Sir Philip Sidney (1554 - 1586)
Arcadia / Double
Sestina / Defence / Astrophel
and Stella (extracts) / One of the Certain
Sonnets / From the New Arcadia
A detailed summary of The Old Arcadia
Duke Basilius, ruler of Arcadia, his wife Gynecia and their young daughters Pamela and Philoclea go to live in a remote rural village in an attempt to avoid a fearful oracle that Basilius has received at Delphi, announcing that his elder daughter will be stolen from him, the younger "embrace an uncouth love," while he will commit adultery with his wife and a foreigner will sit on his throne.
Two noble cousins, Pyrocles and Musidorus, are travelling through Arcadia when Pyrocles sees a painting of Philoclea and falls in love with her. He decides that the best way of approaching her is for him to disguise himself as a girl, Cleophila. As he comes to the village, disguised, he meets the rough shepherd Dametas who is guarding the family, then the Duke who falls in love with "her" and urges her to stay. Musidorus, watching events from the woods, sees Pamela and falls in love with her, so he dresses as a shepherd, Dorus, in the hope of being able to stay near her.
A lion and bear suddenly appear. Cleophila saves Philoclea, killing the lion; Gynecia realizes that this must be a man, and falls in love with him. Dorus saves Pamela by killing the bear. By the end of the book, everyone is in love, including Philoclea, who is most perplexed by her feelings towards Cleophila.
Gynecia realizes that Cleophila loves her daughter, and is filled with jealousy. She tells Cleophila her feelings, just as Basilius comes singing love songs. As Dorus, Musidorus is separated from Pamela by social class; she begins to challenge such conventions, while he pretends to be in love with Dametas's foolish daughter Mopsa and asks Pamela for advice. At the same time he hints at his real rank and she guesses his meaning.
Basilius and Gynecia are so jealous of each other, and so much in love with Cleophila, that she has no chance to speak to Philoclea until Basilius at last confesses his feelings while Gynecia sleeps. Cleophila suggests that his daughter can help plead his suit, and he enables them to meet. Cleophila tells Philoclea who he really is, and they are just beginning love raptures when a lawless mob attacks the place. The skill of Cleophila is able to drive them away, and Basilius thinks the oracle is now fulfilled.
While the young couples are happy, and Musidorus/Dorus invites Pamela to run away with him, Basilius and Gynecia are not happy. Basilius threatens to go back home in despair, Gynecia threatens to reveal Cleophila's secret. Dorus uses tricks to send Dametas and his family off on fools' errands, and runs off with Pamela; on their journey they promise chastity but when he sees her sleeping, Musidorus is about to fall on Pamela when he is captured by a dozen "clownish villains."
Meanwhile Cleophila goes to live in a cave; there (s)he gives both admirers a rendez-vous, telling Gynecia to come dressed in her clothes. As she is going there, Gynecia sees a potion she assumes to be a love-potion and takes it with her. Cleophila lies down in Gynecia's bed, pretending to be asleep; Basilius runs to the dark cave and jumps into the bed. Gynecia hears his voice and realizes the truth but dares say nothing. Stripping off his female identity, Pyrocles now runs to Philoclea and after some mixed emotions they are united in unmarried bliss.
Dametas and his family return disillusioned; finding that Dorus and Pamela have gone, Dametas goes to tell the duke, but finds the two lovers asleep in bed. He blocks the door. When morning comes, Gynecia reveals herself to Basilius and they recognize their shame. Thirsty, Basilius drinks the potion and drops dead. Gynecia comes out announcing her guilt, just as the duke's regent Philanax arrives.
In the bedroom, realizing they are caught, Pyrocles tries to kill himself with an iron bar, but the noble-minded Philoclea stops him. Philanax assumes that all are guilty of the worst crimes; Musidorus and Pamela are brought back as prisoners.
Euarchus, king of Macedonia, arrives, hoping to be able to bring Basilius back to his duties and Philanax asks him to be judge. In the trial, Gynecia admits her guilt for Basilius's death and is sentenced to be buried alive in his tomb. Then Philanax accuses the princes, the princesses being prevented from giving witness in their favour, and Euarchus declares that violence must be punished, that love is no excuse, they must die.
He is then told that the two accused princes are his son and nephew. He refuses to recognize them on account of their crimes, and insists that his sentence must stand, yet he weeps. Each prince asks him to spare the other, but in vain. Suddenly Basilius wakes up; the potion was a sleeping potion, not a poison. He declares Gynecia's innocence, and marries the two young couples; Gynecia's shame remains a secret known only to them.
