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SIDNEY, SHAKESPEARE, AND THE "SLAIN-NOTSLAIN" ALAN D. ISLER The scene of the commons' revolt in Book II of The Countesse of Pembrookes Arcadia, although it deals with matters of serious political concern for Sidney and his contemporaries, is treated as comedy. Whatever Sidney's views on rebellion might have been-and there is evidence in the Arcadia to suggest that for him right-thinking nobles under a tyranny had a virtual duty to rebel- there is no doubt that he regarded the rebellious rabble with horror and disgust. He speaks of a "madde multitude," of an "unruly sort of c1ownes, and other rebels, which like a violent Baud, were caried, they themselves knewe not whether." They are like "enraged beasts, without respect of their estates, or pitie of their sexe"; they are "right villaines" united only in madness. Sidney expresses his scorn by laughing them out of existence: . . . among the rebels there was a dapper fellowe, a tayler by occupation, who . .. began to bow his knees, & very fencer-like to draw neere to Z elmane. But as he came within her distance, turning his swerd very nicely about his crown, Basilius, with a side blow, strake of his nose. ·He (being a suiter to a seimsters daughter, and therefore not a little grieved for such a disgrace) stouped downe, because he had hard, that if it were fresh put to, it would cleave on againe. But as his hand was on the grounde to bring his nose to his head, Zelmane with a blow, sent his head to his nose. . . . DaTUs ... with his two-hand sword strake of another quite by the waste, who the night before had dreamed he was growen a couple, and (interpreting it he should be maried) had bragd of his dreame that morning among his neighbors . But that blow astonished quite.a poore painter, who stood by with a pike in his handes. This painter was to counterfette the skinnishing betwene the Centaures and Lapithes, and had bene very desirous to see some notable wounds, to be able the more lively to expresse them; and this morning (being caried by the streame of this companie) the foolish felow was even delighted to see the effect of blowes. But this last, (hapning neere him) so amazed him, that he stood still, while Darus (with a turn of his sword) strake of both his hands. And so the painter returned, well skilled in wounds, but with never a hand to performe his skill.' This scene of riot has proven generally offensive to the delicate stomachs and democratic sensibilities of twentieth-century critics. Samuel Lee Wolff decries Sidney's "would-be funny accounts of the slaughter Volume xxxvu, Number 2, January, 1968 176 ALAN D. ISLER wrought by his heroes" upon those of lesser rank. "There is," he says, "an ugly vein of cruelty that spoils the verbal qUips." Sidney's contemptuous treatment of the rabble-"one of the seamy sides of the chivalry even of a Sidney"-is distasteful to the modem reader.2 R. W. Zandvoort finds himself in complete accord with Wolff. The riot scene before the lodge of Basilius contains a would-be facetious passage full of gruesome details of the massacre of the rebels. Sidney delights in their agonies like a boy torturing a cockchafer or a frog.... Evidently, one could be "the president of Noblesse and chelvalree" and hold a base-born rustic of less account than a hound or a horseS And Mario Praz, who tantalizingly finds "very little originality" in the vexed scene, is also contemptuous of the "would-be funny account of the slaughter.'" Kenneth Myrick, who admits that "on first reading the Arcadia, I felt much as does Mr. Zandvoort," attempts to answer the charges. He points out that Sidney's concern is not democracy but anarchy; that, "except from the point of view of eighteenth-century sentimentalism," "dangerous rebels, in anns against a kindly monarch," deserve no compassion "until they lay down their anns"; and that, "clumsy alike in their fighting and their thinking," the rebels should be laughed at. "In an age when men enjoy watching the antics of madmen, it is not 'inhuman' to feel...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 175-185
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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