The Constant Art
According to Sidney's poetics, art teaches through delight and moves to virtuous action. In Sidney's fictions, this model tends to be twisted. Astrophil tries in his opening sonnet to imagine how his words might teach through delight and move Stella to pity him and grant him 'grace' (AS 1.1–4): instead of virtue the lesson is love. In the revised Arcadia Philoclea designs and commission…ortrait of herself with her parents.1 Intended to teach the viewer 'the present condition of the young Ladie, who stood watched by an over-curious eye of her parents' (C2v/15), this piece of 'mute poesy' teaches Pyrocles only to fall in love with the princess, since the portrait is one in which 'beautie seemed to speake' (C2r/15).2 This is so often the problem for female eloquence. Spenser's virginal Belphoebe finds that her rhetoric produces the wrong effect when she encounters the fake knight Braggadocchio and tries to explain why she prefers the woods to the court:
In Princes court, The rest she would have said,
But that the foolish man, fild with delight
Of her sweet words, that all his sence dismaid,
And with her wondrous beautie ravisht quight,
Gan burne in filthy lust, and leaping light,
Thought in his bastard armes her to embrace.
(The Faerie Queene (1590), 2.3.42)
1NA, 15. The ambiguous phrase 'made by Philoclea' (C2v) may only mean 'intended to represent Philoclea'.
2 Sidney's definition of poetry as 'a speaking picture' (Defence, 80) derives ultimately from an aphorism attributed by Plutarch to the Greek poet Simonides (Moralia, 346F; cf. 18A); it is elaborated by Puttenham as an illustration of antimetabole (following Rhetorica ad Herennium, 4.28.39): 'If Poesie be, as some have said… speaking picture to the eye…hen i…icture not denaid…o b…uet Poesie' (The Arte of English Poesie (1589), 2A1v). Cf. Abraham Fraunce on 'poetry…peaking picture, and paynting, a dumbe poetry' in The Third Part of the Countesse of Pembrokes Yvychurch. Entitled Amintas Dale (1592), ed. Gerald Snare (Northridge, Calif., 1975), 9.
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Publication information: Book title: Writing after Sidney: The Literary Response to Sir Philip Sidney, 1586-1640. Contributors: Gavin Alexander - Author. Publisher: Oxford University Press. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 2006. Page number: 283.
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