Navigation – Plan du site
Varia

Mary Wroth’s Urania and the Editorial Debate over Philip Sidney’s Arcadia

Aurélie Griffin

Résumés

Dans The Countess of Montgomery’s Urania (1621), Mary Wroth rend hommage à son oncle Philip Sidney. Elle s’inspire de The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia, dont la première version est composée dans les années 1580, puis, après avoir connu d’importants développements et modifications, est publiée pour la première fois en 1590. Wroth fonde son roman sur une lecture fine et personnelle de l’Arcadie, mais démontre également sa connaissance du débat éditorial qui influence la réception du roman de Sidney aux seizième et dix-septième siècles. Après la mort de Sidney, son roman inachevé fait l’objet de deux éditions concurrentes, établies respectivement par deux de ses proches, son ami Fulke Greville et sa sœur Mary Sidney Herbert, Comtesse de Pembroke, à qui Sidney dédie son roman. Suivant l’exemple de sa tante, Wroth fait de sa lignée un argument pour revendiquer son autorité sur le roman de Sidney à travers la création de sa propre œuvre littéraire.

Haut de page

Texte intégral

1Mary Wroth’s romance The Countess of Montgomery’s Urania (1621) forms part of the wider context of seventeenth-century literary responses to Philip Sidney’s The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia. Arcadia was one of the most successful and influential books of the period, and went through thirteen editions between 1590 and 1674. Between 1590 and 1598, Arcadia was published three times, under the supervision of two editors : Sidney’s friend Fulke Greville, and Sidney’s sister the Countess of Pembroke. The first three editions of Arcadia displayed different interpretations of the work, and played an essential part in informing reader response. In her romance, Mary Wroth proves to be aware of the editorial debate over Sidney’s Arcadia and renews this debate through her own work. Urania appears to be not only a response to Sidney’s romance, but also to the editorial history of Arcadia. Wroth was Sidney’s niece, and a sense of family belonging is apparent in her works. As was the case with other literary works claiming to be taking after Sidney, Urania derives from the author’s personal reading of Arcadia, but Wroth made certain choices which significantly distinguish her work from others of the same kind. In order to define the nature of Wroth’s reponse to Arcadia, it is necessary to understand what exactly she responded to, and what Arcadia meant to her as a member of the Sidney circle.

Versions of Arcadia

  • 1 See Annabel Patterson, Censorship and Interpretation, Madison, University of Wisconsin Press, 1984, (...)
  • 2 As L. Plazenet points out, the period when Sidney revised the manuscript Arcadia is still unclear, (...)
  • 3 Book 3 of the revised version ends in the midst of a fight between Anaxius and Zelmane : “But Zelma (...)

2Arcadia is the result of a complex history, both of composition and publication. Philip Sidney died in battle in 1586, leaving two versions of Arcadia, one of which was – supposedly - unfinished. Sidney’s romance actually exists under three different forms. As is well-known, Sidney wrote his manuscript pastoral romance during his stay at Wilton House between 1577 and 1580, and addressed it to his sister Mary Sidney Herbert, Countess of Pembroke. This version, which we know as the Old Arcadia, was probably completed by the author in 1581, and remained unpublished until the early twentieth century1. Sidney later set to the task of revising and expanding the manuscript, producing the much longer heroic romance we now know as the New Arcadia2. The new version was incomplete at the time of Sidney’s death, and broke off in mid-sentence3. Sidney had revised the first two books, and part of the third book of the Old Arcadia. The reasons why he did not complete the task are still unknown. We do not even know whether or not Sidney intended to edit the whole work. Most seventeenth-century readers, however, seem to have had little doubt that Sidney intended to complete his romance.

The editorial construction of the Arcadia : Fulke Greville vs. the Countess of Pembroke

  • 4 Joel Davis, “Multiple ‘Arcadias’ and the Literary Quarrel between Fulke Greville and the Countess o (...)
  • 5 In contrast with later editions, there is no final punctuation mark in the text indicating incomple (...)
  • 6 P. Sidney, The Countesse of Pembrokes Arcadia, London, 1590, sig. A6v.
  • 7 See J. Davis, art.cit., p. 415-417.
  • 8 Ibid., p. 414.

