Feigned Histories: Philip Sidney and the Poetics of Spanish Chivalric Romance
Crowley, Timothy D.
Hamilton, Donna B.
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This study re-evaluates Sidney's method and purpose for inventing <italic>Arcadia</italic>, through analyzing his fiction in tandem with the Spanish genre of chivalric "feigned history." It introduces the new perspective that <italic>Arcadia</italic> exploits structural and thematic focus on clandestine marriage in Feliciano de Silva's feigned <italic>Chronicle of Florisel de Niquea, Part Three</italic> (1535), as rendered in translation by Jacques Gohory as "Book" Eleven in the French <italic>Amadis</italic> cycle (1554). <italic>Old Arcadia</italic> follows that chivalric paradigm in Books One through Three; then it employs motifs from ancient prose fiction by Apuleius and Heliodorus in Books Four and Five to amplify plot conflict tied to the protagonist lovers' secret marriages. Imitation of Spanish pastoral romances by Montemayor and Gil Polo in <italic>Old Arcadia</italic>'s Eclogues supplements the work's primary narrative plane and also facilitates Protestant aesthetic impressions of marriage and affective individual piety. Shifts in literary source material occur as means to extend and enrich thematic focus and narrative poetics of those first three Books. Sidney's narrative establishes <italic>admiratio</italic> for its protagonist lovers and reader complicity with them, while imposing comic and tragic distance from other main characters. These observations revise dominant critical assumptions about <italic>Old Arcadia</italic>. Building upon its chivalric source material, Sidney's fiction increases verisimilitude and invents its own rhetorical focus on dynastic union through clandestine marriage. This study observes for the first time that political tension and legal debate in <italic>Old Arcadia</italic>'s conclusion revolve around that issue. Sidney's fiction figures forth a succession crisis contingent upon legal complications with the issue of clandestine marriage in Arcadia, in a manner congruous with Genevan, French, and Tridentine legal reform on that matter, as well as with England's unique legal situation regarding secret marriage. The story's intellectual focus on justice and equity complements its author's concern with the case of his uncle Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. While Sidney composed <italic>Arcadia</italic>, his own political and economic prospects remained largely contingent upon Leicester's secret marriage. This study opens new avenues for research on continuity in Sidney's oeuvre and on <italic>New Arcadia</italic>'s influence in English prose fiction and drama of the 1590s and the seventeenth century.