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  • Multiple Arcadias and the Literary Quarrel between Fulke Greville and the Countess of Pembroke
  • Joel Davis

There is a certain justice to W.W. Greg's charge that "of the books which everybody knows and nobody reads, The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia is perhaps the most famous."1 Even had it lacked literary merit, the Arcadia would have been destined for contemporary fame solely because it was written by Philip Sidney. And the popularity of Sidney's romance certainly did languish during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as well as a good part of the twentieth. But Greg's claim is true in a deeper sense, because the fame of Philip Sidney has always obscured the nature of the Arcadia: it is not one work but several different works, if we take a "work" to be a literary artifact shaped by authorial and editorial intentions.2 In spite of the social-historical orientation [End Page 401] of much literary criticism written since the Arcadia began to regain popularity in the mid-nineteen sixties, scholarship on its textual and reception history has downplayed how both the reception of the Arcadia and the idea of Philip Sidney as its author depend on the editorial work that shaped the Arcadia's first two printed editions in 1590 and 1593.

We tend to assume that the Arcadia's early modern editors shared the same goals modern editors have: to reproduce a text that most closely represents Philip Sidney's final intentions for his Arcadia, a work which would itself serve as a monument to the author. This assumption allows critics to efface editorial agency altogether in their accounts of the Arcadia. But the first two editions of the romance were marked by conflict.3 At issue for literary critics and literary historians are thorny questions about how to describe that conflict and how to handle questions of editorial agency. A complete investigation is beyond the scope of a single essay, since we know at least eight of the agents involved in producing the first two editions of the Arcadia: Fulke Greville, Dr. Matthew Gwinne, and, possibly, John Florio edited the 1590 edition; the countess of Pembroke and her husband's secretary,Hugh Sanford, edited the second; both editions were printed for the stationer William Ponsonby; and John Windet was Ponsonby's printer for the 1590 edition and, most likely, for the 1593.4 Ponsonby's apparent monopoly on printing Sidney [End Page 402] family writings has been elucidated by Michael Brennan, but Gwinne's work needs attention.5

One line of inquiry into editorial agency has uncovered a conflict among editors of the Arcadia that points toward a wider-ranging conflict between the countess of Pembroke and Fulke Greville. In 1939 Kenneth T. Rowe argued that the countess of Pembroke retained considerable personal authority over the editing of the 1593 Arcadia, even though she delegated many important tasks to her husband's secretary, Hugh Sanford.6 Furthermore, Rowe writes, the 1593 Arcadia suggested the countess may have had "a pique against Greville."7 In 1964 William L. Godshalk picked up Rowe's line of inquiry and outlined a literary spat between Sanford and John Florio. Godshalk contends that Florio was offended by Sanford's preface to the 1593 Arcadia because Sanford's preface is contemptuous of the 1590 Arcadia.8 But Godshalk, concurring with Rowe about the countess's editorial authority over the 1593 Arcadia, admits that Sanford likely did not have free editorial rein.9 Thus it seems likely that, even if the countess did allow Sanford a personal swipe at Florio, she did so consciously and with an eye to her own purposes in publishing the 1593 Arcadia.

In spite of the fact that Rowe's observations of conflict between the countess and Fulke Greville in the first two editions of the Arcadia came out in 1939, and the fact that we have both direct and indirect evidence of conflicts between Fulke Greville and the Sidney family, no one yet has attempted to flesh out the literary quarrel substantially. This essay sketches a literary-historical narrative along these lines in order to bring into focus the political and social stakes involved...


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