This passage in Book III, where Musidorus elopes with Pamela may serve as an example of the style of this first version of Sidney's Arcadia:
...mounting the gracious Pamela upon a fair horse he had provided for her, he thrust himself forthwith into the wildest part of the desert where he had left marks to guide him from place to place to the next seaport, disguising her very fitly with scarves, although he rested assured he should meet that way with nobody till he came to his bark, into which he meant to enter by night. But Pamela who was all this while transported with desire, and troubled with fear, had never free scope of judgement to look with perfect consideration into her own enterprise, but even by the laws of love had bequeathed the care of herself upon him to whom she had given herself, now that the pang of desire with evident hope was quieted, and most of the fear passed, reason began to renew his shining in her heart, and make her see herself in herself, and weigh with what wings she flew out of her native country, and upon what ground she built so strange a determination. But love, fortified with her lover's presence, kept still his own in her heart, so that as they rid together, with her hand upon her faithful servant's shoulder, suddenly casting her bashful eyes to the ground, and yet bending herself towards him (like the client that commits the cause of all his worth to a well trusted advocate) from a mild spirit said unto him these sweetly delivered words:
"Prince Musidorus (for so my assured hope is I may justly call you, since with no other my heart would ever have yielded to go; and if so I do not rightly term you, all other words are as bootless as my deed is miserable, and I as unfortunate as you wicked), my prince Musidorus, I say, now that the vehement shows of your faithful love towards me have brought my mind to answer it in so due a proportion that, contrary to all general rules of reason, I have laid in you my estate, my life, my honour, it is now your part to double your former care, and make me see your virtue no less in preserving than in obtaining, and your faith to be a faith as much in freedom as in bondage. Tender now your own workmanship, and so govern your love towards me as I may still remain worthy to be loved. Your promise you remember, which here by the eternal givers of virtue I conjure you to observe. Let me be your own (as I am), but by no unjust conquest. Let not our joys, which ought ever to last, be stained in our own consciences. Let no shadow of repentance steal into the sweet consideration of our mutual happiness. I have yielded to be your wife; stay then till the time that I may rightly be so. Let no other defiled name burden my heart. What should I more say? If I have chosen well, all doubt is past, since your action only must determine whether I have done virtuously or shamefully in following you."
Musidorus (that had more abundance of joy in his heart than Ulysses had what time with his own industry he stale the fatal Paladium, imagined to be the only relic of Troy's safety), taking Pamela's hand, and many times kissing it, "What I am," said he, "the gods, I hope, will shortly make your own eyes judges; and of my mind towards you, the mean time shall be my pledge unto you. Your contentment is dearer to me than mine own, and therefore doubt not of his mind whose thoughts are so thralled unto you as you are to bend or slack them as it shall seem best unto you. You do wrong to yourself to make any doubt that a base estate could ever undertake so high an enterprise, or a spotted mind be able to behold your virtues. Thus much only I must confess I can never do: to make the world see you have chosen worthily; since all the world is not worthy of you."
In such delightful discourses kept they on their journey, maintaining their hearts in that right harmony of affection which doth interchangeably deliver each to other the secret workings of their souls, till with the unused travel the princess being weary, they lighted down in a fair thick wood which did entice them with the pleasantness of it to take their rest there. It was all of pine trees, whose broad heads meeting together yielded a perfect shade to the ground, where their bodies gave a spacious and pleasant room to walk in. . . . (Musidorus sings)
The sweet Pamela was brought into a sweet sleep with this song, which gave Musidorus opportunity at leisure to behold her excellent beauties. He thought her fair forehead was a field where all his fancies fought, and every hair of her head seemed a strong chain that tied him. Her fair lids (then hiding her fairer eyes) seemed unto him sweet boxes of mother of pearl, rich in themselves, but containing in them far richer jewels. Her cheeks, with their colour most delicately mixed, would have entertained his eyes somewhile, but that the roses of her lips (whose separating was wont to be accompanied with most wise speeches) now by force drew his sight to mark how prettily they lay one over the other, uniting their divided beauties, and through them the eye of his fancy delivered to his memory the lying (as in ambush) under her lips of those armed ranks, all armed in most pure white, and keeping the most precise order of military discipline. And lest this beauty might seem the picture of some excellent artificer, forth there stole a soft breath, carrying good testimony of her inward sweetness; and so stealingly it came out as it seemed loath to leave his contentful mansion, but that it hoped to be drawn in again to that well closed paradise, that did so tyrannize over Musidorus's affects that he was compelled to put his face as low to hers as he could, sucking the breath with such joy that he did determine in himself there had been no life to a chameleon's, if he might be suffered to enjoy that food. But each of these having a mighty working in his heart, all joined together did so draw his will into the nature of their confederacy that now his promise began to have but a fainting force, and each thought that rose against those desires was received but as a stranger to his counsel, well experiencing in himself that no vow is so strong as the avoiding of occasions; so that rising softly from her, overmastered with the fury of delight, having all his senses partial against himself and inclined to his well beloved adversary, he was bent to take advantage of the weakness of the watch, and see whether at that season he could win the bulwark before timely help might come. And now he began to make his approaches when (to the just punishment of his broken promise, and most infortunate bar of his long-pursued and almost-achieved desires) there came by a dozen clownish villains, armed with divers sorts of weapons, and for the rest, both in face and apparel, so forwasted that they seemed to bear a great conformity with the savages; who (miserable in themselves, thought to increase their mischiefs in other bodies' harms) came with such cries as they awaked Pamela (whose sleep had been set upon with two dangers, the one of which had saved her from the other), and made Musidorus turn unto them full of a most violent rage with the look of a she-tiger when her whelps are stolen away.
