restricted access Arcadian Ineloquence: Losing Voice in The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia


Speakers and singers in Philip Sidney's The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia are constantly losing control of their own voices: poems and songs are interrupted by sobs and sighs, and words, as volatile physical sounds, manage to escape the confines of their intended acoustic environment, becoming subject to overhearing and repetition. Recent scholarship on the voice in early modern literature has tended to emphasize the threat that the unstable medium of embodied vocal sound might pose to masculinity or, more broadly, to the logocentric, patriarchal order. However, in the case of Sidney's Arcadia, the alienability of the voice is often precisely what endows it with oratorical power and what enables it to become a site for the performance of elite, homosocial intimacy. Focusing on Cleophila's sonnet in book 1 of the Old Arcadia (the first sung poem in Sidney's romance), I examine how representations of vocal estrangement mediate larger issues and anxieties concerning poetic circulation. I argue that within the imagined community of coterie publication, the failure of a speaker to maintain strict control of his utterance does not threaten but, rather, signals and affirms the system of elite poetic exchange as a site for the meaningful performance of (male) social belonging. This managed loss of voice, I maintain, stands in marked contrast to what the alienated voice comes to mean once Sidney's texts travel beyond their originally intended audiences, and so the article concludes by looking at how non-elite readers might have encountered Cleophila's sonnet in the version that appeared in print.