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  • The Father’s Living Monument: Textual Progeny and the Birth of the Author in Sidney’s Arcadias
  • Andrew Fleck

Although this essay’s epigraph comes from William Shakespeare, its subject is the emergence of a new understanding of authorship in one small group’s “thrifty” postmortem efforts to control the traces surrounding another Elizabethan figure, Sir Philip Sidney. 2 At the heart of these contentious efforts to claim authority for one version of his Arcadia over others stands a document attached to every printed edition of it: Sidney’s tender dedication of his romance to his sister, Mary Herbert, the countess of Pembroke. But just as the meats that welcome Horatio to Elsinore limn the space between melancholy and mirth, the dedication that precedes Sidney’s text and the paratextual wrangling that happens in the fraught posthumous printing of different texts under the banner of the Arcadia signify differently in Sidney’s life and in his death.3 Out of this agon on the threshold of Sidney’s Arcadias, in which his friends and family attempt to (re)construct the relationship between Sidney and his romance, emerges a category resembling our [End Page 520] modern understanding of “the Author.” This author is born, in part, through recourse to the ambivalent rhetoric of childbirth, as the printed texts of the romance recast Sidney’s idealized figures of poetic creation to treat the romance itself as if it were his biological progeny. The fraught history of the early printings of this romance, then, exemplifies a threshold moment as Sidney’s own idealizing representations of the activity of writing the Arcadia become something else, a memorializing of Sidney as an Author, in the hands of his grieving friends and readers.

Thrift, thrift, Horatio, the funeral baked meats Did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables.1

Self-Presentation in the Arcadia

The Arcadia exists in multiple states, the last and most famous of which, as S. K. Heninger, Jr., recalls, Sidney never knew.4 He completed the earliest version, usually called the “Old” Arcadia, at some point after about 1580; it circulated in manuscript and was not printed until the early part of the twentieth century.5 Sidney began elaborate revisions of the romance almost immediately, depositing this incomplete version with his friend, Fulke Greville, before departing for the Low Countries in 1585.6 Shortly after Sidney’s death at Zutphen, Greville appealed to Francis Walsingham to prevent publication of the “Old” Arcadia and eventually oversaw the publication, in 1590, of his copy of the revised but unfinished version of the Arcadia, which breaks off in midsentence: “Whereat ashamed, (as hauing neuer done so much before in his life)***.”7 This first printed edition, a quarto usually called the [End Page 521] “New” Arcadia, includes a number of paratextual documents that frame the story, including Sidney’s letter to his sister, chapter headings and summaries, and in some editions, a note from the printer on the blank leaf following Sidney’s letter, excusing the “ouer-seer of the print” (Greville) who created this apparatus and put the eclogues in the order he thought best. In 1593 another version of the romance appeared in print under the auspices of the poet’s sister, who may have disapproved of Greville’s handling of the text. This magisterial folio edition of the romance excises the previous apparatus (with the exception of Sidney’s letter), includes a note from “H. S.” (Mary Herbert’s secretary, Hugh Sanford) denigrating the work of the previous editor, and adds two and a half lightly revised books from the conclusion of the earliest version of the romance to bring the narrative to an end. Where Sanford joins the two Arcadias, this edition includes a note explaining that the resolution of this incomplete action “is altogether vnknowne,” but that Sidney wrote the conclusion that follows.8 Subsequent editions derive from this 1593 edition. Eventually the front matter, with the exception of Sidney’s letter to his sister, falls away, acknowledging the victory of this hybrid version, the version that comes down into the last century.9 With the recovery of the “Old” Arcadia a century ago, the romance was edited anew...


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pp. 520-547
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