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Criticism 43.4 (2001) 407-421

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The Passion Signified:
Imitation and the Construction of Emotions in Sidney and Wroth

Jacqueline T. Miller


"LOVING IN TRUTH," begins Astrophil, "and fain in verse my love to show." 1 That he truly loves is here his unquestioned premise, briefly stated as prologue to the real difficulty he is facing. The problem for Astrophil is how to show that love in verse, how to represent that love in a way that will move Stella. The passion precedes the representation of it; it is, syntactically and otherwise, posited as the origin of all that follows in the next 108 sonnets.

In her study of "inwardness" on the Renaissance stage, Katharine Maus begins with an alternative paradigm provided by Hamlet: "But I have that within which passes show; / These but the trappings and the suits of woe" (I.2.85-86). 2 As Maus explains, Hamlet "distinguishes between the elaborate external rituals of mourning and an inner, invisible anguish" and thereby reveals the "inevitable existence of a hiatus between signs . . . and what they signify" 3 —between the passion and the show of it. Hamlet's approach to the problem is different from Astrophil's. Hamlet's concern that the signs of woe are suspect because "they are actions that a man might play" (I.2.84) is not initially shared by the Astrophil who "sought fit words to paint the blackest face of woe" and will later be willing to perform whatever role is effective ("I am not I, pitie the tale of me"); and though Astrophil will similarly conclude (in Sonnet 1 and elsewhere) that the conventional trappings of feeling are inadequate if not empty, he will also repeatedly express his desire to "show" that which Hamlet claims "passes show." Yet Hamlet nonetheless, like the Astrophil of Sonnet 1, posits a passion "within" that exists independent of its representation.

This essay will argue for a different conceptualization, one in which the representation precedes and produces the passion. Maus argues that we must attend carefully to Hamlet's contrast between "an authentic personal interior [End Page 407] and derivative or secondary superficies" (2), and that we not pronounce anachronistic judgment nor underestimate "the conceptual importance of personal inwardness in this period" (27). Like Maus, I want to take seriously early modern articulations of interiority, but I don't want to do so by focusing on a perceived disparity between the inner passions and their outward expression. Anne Ferry has argued that in the Renaissance "man's inward and outward experiences were viewed as closely parallel and. . . no great separation was consistently or systematically conceived to exist between them." Her study of the discourses of inwardness points out, for example, that the distinction between inward and outward "parts" in the Renaissance often referred to anatomical and spatial divisions, both pertaining primarily to the body: limbs and features were "outward parts," and the organs were "inward parts." 4 The implications of this—what Maus calls "the corporeal way inwardness is sometimes conceived in the Renaissance" (195)—have been further elaborated by critics like Gail Paster and Michael Schoenfeldt who, working with the Galenic theory of the humors, have shown how early modern ideas of selfhood and interiority were deeply informed by and imbedded in the body. 5 This system, as Schoenfeldt puts it, establishes connections between physiology and psychology so that "the vagaries of human emotion could be articulated and explained in corporeal terms" (6). Like Schoenfeldt, I wish to argue for "the inevitable and literal influences of the outside world" on the individual (22) and "the porous cusp between self and other" (38). But whereas Schoenfeldt's argument looks at the bodily processes of ingestion, digestion, and excretion as "very literal acts of self-fashioning" (11), I want to look at a less literal process by which the external becomes internalized. And though humoral theory can provide one context for explaining the phenomenon I will be discussing, it will not be the focus of this essay. 6 While I agree with Maus's...


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