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The rhetoric of the new Arcadia Eaton, Diane F.

Abstract

This study examines the rhetoric of the new Arcadia; that is, it analyses the ways in which Sidney intended to provide the readers of the new Arcadia with ethical teaching and to persuade them of the validity of such precepts as guides in their own lives. Chapter One deals with the changes in Sidney's moral understanding— traceable in the literary works that immediately preceded the new Arcadia—that prompted him to revise the earlier version. In the old Arcadia and in Astrophil and Stella, Sidney explored in detail the ethical ambiguities that inevitably attend human action; in the new Arcadia he reasserts the morally-ambivalent nature of experience, yet he provides a perspective within which ethical judgment can nevertheless be achieved. The Defence of Poesie points the way for the heightened moral seriousness of the new Arcadia. In the Defence, Sidney both affirms the existence of a comprehensive system of ethics—or, as he termed it, of "architectonic" knowledge—and defines the poet's primary responsibility as providing delightful moral instruction. Chapter Two examines how Sidney revised the new Arcadia in order to supply its readers with such architectonic knowledge. Sidney vastly expanded the narrative of the new Arcadia by adding a multiplicity of characters and events designed to illustrate fully the ethics of personal and public conduct. Sidney also altered both the moral meanings implicit in the new Arcadia and the relationship of the audience to the work by deleting the mediating narrator of the older version and replacing the earlier mode of telling with direct and unmediated narration in the revision; by reassigning the imbedded tales to narrator-agents within the fictional world of Arcadia; by introducing a number of new narrators and stories; and by complicating the relationships between the narrator-agents, their tales, their auditors, and the fictional circumstances within which the telling takes place. All of Sidney's alterations serve ultimately to provide a complete spectrum of moral images and to engage the readers of the new Arcadia in actively discovering for themselves the comprehensive moral design which unifies those images and draws them into significant relationship. Chapter Three is an analysis of the main narrative of the new Arcadia, which details the moral education of the two princes, Pyrocles and Musidorus. Sidney uses the princes' careers in the Arcadian world to establish the correspondences between abstract ethical principles—in particular, those governing private love and public duty—and the reality of human experience. In the new Arcadia, human love most often subverts virtue and undermines heroic enterprise, as a range of characters, most notably Amphialus, demonstrate. Paradoxically, love can also move men toward rational wisdom and virtuous endeavor, as illustrated in particular by Argalus and Parthenia, and by the Arcadian princesses in Book III. Finally, the princes' education into virtue is intended to instruct the readers of the new Arcadia in the ethical precepts that are likewise to govern their own conduct in the experiential world.

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