Academic journal article Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies

Sidney's "Mongrell Tragicomedy" and Anglo-Spanish Exchange in the New Arcadia

Academic journal article Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies

Sidney's "Mongrell Tragicomedy" and Anglo-Spanish Exchange in the New Arcadia

Article excerpt

In 1586, Sir Philip Sidney died fighting the Spanish in the Netherlands.1 His death marked one episode during the conflict between Spain and England that would reach its apex with the launching of the Armada in 1588. Yet political and personal records give us ambivalent rather than strictly oppositional views of Sidney's dealings with the Elizabethans' most formidable enemy. Fulke Greville relates that the Spanish ambassador, upon learning of Sidney's demise, "could not but lament to see Christendome depriv'd of so rare a light in those cloudy times; and bewail poor widow England-so he term'd her-that having been many years in breeding one eminent spirit, was in a moment bereaved of him, by the hands of a villain" (36). Despite his own anti-Spanish political leanings, Greville acknowledges an Anglo-Spanish connection that transcends Christian and national divides to include Sidney in a community that encompassed the Spanish nobility. Fascinated by Spanish accomplishments, Sidney recommended that his brother travel in Spain to learn "their good and grave proceeding, their keeping so many provinces under them, and by what means, with the true points of honour" (Major Works 286). Though Sidney never traveled to Spain, and though much of his career was dedicated to quelling Spanish power, his Hispanophilia manifests itself in his New Arcadia. This essay contends that Sidney's view of Spain was equivocal, marked by admiration and envy as well as by distaste and fear. With intertextual and topical references to Spain in his New Arcadia, Sidney opens a counterdiscourse to the English extremes of anti-Spanish sentiment in the 1580s. Attending to generic politics in the storylines of Miso, a celestinesque bawd, and Philisides, Sidney's aristocratic Iberian alter-ego, discloses textual borrowings from Spanish literature and ambivalent representations of Spanish identity. Sidney's equivocal stances toward the mixed generic model of tragicomedy and toward Spain come to the fore in his romance, where tragicomic admixture tempers the melancholic humor of Anglo- Spanish discord. Thus the presence of these suspect forms and cultures in the New Arcadia ultimately works to defuse generic and political tensions.

Tragicomic structure organizes Sidney's New Arcadia, which has been called the "supreme Elizabethan example of . . . the mixed mode" (Greenblatt 269). The generic mixture of the romance's narrative is characterized by the "alternation of exposition and action, of tragic and comic," but the "huge structure" of the romance is controlled by "narrative patterns and echoes based on parallel or contrasting sequences of action which form a commentary on each other and underline the common moral issues" (Evans 41). While adding variety to the romance, Sidney balances contrasting tragic and comic elements through systematic structural control. The resulting juxtapositions harmonize and amplify underlying themes, such as the depiction of Spanish identity, a technique that echoes tragicomedy's workings.2 It is not surprising to find tragicomic elements in the Arcadia, because, like tragicomedy itself, romance is generically mixed. In grappling with new genres that did not fit into classical poetics, Renaissance theorists often extrapolated rules about long narratives from precedents for drama, which were more clearly defined in antiquity. Alonso López Pinciano, for example, calls the epic genre "un montón de Tragedias" ("a heap of tragedies"; 1: 240), and when speaking of the Aethiopica, an ancient romance that Sidney imitates in the Arcadia, Martinus Crusius believes "[t]otam vero Historiam, veluti Tragicocomoediam dicentes, haud errauerimus" ("truly, if we treat the whole History as if it were a Tragicomedy, we wouldn't err"; 8). Romance could, I suggest, be considered the long narrative version of tragicomedy. In this case, generic mixture sheds light on social tensions. Viewing Sidney's Spanish connections from the perspective of theories of generic mixture alongside English estimations of Spain illuminates their implications for Anglo Spanish exchange. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.