Rhetoric and gender in Sidney's 'Arcadias'
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This thesis starts from the point of departure that Sidney's claim in his Defence of Poetry that the purpose of literature is to delight and instruct a given audience is both an accurate and important guiding principle behind the creation of his two Arcadias. By their author's criteria, Sidney's works seek not only to provide diverting images of a fictive world, but to insure that these images serve some specific moral, didactic purpose. The manner in which Sidney goes about achieving this end is, however, less simplistic than the ordinary understanding of didactic literature connotes. The most historically determined aspect of the Arcadia 's didacticism is its extensive and strategic deployment of rhetorical figuration. Rhetoric in Sidney's Renaissance England represented both a vital tool in the smooth running of political life and a signpost of literary genius. The Arcadia thus manipulates specific rhetorical figures and tropes both to demonstrate the great literary skill of its author as well as to depict an ethical and political ideal. Part One of the thesis first investigates the history of rhetorical theory and its impact on the reputation of Sidney's work. It then goes on to explore particular rhetorical devices employed most frequently and significantly in the Old and New Arcadias, drawing comparisons between the versions as to underscore the differences in stylistic procedure and dramatic content of each work. Other aspects of Sidney's rhetoricism, such as his treatment of paradox and his rhetorical character portrayal, are also studied in an effort to gauge the major differences between the Old and New Arcadias. The overall conclusions drawn indicate that Sidney adapts his rhetorical strategy to accommodate a more complex and mature vision of ethical behaviour in his revised work. The other key aspect of Sidney's didacticism is his self-conscious and contentious depiction of gender roles. That is, Sidney plays off varying aspects of traditionally gender-associated behaviour to portray his own vision of an heroic ethical ideal. For example, the Amazon and the transvestite become vehicles through which to explore aspects of femininity that are for Sidney wholly in concord with manifestations of heroism. Moreover, Sidney subverts traditional gendered conceptions of particular vices and virtues to illustrate a liberal attitude toward the potentialities of women and men. Part Two, then, is dedicated to drawing out Sidney's understanding of gender roles as they reflect and demonstrate his unique vision of an heroic ideal. The observations made about the rhetorical and gendered dimensions of Sidney's didacticism are brought together in the conclusion, where Sidney's rhetoric is situated within the context of gender. In other words, the gendered conception of Sidney's particular brand of rhetoric is brought to the fore and poised within the ethical framework it embodies.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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