The image of human condition: Sidney’s Arcadia and the Conflicts of Virtue

WOOD, Richard (2012). The image of human condition: Sidney’s Arcadia and the Conflicts of Virtue. Doctoral, Sheffield Hallam University.

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I read Sidney’s romance, the New Arcadia, in the light of a particular ethos known as Philippism after the followers of Philip Melanchthon, the Protestant theologian. In doing so, I use a critical paradigm previously only used to discuss Sidney’s Defence of Poesy. Thus, building on the work of Robert E. Stillman, I narrow the gap that critics, such as Gavin Alexander, have often found between Sidney’s theory and literary practice. Like the Philippists, peculiarly open to the ideas of humanist scholarship, Sidney draws his philosophical precepts from an eclectic mix of sources. These 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 life-like heterogeneity and its examples of virtue. Sidney’s characters have generally been thought to symbolize a passive form of Christian Stoicism. I contend that they, in fact, respond to their misfortunes in a way that demonstrates an active outlook. Employing the same philosophy, Sidney, both in his letter intervening in Queen Elizabeth’s marriage negotiations and in his politically-interested fiction, arrogates to himself the role of court counsellor. As such, he is a model for his sister and Fulke Greville in their later roles as literary patron and courtier, respectively. The primary inheritor of Sidney’s political and cultural legacy, Robert Devereux, despite being associated with court factionalism, also draws, I argue, on the optimistic and conciliatory philosophy signified by Sidney’s New Arcadia. Sidney’s romance affirms its author’s piety, in which human fallibility is recognized and tolerated. Amphialus represents Sidney’s ethos most poignantly. An epic, martial figure, Amphialus also participates in the most dishonourable activities in the romance. Through the representation of this apparently irredeemable character, who, nevertheless, will be saved, Sidney displays his faith in God’s Providence and his own salvation.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Research Institute, Centre or Group: Sheffield Hallam Doctoral Theses
Depositing User: Helen Garner
Date Deposited: 18 Jan 2013 16:39
Last Modified: 23 Aug 2015 08:27

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