In The Defence of Poesy Sidney aligns learning from the exemplary images of fiction with falling in love. What may appear to be a lazy commonplace is more than that. Sidney’s Neoplatonic understanding of love is bound up with his Neoplatonic theory of reading. In both models the object is the idea that lies behind appearances. A reader must apprehend the “idea or fore-conceit” of the poet in order not only to admire his fictional characters but to understand “why and how” the poet made them, and thus to move from this gnosis to imitative praxis. Similarly, a lover climbs the Platonic ladder of love, from the beauty of the beloved to an idea of beauty and ultimately to the divine maker of that idea. In the Platonic tradition loving, writing, and reading are never far apart, because they share so much common ground. With this background in mind, Sidney’s representation of love in Astrophil and Stella and the Arcadia as a sort of readerly activity begins to look less casual. This article examines the sources and uses of Sidney’s imagery of loving reading and writing—which in the Arcadia cluster around Sidney’s representations of Argalus and Parthenia, and of Pyrocles and Philoclea. It suggests that Sidney is not only using his models of idealizing reading to add color and depth to his depiction of love but is—if we turn things round—thinking in a more subtly worked-out manner than in the Defence about the mechanisms through which his readers will read, be delighted, learn, be moved, and ultimately find themselves transformed.


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pp. 39-66
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