney, the Arcadia and his step-dame, Elizabeth
Richard James Wood

This first chapter introduces Sir Philip Sidney’s contribution to the Elizabethan political imaginary, paying particular attention to his relationship, as a would-be court counsellor, with Queen Elizabeth. I begin to elucidate the particular contribution made by Sidney’s Arcadia to the beliefs and practices of Tudor political culture. The Old Arcadia, Sidney’s first attempt to negotiate his relationship with Elizabeth in the form of an extended prose work, his ‘Letter to Queen Elizabeth, Touching her Marriage with Monsieur’ and Astrophil and Stella form the background to the discussion in this chapter. The characters of Amphialus and Helen of Corinth from the New Arcadia, the influence of Sidney’s Philippist education on his behaviour in his conciliary role, as well as the literary-political legacy he leaves to his sister, the Countess of Pembroke, and his friend Fulke Greville, are all important to the thesis of the book as a whole, and are introduced here.

in Sidney's Arcadia and the conflicts of virtue

Wood reads Philip Sidney’s New Arcadia in the light of the ethos known as Philippism, after the followers of Philip Melanchthon the Protestant theologian. He employs a critical paradigm previously used to discuss Sidney’s Defence of Poesy and narrows the gap that critics have found between Sidney’s theory and literary practice. This book is a valuable resource for scholars and researchers in the fields of literary and religious studies.

Various strands of philosophical, political and theological thought are accommodated within the New Arcadia, which conforms to the kind of literature praised by Melanchthon for its examples of virtue. Employing the same philosophy, Sidney, in his letter to Queen Elizabeth and in his fiction, arrogates to himself the role of court counsellor. Robert Devereux also draws, Wood argues, on the optimistic and conciliatory philosophy signified by Sidney’s New Arcadia.

Sir Philip Sidney’s legacy of anti-factionalism
Richard James Wood

Although Philip Sidney’s Arcadia was completed in the previous decade, it was in fact a work of great literary significance to the 1590s. In particular, the literary quarrel associated with the different publications of the romance reflected the conflicting political philosophies of the publications’ editors. This was a dispute over Sidney’s literary heritage, with added importance for the possible future direction of a state dogged by factionalism. As one of Sidney’s early editors, Fulke Greville chose to connect the Arcadia with one particularly prominent faction of the 1590s: the Essex circle. In doing so, as Joel Davis observes, Greville associated the romance with the divisiveness ‘that eventually wore down men like himself and Robert Sidney [Philip’s brother] – and which would help destroy [Robert Devereux, second Earl of] Essex’. The other party to this literary argument, Mary Sidney Herbert, had a different conception of the political importance of the Arcadia, based on an anti-factionalist agenda. This latter philosophy is the more significant of the two for reading the New Arcadia in particular, and that the key to understanding the conciliatory nature of the revised romance lies with its female characters; they are crucial elements in Sidney’s legacy to later decades.

in Sidney's Arcadia and the conflicts of virtue
Conflicted conflicts in Astrophil and Stella and the New Arcadia
Richard James Wood

The martial adventures of the New Arcadia have produced a good deal of critical opinion about what such knightly escapades might suggest about Sidney’s political philosophy. Sidney’s position, as a well-connected courtier who opposed Elizabeth’s marriage to Anjou and who favoured a more active foreign policy in defence of the Protestant religion, provides a ready point of departure for such discussions. In this chapter, I engage with the strand of critical thought that finds there to be a mismatch between the chivalric ethos of the New Arcadia and Sidney’s real-world political ambitions. The particular moral outlook that I have attributed to Sidney in previous chapters and the figure of Amphialus are again useful in resolving this critical issue.

in Sidney's Arcadia and the conflicts of virtue
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Faith, folly, and ‘The Faerie Queene’

Once a byword for Protestant sobriety and moral idealism, Spenser is now better known for his irony and elusiveness. Yet his sense of humour is still underestimated and misunderstood. Challenging the bias behind this neglect, this study shows that humour, far from being peripheral or superficial, goes to the heart of Spenser’s moral and doctrinal preoccupations. It explores rifts between The Faerie Queene’s ambitious and idealising postures and its Protestant vision of corruptible human nature. Figures to be comically ‘undone’ include the hero, the chivalric lover, the virgin, and the ideal monarch – as well as Spenser’s own epic-poet persona. Yet bathos has a positive significance in Christian theology, and Spenserian humour proves to be an expression of tolerance and faith as well as an instrument of satire. On this basis, Comic Spenser contends that the alliance of humour and allegory in The Faerie Queene affirms the value of the creative and ‘errant’ imagination.

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Victoria Coldham-Fussell

The epilogue reflects on the close relationship between Spenser’s sense of humour and his authorship of allegory. It argues that allegory does not merely facilitate humour (through irony, naïveté, incongruity, and so forth); it also focuses us on what Spenserian humour is, in a far-reaching sense, ‘about’. Readers of The Faerie Queene are not simply asked to see through a story to its moral applications; they are asked to engage with a mode of representation whose secondariness, limitations, and pleasurability are philosophically and theologically suggestive. This concluding piece reviews the strategies by which Spenser accentuates these suggestive traits, in effect pulling together the foregoing chapters’ key observations regarding the intersection of allegory and humour.

in Comic Spenser
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Victoria Coldham-Fussell

This chapter reflects on the conflict between heroism and holiness in Book I of The Faerie Queene, and demonstrates Spenser’s use of mock-heroic humour to expose the inappropriateness of classical ideals of self-sufficiency in a Christian context. In particular, the chapter investigates Spenser’s comic handling of three conventions associated with classical epic: the exemplary qualities of the hero, the superiority of epic over pastoral, and heroic violence. The primary target of the book’s satire is Red Crosse, but Spenser’s own authorial persona as a newly invested epic poet is ironically implicated. Both Red Crosse and ‘Spenser’ rise above their humble backgrounds to serve a queen, and both have pretensions to a heroic vocation. While Spenser’s narrator explicitly renounces pastoral for the higher calling of epic, pastoral will not stop ‘interrupting’ his hero’s progress. Initially, such interruption has derogatory implications, but bathos ultimately proves to be spiritually restorative.

in Comic Spenser