Arcadia on the Wabash: A Film

Sidney was aristocratic but also artistic, emotional, and even musical. In this film version of a scene from the Arcadia, Brianna Lewings and Kenneth McNeil team up to portray Pyrocles disguised as Zelmane, at the point where or she reveals her) true identity to Philoclea, played by Kailie Merida. The film was sponsored by the College of Liberal Arts and Purdue University.

Even though Zelmane and Pyrocles are one person in the book, the director, Jason Doty, assigned the part to two different actors because he believed a metamorphosis would be more convincing to a modern audience than a cross-dressed adolescent.

We scrounged costumes, scouted locations, looked at the calendar, and found we had exactly one day when everyone’s schedule was free, October 21, 2017.  We shot outdoors, working around the sound of airplanes, motorboats, and a very long freight train that blew its whistle at every minor road crossing in southwest Tippecanoe County.

We were lucky in the weather, which allowed the Wabash River to play a starring role in the scene and provide a visual equivalent for Sidney’s complex verbal metaphors. Zelmane drops tears into the stream that flows to sea, asking it to pause and pity the love that burns inside her. After his transformation, Pyrocles resumes his watery message, telling Philoclea that he drowns in his tears even as he burns in love for her, reminding her that he almost drowned and burned in the fiery shipwreck that brought him to Arcadia. Philoclea is less concerned with teardrops than deception. She lectures Pyrocles on virtue and shows that she knows how to establish physical limits, despite her own infatuation.

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Brianna Lewings as Zelmane.

Brianna Lewings as Zelmane.

Filming Arcadia

The first-ever film version of Sidney's Arcadia, a ten-minute segment from Book 2, Chapter 17, should be ready this week.

Last summer, I contacted the Theater Department for some ideas on how to dramatize Sidney's work, particularly the scene I believe is the source of Juliet's meditation on Romeo's name. Instead of a staged reading (turtle necks, music stands, scripts), or even a video, in the end we managed to produce an actual film. It was shot on October 21, 2017,  along the Wabash River at Ft. Ouiatenon, just southwest of Purdue University.

Here's a photo of the actual filming:



C. S. Lewis Reads Arcadia (from the Letters)

Lewis was eighteen when he first read Arcadia, the year before he entered Oxford and also the Army, refusing his Irish exemption. Connection?

Vol. 1

192-3 (to Arthur Greeves, 14 June 1916): Lewis is “strongly tempted” to buy Arcadia in CUP ed. “One thing that interests me is that Sidney wrote it for his sister, the Countess of Pembroke, sending it to her chapter by chapter as he wrote it as I send you ‘Bleheris’. Perhaps we were those two in a former state of existence—and that is why your handwriting is so like a girl’s. Though even my self conceit will hardly go as far as to compared myself to Sidney” (193).

196-7 (to Greeves, 20 June 1916, from Kirkpatrick’s): The Arcadia “is a glorious feast: I don’t know how to explain its particular charm, because it is not at all like anything I ever read before: and yet in places like all of them. Sometimes it is like Malory, often like Spenser, and yet different from either. For one thing, there is a fine description of scenery in it (only one so far, but I hope for more) which neither of them could have done. Then again the figure of the shepherd boy, ‘piping as though he would never be old’ rather reminds me of the ‘Crock of Gold.’ But all this comes to is that Sidney is not like anyone else, but is just himself. The story is much more connected than Malory: there is a great deal of love-making, and just enough ‘brasting and fighting’ to give a sort of impression of all the old doings of chivalry in the background without becoming tedious: there is a definite set of characters all the time instead of a huge drifting mass, and some of them really alive. Comic relief is supplied by the fussy old king of Arcadia—rather like Mr. Woodhouse in Emma—and his boor, Dametas. The only real fault is that all the people talk too much and with a tendency to rhetoric, and the author insists on making bad puns from time to time, such as “Alas, that that word last should so long last.’ But these are only small things: true, there is a good deal of poetry scattered through it which is all detestable, but then that has nothing to do with the story and can be skipped. I’m afraid this description won’t help much, but I am just longing for Saturday when I can plunge into it again. (I mean the book, not the description).”

199 (to his father, 23 June 1916): “I am at present enjoying a new liteary find in the shape of Sir Phlip Sidney’s ‘Arcadia,’ which I got at a venture and found better than I expected: though like De Quincy’s and Southey’s epics, ‘I expect that I enjoy the priviledge of being the sole reader of this work.’”