3Sidney’s friend Fulke Greville designed the first edition of the unfinished New Arcadia in 1590, with the assistance of Matthew Gwinne, and possibly, John Florio4. This edition, as all others, uses the title The Countess of Pembrokes Arcadia. As in Sidney’s revised manuscript, the book ends in mid-sentence5. In this respect, the 1590 edition seems to preserve the revised manuscript as Sidney left it, while making it accessible to a wider readership. Greville also appears to have felt that the number and length of episodes were likely to put readers off. He divided the three books into short chapters, each about two pages long, and added summaries under each heading. Greville explains his decisions in a note prefacing the romance : “The division and number of the chapters was not of Sir Philip Sidneis dooing, but adventured by the over-seer of the print, for the more ease of the Readers. He therfore submits himselfe to their judgement, and if his labour answere not the worthinesse of the booke, desireth pardon for it6.” Although the 1590 edition does not mention Greville’s name, his presence can be felt in his editorial interventions7. Greville’s enterprise can be at least partly explained by his desire to affirm his authority over Sidney’s Arcadia. The critic Joel Davis notes that “the chapter summaries […] allow Greville to impose his interpretation of the Arcadia on his readers in the guise of Philip Sidney’s own intentions8.” The 1590 edition of Arcadia reveals its editor’s dual purpose : Sidney’s literary achievement must be preserved, but requires the help of a second, albeit perhaps inferior writer, to reach the public. Greville’s edition thus paved the way for more editorial manipulations of and additions to Sidney’s work.

  • 9 The letter was also published as a preface to Greville’s edition, but it carried much more weight i (...)
  • 10 P. Sidney, The Countesse of Pembrokes Arcadia, London, 1593, p. 3.

4The second edition of Arcadia (1593) was designed as a response to the first. It was published under the aegis of Sidney’s sister, Mary Sidney Herbert, Countess of Pembroke. She strongly disapproved of Greville’s edition and challenged his claim for authority over the text. Contrary to Greville, Mary Sidney Herbert could use her brother’s own words to advocate her rights over the romance. She did so by publishing as a preface the dedicatory epistle that Sidney had written her upon completing the Old Arcadia9. When readers of the 1593 edition opened the book, they found the expression of the author’s own wish to grant the Countess of Pembroke authority over the romance : “you desired me to doe it, and your desire, to my heart, is an absolute commandment. Now, it is done onely for you, only to you10.” Although Sidney’s letter contradicts the idea of publication, it could be reinterpreted in a way that justified his sister’s enterprise. The letter states that :

  • 11 Ibid., p. 3.

if you keepe it [the romance] to yourselfe, or to such friends, who will weigh errors in the balance of good will, I hope, for the fathers sake, it will be pardoned, perchaunce made much of, though in it selfe it have deformities. For indeed, for severer eies it is not, being but a trifle, and that triflingly handled.11

  • 12 Fulke Greville, The Life of the Renowned Sir Philip Sidney, ed. Charles Nowell Smith, London, Clare (...)

5Sidney is clearly referring to an intimate circle of readers, such as those who resided at or visited the countess’s estate at Wilton House, and whom he permitted to view the manuscript. Sidney’s letter anticipates a double audience, distinguishing readers who would be receptive to the work’s qualities, and in particular, to its pastoral aesthetics, while those qualities would be lost on “severer eies.” In the wake of Greville’s edition, however, Sidney’s words could be endowed with a new meaning. In his summaries, Greville had downplayed the romance’s pastoralism in favour of ethical, political, and religious considerations, which in his view, made Arcadia worth reading : “To be short, the like, and finer moralities offer themselves throughout that various, and dainty work of his, for sounder Judgements to exercise their Spirits in12.” Read in the context of Mary Sidney Herbert’s new edition of Arcadia, Sidney’s letter retrospectively seems to castigate previous editors, and their readers, for a limited understanding of the book. The fact that this piece of criticism comes originally from Sidney himself indirectly justifies his sister’s attempt to redress the faults of the 1590 edition.

  • 13 P. Sidney, The Countesse of Pembrokes Arcadia, London, 1593, “To the Reader,” p. 4.
  • 14 Davis argues that the words “disfigured face” work as an insult which “contradicts the supposition (...)
  • 15 Ibid., p. 427 : “The 1593 preface continuously invokes the Sidney family name as protection for the (...)

