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Gender, Interpretation, and Political Rule in Sidney's Arcadia

Kathryn DeZur

Gender, Interpretation, and Political Rule in Sidney’s Arcadia studies cultural ideologies regarding gender and monarchy in early modern England by examining transformations of a single text, Sir Philip Sidney’s Arcadia, in their historical contexts. It reveals changing tensions in the ideological struggles over queenship, especially with respect to cultural debates focused on anxieties about gendered reception and interpretation of persuasive rhetoric. The cultural shift between about 1550 and 1650 regarding gendered interpretation and political rule—a shift that was by no means complete or homogenous—reflects the changing position of women and their relationship to language within early modern domestic and political ideological discourses.

The book begins by investigating primary cultural, political, and historical sources in order to provide a cultural scaffolding helpful to the interpretation of Sidney’s enormously popular work. These sources include conduct manuals, gynecocratic debates, paintings, poems, diaries, pamphlets, and letters.
Gender, Interpretation, and Political Rule then considers the initial version of the Arcadia (the Old Arcadia) Sidney authored and argues that Sidney’s involvement in the marriage debate regarding the Duke of Anjou’s courtship of Elizabeth I in the late 1570s shaped his representations of female characters and their questionable ability to interpret persuasive rhetoric. Next, the book turns to Sidney’s expanded and revised version (the New Arcadia), authorized and published by his sister the Countess of Pembroke Mary Sidney Herbert. The New Arcadia ultimately provides a more positive representation of women readers and rulers and reveals a shift in cultural understandings of women’s relationship to the persuasive rhetoric that both describes and enacts political power and authority. The penultimate chapter examines paradigms of active reading and their political consequences in Lady Mary Wroth’s The Countess of Montgomery’s Urania that demonstrate a need for well-balanced identification with characters. Finally, this book focuses on a little-studied seventeenth-century continuation of Sidney’s work by a young woman, Anna Weamys, who asserts her authority as an interpreter of Sidney’s Arcadia and in the process creates a political commentary about the legitimacy of female authority and influence just after the English Civil War.
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University Press Copublishing Division / University of Delaware Press
Pages: 208Size: 6 3/8 x 9 3/8
978-1-61149-418-1 • Hardback • December 2012 • $74.00 • (£49.95)
978-1-61149-522-5 • Paperback • June 2014 • $41.99 • (£27.95)
978-1-61149-419-8 • eBook • December 2012 • $41.99 • (£27.95)
Kathryn DeZur is professor of English at the State University of New York College of Technology at Delhi.
A Note on the Text
Chapter 1: Queens and Wives
Chapter 2: Wives and Regents as Readers
Chapter 3: Defending the Castle in Sidney’s
Old Arcadia
Chapter 4: Counting the Countess
Chapter 5: Lady Mary Wroth’s Reading of Romance
Chapter 6: Sewing Accord with
A Continuation of Sir Philip Sidney’s Arcadia
About the Author
Touching on a daunting array of issues about early modern women as readers and writers of romance, DeZur focuses on depictions of royal women as targetsand occasionally agents ofverbal seduction, not only in Sir Philip Sidney's Arcadia (as her title suggests) but also in some of its literary progeny. Four chapters treating the individual works follow a pair of background chapters on women as rulers and as readers. These works include Sidney's original manuscript version of The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia; the radically revised version published in 1593 under the auspices of the countess herself, Philip's sister Mary; The Countess of Montgomery's Urania (1621) written by his niece, Lady Mary Wroth; and Anna Weamys's A Continuation of Sir Philip Sidney's Arcadia (1651). DeZur's linking of queenship to discourses about housewifery, and discussion of the lesser-known Weamys, will particularly interest scholars. Summing Up: Recommended. For comprehensive collections serving graduate students and researchers.