201-2 (To Greeves, 28 June 2016): “In the meantime the ‘Arcadia’ continues beautiful: in fact it gets better and better. There has been one part that Charlotte Bronte could not have bettered: where Philoclea, the heroine, or rather one of the heroines, is beginning to fall in love unconsciously with a man disguised as a girl: and she does not know the secret: the delicacy and pathos of her wrestlings with a feeling which of course she can’t understand, as told by Sidney are—well I can’t explain what they are like: there is one scene where she goes out by moonlight to an old grove, an haunted place, where there is an altar to ‘the wood gods of old,’ and lies looking up at the stars and puzzling things, that is equal to if not better than the scene where Jane Eyre wakes up on the moor—do you remember? On the other hand, of course there are parts YOU might not have patience with: in the old style, where people relate their own adventures with no direct bearing on the main story: yet even this, to me, is interesting—so quaint and so suggestive of the old romantic world.”

205 (to Greeves, 4 July 1916, when Lewis is refusing to take an Irish exemption from the War, disappointing his father): “So you feel hurt that I should think you worth talking to only about books, music, etc.: in other words that I leave to others all the sordid and uninteresting worries about so-called practical life, and share with you those joys and experiences which make that life desirable: that—but now I am getting rhetorical. It must be the influence of dear Sidney and his euphuism I suppose.”

207 (cont.): “I am still at the ‘Arcadia’, whichyou will gather from this is a long book, though not a bit too long. I won’t make you sick of it before you see it by starting to sing its praises again: I only promise you that I am still as keen on it as when I began.”

209 (to his father, 7 July): “I for my part am still at my ‘Arcadia’ which I find excellent.”

211 (to Greeves, 11 July): “That feast the ‘Arcadia’ is nearly ended: in some ways the last book is the best (though a little spoiled I admit by brasting) and here the story is so like the part of Ivanhoe where they are all in Front-de-Boef’s castle, so that I think Scott must have borrowed it.”

214 (to Greeves, [18] July 2016): “The ‘Arcadia’ is finished: or rather I have read all there is of it, for unfortunately it breaks off at a most exciting passage in the middle of a sentence. I will not praise it again, beyond saying that this last 3rd book, though it has no such fine love passages as the 2nd, yet (despite the brasting), for really tip-top narrative working the interest up and up as it goes along, is quite worthy of Scott.”

Lewis was reading the first volume of Feuillerat’s edition, published in 1912, based on the 1590, with chapter divisions.

Vol. 2

547 (to E. R. Eddison 19 Jan 1943, imitating an archaic style): “Is Sir Philip Sidney’s incomparable Arcadia among your books? If it bee not, I conjure you to rede it (not heeding all the fine criticks) for I beleue it was written for you.”

562: (12 March 1943): “My own favorite reading, though it does not overlap yours except at Amadis, is somewhat akin—the Morte Darthur, the Orlando Furioso, the Faerie Queene, the Arcadia, the High History of the Holy Grail & all Wm Morris, but especially his prose romances.”

563: (same): “An early & lasting love of Oriana, Bradamante, Philoclea & the rest at least preserves us from Fiorinda [lady of honor in Mistress of Mistresses], about whom I think as you do (I told my friend that I had no use for his ‘metaphysical mistresses, hyper-uranian whores, beautifical bona-robas, and transcendental trulls’). [The friend is Eddison, author of The Worm Ouroboros, where Sophonisba appears.]

644 (22 April 1945, to someone coming back to college from the Navy): “Now is the time for Chaucer, Malory, Spenser, Sidney, Shakespeare, Dryden, Pope, Swift, Johnson, Fielding, Richardson, Cowper, Scott, Wordsworth, Byron, Dickens etc. etc. . . . I myself always index a good book when I read it for the first time noting (1) Linguistic phenomena. (b) Good & bad passages. (c) Customs: meals times, social classes, what they read etc. (d) Moral ideas.” (2:644)

vol. 3

683 (12 December 1955): “The tide may yet turn, but I never thought that a good support: ‘Hope is the fawning traitor of the heart.’” [Hooper corrects it to “of the mind,” Arcadia 3.27, said by Pamela, resolved to die to keep her honor.]







Is Arcadia England?