K. Curse to myself my prayer is, the morning; e
My fire is more than can be made with forests; c
My state is more base than are the basest valleys; b
I wish no evenings more to see, each evening; f
Shamed, I hate myself in sight of mountains, a
And stop mine ears lest I grow mad with music. d
S. For she, whose parts maintained a perfect music, d
Whose beauties shined more than the blushing morning, e
Who much did pass in state the stately mountains, a
In straightness passed the cedars of the forests, c
Hath cast me, wretch, into eternal evening, f
By taking her two suns from these dark valleys. b
K. For she, with whom compared the Alps are valleys, b
She, whose least word brings from the spheres their music, d
At whose approach the sun rase in the evening, f
Who, where she went, bare in her forehead morning, e
Is gone, is gone from these our spoiled forests, c
Turning to deserts our best pastured mountains. a
S. These mountains witness shall, so shall these valleys, ab
K. These forests eke, made wretched by our music, cd
Our morning hymn this is, and song at evening. ef
The Defence of Poesy (extracts)
Sidney starts by referring to the ancient roles of the poet:
Among the Romans a poet was called vates, which is as much as a diviner, foreseer, or prophet. . . so heavenly a title did that excellent people bestow upon this heart-ravishing knowledge. . . .
And may not I presume a little further, to show the reasonableness of this word vates, and say that the holy David's Psalms are a divine poem? If I do, I shall not do it without the testimony of great learned men, both ancient and modern. . . . principally, his handling his prophecy, which is merely poetical: for what else is the awaking his musical instruments, the often and free changing of persons, his notable prosopopoeias (personifications), when he maketh you, as it were, see God coming in his majesty, his telling of the beasts' joyfulness and hills leaping, but a heavenly poesy, wherein almost (indeed) he showeth himself a passionate lover of that unspeakable and everlasting beauty to be seen by the eyes of the mind, only cleared by faith. But truly now having named him, I fear me I seem to profane that holy name, applying it to poetry, which is among us thrown down to so ridiculous an estimation. But they that with quiet judgements will look a little deeper into it, shall find the end and working of it such as, being rightly applied, deserveth not to be scourged out of the Church of God.
But now let us see how the Greeks named it, and how they deemed of it. The Greeks called him a "poet," which name hath, as the most excellent, gone through other languages. It cometh of this word poiein, which is, to make: wherin, I know not whether by luck or wisdom, we Englishmen have met with the Greeks in calling him a "maker": which name, how high and incomparable a title it is, I had rather were known by marking the scope of other sciences than by any partial allegation.
There is no art delivered to mankind that hath not the works of nature for his principle object, without which they (the arts) could not consist, and on which they so depend, as they become actors and players, as it were, of what nature will have set forth.
(This he illustrates by referring to astronomy, geometry, arithmetic, music, etc.). . .
Only the poet, disdaining to be tied to any such subjection, lifted up with the vigour of his own invention, doth grow in effect another nature, in making things either better than nature bringeth forth, or, quite anew, forms such as never were in nature, as the Heroes, Demigiods, Cyclops, Chimeras, Furies, and such like: so as he goes 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. Nature never set forth the earth in so rich tapestry as divers poets have done; neither with so pleasant rivers, fruitful trees, sweet-smelling flowers, nor whatsoever else may make the too much loved earth more lovely. Her world is brazen, the poets only deliver a golden.