6The Countess of Pembroke’s contempt for Greville’s edition is also made clear in the preface written by her husband’s secretary Hugh Sanford, who helped her edit the text : “The disfigured face, gentle Reader, wherewith this worke not long since appeared to the common view, moved that noble Lady, to whose Honour consecrated, to whose protection it was committed, to take in hand the wiping away those spottes wherewith the beauties therof were unworthely blemished13.” The preface is in fact a direct attack against Greville, since it accuses him of being an “unworth[y]” reader of Arcadia, and probably, of being unworthy of Sidney’s trust14. Mary Sidney Herbert’s responsibility, therefore, was to “protect” Sidney’s work, which had recently been damaged, and thus, to do her brother justice. Joel Davis argues that the 1593 edition of Arcadia was driven by the Countess of Pembroke’s desire to claim her brother’s work back into her family circle, to the exclusion of any other editorial agency15. Years later, Mary Wroth produced a similar claim over Sidney’s work.

  • 16 The 1593 edition uses a full stop at the end of the unfinished last sentence of Book 3, contrary to (...)

7In contrast with the 1590 edition, which ended with the unfinished Book 3 of the revised Arcadia, the 1593 edition complements the narrative with the last two books of the Old Arcadia. The transition is indicated by an editorial note which follows the incomplete last sentence of Book 316 :

  • 17 P. Sidney, The Countesse of Pembrokes Arcadia, London, 1593, p. 171.

How this combate ended, how the Ladies by the comming of the discovered Forces were delivered, and restored to Basilius, and how Dorus again returned to his old master Damætas, is altogether unknowne. What afterwards chaunced, out of the Authors owne writings and conceits, have been supplied, as foloweth17.

  • 18 For examples of the literary response to Arcadia, see Martin Garett, (ed.), Sidney : the Critical H (...)

8This “supplement” by the editor draws attention to the discrepancy between the Old and the New Arcadias, for the fight between Anaxius and Zelmane does not occur in the third book of the Old Arcadia. The transitional note clearly works at bridging the gap between the two manuscript versions of Sidney’s text, and tries to do so by restoring the imagined chronology of events (“What afterwards chaunced.”) The note fails, however, to erase the heterogeneity of the printed text, which is due in great part to Sidney’s larger shift from pastoral romance in the Old Arcadia to chivalric romance in the New Arcadia. The 1593 edition may have encouraged readers to complete the narrative by reestablishing the chronology of events. A few years later, a number of readers started to offer their own versions of the ending of the romance, some of which appeared in print18. The Countess of Pembroke’s editorial construction of Arcadia, which joined Sidney’s two manuscripts, thus paved the way for more “conclusion[s]” rather than “perfection[s]” of the romance. The 1593 edition, which started out as an attempt to protect Sidney’s work, had the possibly unforeseen effect of “authorising” additions by other writers to end the narrative.

  • 19 The title page reads “The Countesse of Pembrokes Arcadia. Written by Sir Philip Sidney Knight. Now (...)
  • 20 The additions were namely “Syr P. S. His Astrophel and Stella Wherein the excellence of sweete poes (...)

9The success of the 1593 edition of Arcadia was such that all subsequent editions in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries are more or less reprints of it. The Countess of Pembroke’s second edition of Arcadia, which was published in 1598, reinforced her influence over Sidney’s work. Although the main title remained the same, the countess appended other writings by Sidney to the romance as “additions19.” Such a move was, of course, designed to preserve more of Sidney’s writings. Simultaneously, the additions were an invitation for the owners of the 1593 edition to buy the latest one, which was more up to date. Many of the additions had already been published (like Astrophel and Stella, first published in 1591, and A Defence of Poetry, first published in 1595), but others were printed for the first time (“Certain Sonets written by Sir Philip Sidney : never before printed ;” and Sidney’s royal entertainment which came to be known as The Lady of May20). In this 1598 edition, as in later ones, the word Arcadia does not refer solely to Sidney’s romance, but rather, to a collection of his works.

  • 21 Sidney translated Du Plessis Mornais’s De la vérité de la religion chrestienne and Du Bartas’s epic (...)

10In this first “Arcadian” collection of her brother’s writings, the Countess of Pembroke chose works which testified to her brother’s involvement in the creation of courtly literature, to the exclusion of his political letters, his translations of religious works, or his psalms21. Mary Sidney Herbert appended to the romance works which renewed the association of the Sidney family with pastoralism, and contributed to Sidney’s reputation as the model Elizabethan courtier poet. Moreover, the “sundry additions by the same author” grafted upon the romance conveyed the impression of an ever-expanding work, which contradicted the effect of closure imposed upon the text by the editor when she ‘ended’ Arcadia.

  • 22 P. Sidney, The Countesse of Pembrokes Arcadia, London, 1593, p. 171.
  • 23 P. Sidney, The Defence of Poesy, in The Major Works, ed. Katherine Duncan-Jones, Oxford, OUP, 1989, (...)
  • 24 P. Sidney, The Old Arcadia, ed. K. Duncan-Jones, Oxford, OUP, 2008 [1985,] p. 361. In the 1598 edit (...)