Sidney’s Arcadia is supposed to be set in ancient Greece, but the1593 edition twice refers to the English countryside. The “barley break” poem (Lamon’s Song) that ends the first eclogues mentions “the downs we see, near Wilton fair,” (Ross&Davis, 122), a reference to the area around the Wiltshire estate of the Earl of Pembroke, where Sidney composed much of the Arcadia. William Ringler suggests the reference does not fit the fiction and points a finger at Mary Sidney, who edited her brother’s work:

The Countess of Pembroke apparently found the uncompleted poem among her brother’s papers and inserted it at what she considered an appropriate location in the 1593 edition. Sidney, even if he had completed it, probably would not have included it in the Arcadia, because it is too obviously a poem of the contemporary Elizabethan rather than of the ancient Arcadian country-side. (The Poems of Sir Philip Sidney, 494).

The second reference to England occurs in a poem by Philisides (Phillip Sidney’s nom de plume) in the fourth eclogues: “My song, climb you the wind / which Holland sweet now gently sendeth in” (Ross&Davis, 482). Ringler again attributes the inclusion of the poem to Philip’s sister:

“Sidney, perhaps because the setting is so obviously England, did not make the poem a part of hisOld Arcadia. His sister probably found it among his papers and inserted it into the Third Eclogues, a poor location because it is not appropriate to the ‘marriage group’. However, we must thank the Countess of Pembroke for preserving one of her brother’s most charming poems” (The Poems of Sir Philip Sidney, p. 496).

As Ringler notes, the 1613 editor changed Wilton to Helis (in the country of Elis, west of Arcadia) and Holland to Cyprus.

It may seem that references to contemporary English in a work about ancient Arcadia violate decorum. But Virgil’s eclogues, the source of Sidney’s Dametas and Mopsa and, indeed, Arcadia itself,  prefigure the use of mixed geography in a pastoral work. Rather than creating dissonance, Sidney’s introduction of England to ancient Greece illustrates a close adherence to the details of Virgil’s art.

When Virgil imitated the Greek poet Theocritus, he conflated locations and mixed in fragments of Arcadian songs and people. The modern commentator Wendell Clausen says that Virgil’s landscape is more sylvan, more “heavily wooded” than that of Theocritus (Virgil’s Ecloques [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995] p. xxvi). But earlier editors agreed with the summary by C. S. Jerram, that “The scenery is chiefly borrowed from the Sicily of Theocritus. Neither hills nor rocks, beeches, chestnuts, or pines are found in the level plain that surrounds Mantua” (Virgil: Bucolics, Oxford, 1887, p. 57, Virgil’s home, where dispossessions occurred following the end of Rome’s civil war, and the setting of Virgil’s first eclogue. The second eclogue, by contrast, is set in Sicily, where Cordydon claims to tend a thousand sheep. The third eclogue seems to be set in Virgil’s neighborhood, since it mentions his nom de plume Tityrus; the Old Arcadia has a full imitation, transferring the geography to England, that does not appear in the New Arcadia. The fourth eclogue shows a characteristic indifference to the details of local l geography: “The destruction of the herds by lions does not agree with Italian surroundings, but was nevertheless an idea familiar to the Romans,” according to according to J. B. Greenough and G. L. Kittredge (The Great Poems of Virgil [Boston: Ginn, 1900], p. 572), who offer a Pompeian wall painting to show that lions were a feature of Roman paintings, if not the actual landscape.

The seventh eclogue is ultimately about art, not a particular place. It features two Arcadians, Corydon and Thyrsis, “Arcades ambo,” who seem to have wandered into Italy, where they vie in song beside the Mincius river, which flows near Mantua. They are heard by Meliboeus, dispossessed from his northern Italian farm in the First Eclogue, and Daphnis, who seems to belong in any landscape (one of the reasons his death recalls Julius Caesar’s in the Fifth Eclogue). The eighth eclogue continues Virgil’s pattern of making his poems a landscape of the mind and emotions. He use Maenalios, a mountain in Arcadia, loosely as a synonym for Arcadia in the repeated refrain “Incipe Maenalios mecum, mea tibia, versus” (Begin with me, my flute, Maenalian lays). Kittredge sagely comments that Maenalios is a “conventional epithet not properly belonging to the scene” (p. 82).

We may conclude that we should not be too quick to assume that the rules of pastoral poetry were unknown to Mary Sidney or that her edition violates decorum because she included Lamon’s poem and “The lad Philisides” in what was, after all, The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia.

