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Literary Criticism Renaissance

The Structures of Sidney's Arcadia

by (author) Nancy Lindheim

University of Toronto Press
Initial publish date
Dec 1982
Renaissance, English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh, Poetry
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    Publish Date
    Dec 1982
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The argument of this study is that the Arcadia, like the High Renaissance painting analysed by Heinrich Wolfflin, is characterized by what may be called 'multiple unity.' The complexity of its organization, whether examined rhetorically in terms of language and thought or tonally through its sequence of events, or narratively through the relation of episode to main plot, is an expression of Sidney's need to control and arrange experience for aesthetic and moral purposes without giving up his perception of its chaos or unmanageability. The nature of Sidney's complex vision, in spite of the apparently pastoral title of Arcadia, is not pastoral but epic. Like much important Renaissance writing, the work is a paedeia, an education of princes, in which the narrative seeks what Sidney considered the paramount object of learning: 'the knowledge of a man's self, in the ethnic and politic consideration.'
Professor Lindheim finds that the key to the greater stylistic and narrative complexity of the revised Arcadia lies in the larger and deeper reading of experience that it offers. The New Arcadia is not merely the Old Arcadia heavily ornamented and reassembled in quaint ways, but a radically receonceived work, a re-vision as well as a revision of the earlier version. The radical (root, upwards from the very foundation) coherence of the work is here explored by tracing its rhetoric to an inherent rhetoricism and by abalysing its style stylistically. The Arcadia is a masterpiece of Elizabethan literature because of this integrity: because Sidney's technique, whether stylistic, rhetorical, or narrative, has a direct bearing on his humanist understanding of experience.

About the author

NANCY LINDHEIM is Associate Professor of English at the University of Toronto.

Nancy Lindheim's profile page