But let those things alone, and go to man--for whom as the other things are, so it seemeth in him her uttermost cunning is employed--and know whether she have brought forth so true a lover as Theagenes, so constant a friend as Pylades, so valiant a man as Orlando, so right a prince as Xenophon's Cyrus, so excellent a man in every way as Virgil's Aeneas. Neither let this be jestingly conceived, because the works of the one be essential, the other in imitation or fiction, for any understanding knoweth the skill of each artificer standeth in that idea or fore-conceit of the work, and not in the work itself. And that the poet hath that idea is manifest, by delivering them forth in such excellency as he had imagined them. Which delivering forth is not wholly imaginative, as we are wont to say by them that build castles in the air; but so far substantially it worketh, not only to make a Cyrus, which had been but a particular excellency as nature might have done, but to bestow a Cyrus upon the world to make many Cyruses, if they will learn aright why and how that maker made him.
This last paragraph contains the germ of one of Sidney's main ideas: that the lives created (or re-created) by the literary author make such a deep impression on the readers that they find themselves impelled to try to live like the characters they read about. This teaching is done by example, not by precept, and here Sidney is confronted with a problem. How is it that people can create imaginary characters far more virtuous than the ordinary run of mortals in real life?
Neither let it be deemed too saucy a comparison to balance (compare) the highest point of man's wit with the efficacy of nature; but rather give right honour to the heavenly Maker of that maker, who having made man in His own likeness, set him beyond and over all the works of that second (physical) nature: which in nothing he showeth so much as in poetry, when with the force of a divine breath (inspiration) he bringeth things forth surpassing her doings--with no small arguments to the incredulous of that first accursed fall of Adam, since our erected wit maketh us know what perfection is, and yet our infected will keepeth us from reaching unto it. But these arguments will by few be understood, and by fewer granted. This much (I hope) will be given me, that the Greeks with some probability of reason gave him the name above all names of learning. (. . .)
Poesy therefore is an art of imitation, for so Aristotle termeth it in the word mimesis--that is to say, a representing, counterfeiting, or figuring forth--to speak metaphorically, a speaking picture--with this end, to teach and delight.
Sidney goes on to propose various categories of poet, the religious first, with David's Psalms as the highest example; then philosophical and historical poems where the subject-matter is not in itself poetical although the prosody is verse. The third groups are those whom he terms "right poets":
. . . they which most properly do imitate to teach and delight, and to imitate borrow nothing of what is, hath been, or shall be; but range, only reined with learned discretion, into the divine consideration of what may be and should be. These be they that, as the first and most noble sort (the religious poets) may justly be termed vates, so these are waited on in the excellentest languages and best understandings with the fore-described name of poets (makers). For these indeed do merely (only) make to imitate, and imitate both to delight and teach; and delight, to move men to take that goodness in hand, which without delight they would flee as from a stranger; and teach, to make them know that goodness whereunto they are moved--which being the noblest scope to which ever any learning was directed, yet want there not idle tongues to bark at them.
These be subdivided into sundry more special denominations. The most notable be the heroic, lyric, tragic, comic, satiric, iambic, elegaic, pastoral (. . . .) But it is that feigning notable images of virtues, vices, or what else, with that delightful teaching, which must be the right describing note to know a poet by; although indeed the senate of poets hath chosen verse as their fittest raiment, meaning, as in matter they passed all in all, so in manner to go beyond them: not speaking, table- talk fashion or like men in a dream, words as they chanceably fall from the mouth, but peising (weighing) each syllable of each word by just proportion according to the dignity of the subject.
The other very significant section of the Defence comes when Sidney later turns to the poor state of poetry in England:
But since I have run so long a career in this matter, methinks, before I give my pen a full stop, it shall be but a little more lost time to inquire why England, the mother of excellent minds, should be grown so hard a stepmother to poets, who certainly in wit ought to pass all other, since all only proceedeth from their wit, being indeed makers of themselves, not takers of others.
(. . .)
But I that, before ever I durst aspire unto the dignity, am admitted into the company of the paper-blurrers, do find the very true cause of our wanting (lacking) estimation is want of desert- -taking upon us to be poets in despite of Pallas (Wisdom).
Now, wherein we want desert were a thankworthy labour to express; but if I knew, I should have mended (corrected) myself. But I, as I never desired the title, so have I neglected the means to come by it. Only, overmastered by some thoughts, I yielded an inky tribute unto them. Marry, they that delight in poesy itself should seek to know what they do, and how they do it; and especially look themselves in an unflattering glass of reason, if they be inclinable unto it. For poesy must not be drawn by the ears; it must be gently led, or rather it must lead- -which was partly the cause that made the ancient-learned affirm it was a divine gift, and no human skill: since all other knowledges lie ready for any that hath strength of wit. A poet no industry can make, if his own genius be not carried into it; and therefore it is an old proverb, orator fit, poeta nascitur (an orator is made, a poet is born).