Penshurst and the Mystery of Sir Philip Sidney

Starting to work on a documentary about Sidney. The first mystery is why has no one heard of him. I found this answer on-line, with some wonderful pictures of the family home at Penshurst:

LT:  What do you think accounts for Sidney’s absence from the majority of college curriculums?

AO:  There are many writers and works vying for inclusion in the current undergraduate curriculum and it may well come down to the preferences of professors or their need to attract students in the postmodern era. My son, Kevin, just completed an English degree that, except for a few foundation courses, concentrated on works of the last two centuries. Another son, David, certainly did not meet Sidney on his English survey course in college. 

See and also "Behind the Article: A Further Look at Sir Philip Sidney, Penshurst Place and the Study of the English Renaissance":

The articles links to these photos on a flickr account of Penshurst, where Philip Sidney was born and spent his first ten years:




Photo by DavidCallan/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by DavidCallan/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by Bossiema/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by Bossiema/iStock / Getty Images

History of Ross and Davis's Restoration of Sidney's Arcadia

The project began in the fall of 2010 when the Penguin edition of Sidney’s Arcadia went out of print, leaving Charles Ross's introduction to 16th-century literature class with no text.  

With students from China, Korea, Italy, Saudi Arabia, and even Indiana, the class decided to produce a restored, modernized edition that would suit the needs of a global audience. We started transcribing and editing the 1674 edition and invited Robert Stillman, the well-known Sidney scholar, to speak to us at an event we called Sidney Day.

In 2012, Joel Davis, former president of the Sidney Society, reviewed our work in progress and agreed to co-edit the volume. Relying on Davis's bibliographical theory as explained in his book The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia and the Invention of English Literature, Davis and Ross chose to work from the 1593 edition, which was source of all later printings but has never been the base text for a critical edition.

There remained the problem of how to bring Sidney's poetry alive for contemporary readers. In 2015, Edward Abe Plough began the task of composing setting the seventy-three poems in the Arcadia to modern music.  


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    Sidney Day, November 4, 2010: Robert Stillman, Joanna Benskin, Hwanhee Park, Marisa Buccieri, Bing Yan, Yuhan Huang, Sophia Stone, Amy Tevaut, Meng Wang, Khalid Alrasheed, Charles Ross. Photographed in the Anniversary Drawing Room, Purdue University, by class-member Masimilliano Giorgini.

Sidney Day, November 4, 2010: Robert Stillman, Joanna Benskin, Hwanhee Park, Marisa Buccieri, Bing Yan, Yuhan Huang, Sophia Stone, Amy Tevaut, Meng Wang, Khalid Alrasheed, Charles Ross. Photographed in the Anniversary Drawing Room, Purdue University, by class-member Masimilliano Giorgini.

The meaning of Cecropia

Re-reading Robert Stillman's book Philip Sidney and the Poetics of Renaissance Cosmopolitanism and noticed that we forgot his explanation for the meaning of the name Cecropia, the villainous character found only in the comlete 1593 Arcadia, who debates Pamela on the existence of God (3.10). This explanation should be added to "Pronunciation Guide to Proper Names" (p. 601).

Renaissance dictionaries say Cecropia means "the Athenian woman," from a word for the Acropolis (Cēcrŏpia, ae, the citadel of Athens). It occurs in Sanazzaro's Arcadia as a synonym for Procne, the elder daughter of a king of Athens named Pandion. Her husband King Tereus of Thrace raped her sister Philomela. 

But "Cecropia" is not just a woman who watches the torture of another woman, as she does in the Arcadia, where she uses all means to persuade Pamela and Philoclea (either will do) to marry her son. 

According to Stillman, "Cecropian" was a term used by Reformation theologians to refer to an atheists and epicureans, found in the poems of George Buchanan and the epigrams of Philip Melanchthon, but possibly familiar to Sidney from more general usage.

Here's the overlooked footnote: "Epigrammatum Reverendi Viri Philippi Melanthonis Libri Sex, ed. Johannis Cratonis (Witenberg, 1579). For an attack upon Cecropians, see p. 08 (verso), Epigrammata trium statuarum ad Strymonem fluvium positarum civibus Atticis, qui Medos represserant ex Aeschinis oratione. See too George Buchanan: Tragedies, ed. P. Sharratt and P. G. Walsh (Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press, 1983), Medea, l. 872, p. 193. What matters here is less the allusion itself, than the fact that Sidney's choice of allusions is so offten determined by his intellectual kinship with Languet's extensive, international network of associates" (p. xi n.8).