(. . .)
Chaucer , undoubtedly, did excellently in his Troilus and Criseyde; of whom, truly, I know not whether to marvel more, either that he in that misty time could see so clearly, or that we in this clear age go so stumblingly after him. Yet had he great wants, fit to be forgiven in so reverent an antiquity. I account the Mirror of Magistrates meetly furnished of beautiful parts, and in the Earl of Surrey's lyrics many things tasting of a noble birth, and worthy of a noble mind. The Shepherd's Calendar hath much poesy in his eclogues, indeed worthy the reading, if I be not deceived. (That same framing of his style to an old rustic language I dare not allow, since neither Theocritus in Greek, Virgil in Latin, nor Sannazzaro in Italian did affect it.) Besides these I do not remember to have seen but few (to speak boldly) printed that have poetical sinews in them; for proof whereof, let but most of the verses be put in prose, and then ask the meaning, and it will be found that one verse did but beget another, without ordering at the first what should be at the last; which becomes a confused mass of words, with a tingling sound of rhyme, barely accompanied with reason.
This is followed by a surprisingly long discussion of English drama, of which Sidney had no very high opinion. He concludes:
Other sort of poetry almost have we none, but that lyrical kind of songs and sonnets: which, Lord, if He gave us so good minds, how well it might be employed, and with how heavenly fruit, both private and public, in singing the praises of the immortal beauty: the immortal goodness of that God who giveth us hands to write and wits to conceive; of which we might well want words, but never matter; of which we could turn our eyes to nothing, but we should ever have new-budding occasions. But truly many of such writings as come under the banner of unresistible love, if I were a mistress, would never persuade me they were in love: so coldly they apply fiery speeches, as men that had rather read lovers' writings--and so caught up certain swelling phrases which hang together like a man that once told my father that the wind was at northwest and by south, because he would be sure to name winds enough--than that in truth they feel those passions, which easily (as I think) may be bewrayed by that same forcibleness or energia (as the Greeks call it) of the writer.1
The final paragraph of the work sums up its main arguments and at the same time highlights in a particularly witty manner the polemic that it is designed to sustain:
So that since the ever-praiseworthy Poesy is full of virtue- breeding delightfulness, and void of no gift that ought to be in the noble name of learning; since the blames laid against it are either false or feeble; since the cause why it is not esteemed in England is the fault of poet-apes, not poets; since, lastly, our tongue is most fit to honour poesy, and to be honoured by poesy; I conjure you all that have had the evil luck to read this ink-wasting toy of mine, even in the name of the nine Muses, no more to scorn the sacred mysteries of poesy; no more to laugh at the name of poets, as though they were next inheritors to fools; no more to jest at the reverent title of a rhymer; but to believe, with Aristotle, that they were the ancient treasurers of the Grecians' divinity; to believe, with Bembus, that they were the first bringers-in of all civility; to believe, with Scaliger, that no philosophers' precepts can sooner make you an honest man than the reading of Virgil; to believe, with Clauserus, the translator of Cornutus, that it pleased the heavenly Deity, by Hesiod and Homer, under the veil of fables, to give us all knowledge, logic, rhetoric, philosophy natural and moral, and quid non? (all the rest); to believe, with me, that there are many mysteries contained in poetry, which of purpose were written darkly, lest by profane wits it should be abused; to believe, with Landino, that they are so beloved of the gods that whatsoever they write proceeds of a divine fury; lastly, to believe themselves, when they tell you they will make you immortal by their verses.
Thus doing, your name shall flourish in the printers' shops; thus doing, you shall be of kin to many a poetical preface; thus doing, you shall be most fair, most rich, most wise, most all, you shall dwell upon superlatives; thus doing, though you be libertino patre natus (born of a freed slave father), you shall suddenly grow Herculea proles (descendant of Hercules), Si quid mea carmina possunt (if my songs have any power); thus doing your soul shall be placed with Dante's Beatrice, or Virgil's Anchises.
But if (fie of such a but) you be born so near the dull- making (deafening) cataract of Nilus that you cannot hear the planet-like music of poetry; if you have so earth-creeping a mind that it cannot lift itself up to look to the sky of poetry, or rather, by a certain rustical disdain, will become such a mome (fool) as to be a Momus (critic) of poetry; then, though I will not wish unto you the ass's ears of Midas, not to be driven by a poet's verses, as Bubonax was, to hang himself; yet thus much curse I must send you, in the behalf of all poets, that while you live, you live in love, and never get favour for lacking skill of a sonnet; and, when you die, your memory die from the earth for want of an epitaph.