11This new collection of Sidneian works could be read as an inspiration and a guide for future writers. The editorial note inserted between the New and the Old Arcadia invited readers to imagine the end of Book 3 by listing what happened without explaining how things happened : “How this combate ended, how the Ladies by the comming of the discovered Forces were delivered, and restored to Basilius, and how Dorus again returned to his old master Damætas, is altogether unknowne22.” Moreover, the 1598 edition included various poems by Sidney and a play - works which exemplified Sidney’s talent and could be imitated. The volume also included the Defense of Poesy, in which Sidney exposed his conception of the art and took stance in favour of imitation : “Poetry therefore is an art of imitation, for so Aristotle termeth it in the word mimesis – that is to say, a representing, counterfeiting, or figuring forth – to speak metaphorically, a speaking picture – with this end, to teach and delight23.” Sidney here defines poetry as the imitation of nature, but in the context of the 1598 edition of Arcadia, the Defense could indirectly be read as inviting readers to imitate Sidney and possibly, to end the romance by themselves. Continuations were also encouraged elsewhere in the Countess of Pembroke’s editions. In the final page of the Old Arcadia, Sidney famously invited other writers to end his story : “But the solemnities of these marriages, […] may awake some other spirit to exercise his pen in that wherewith mine is already dulled24.” In other words, the 1598 edition may have encouraged new writers to supplement Sidney’s text by showing them how to emulate his talent. If the generic heterogeneity of the 1593 edition had been negatively perceived – as we shall see -, then Mary Sidney Herbert could provide readers with strategies to correct the mistakes of her first edition in her second, and thus, to continue Sidney’s works after his death. At a time when imitation was still very much the rule for literary production, encouraging readers to continue the romance would not be seen as a betrayal, but rather, as a tribute to Sidney’s talent.

12Although the Countess of Pembroke’s editions of Arcadia outshone Greville’s, they did meet with criticisms as well. One example can be found in John Florio’s translation of Montaigne’s Essais (1603). Florio dedicated the second book of the Essayes to Sidney’s daughter, Elizabeth, Countess of Rutland, and to Penelope Rich, who is usually identified with Stella. As Martin Garrett suggests, “Florio’s dedication to Sidney’s daughter and to Penelope Rich suggested – or encouraged – their rivalry with the Countess of Pembroke for the position of Sidney’s literary heir and executor.” Florio, who had possibly taken part in the 1590 edition, was directly responding to Hugh Sanford’s preface to the 1593 edition. Simultaneously, Florio was reviving the debate around editorial choices regarding Sidney’s romance, by criticizing the artificial ending of Arcadia in the Countess of Pembroke’s editions :

  • 25 John Florio, The essayes or morall, politike and millitarie discourses of Lo : Michaell de Montaign (...)

I know, nor this [Montaigne’s Essayes], nor any I have seene, or can conceive, in this or other language, can in aught be compared to that perfect-unperfect Arcadia, which all our world yet weepes with you, that your all-praise exceeding father (his praise-succeeding Countesse) your worthie friend (friend-worthiest Lady), lived not to mend or end-it ; since this end we see of it, though at first above all, now is not answerable to the precedents ; and though it were much easier to mend out of an originall and well-corrected copie, than to make up so much out of a most corrupt, yet see we more marring that was well, then mending what was amisse25.

  • 26 F. Greville, op.cit., p. 14.

13To Florio, the perfection of Arcadia resides in its imperfection, and in particular, in its incompletion. He asserts the superiority of the revised Arcadia over the Old Arcadia : “the end [taken from the Old Arcadia in the 1593 and 1598 editions] […] is not answerable to the precedents.” Florio supposes that Sidney intended to complete the revision of his manuscript, in stating that he “lived not to mend or end-it.” Greville similarly argues that the incompletion of the romance is due to Sidney’s untimely death : “let [the reader] conceive, if this excellent Image-maker had liv’d to finish, and bring to perfection this extraordinary frame of his own Common-wealth26.” Florio was clearly taking Greville’s side, as he implies that Mary Sidney Herbert’s editions were wrong in two respects. First, by patching up the revised version of Arcadia with the version Sidney supposedly did not have time to revise, they conveyed an unequal image of Sidney’s talent. Second, readers captivated by the narrative unfolding of the hybrid Arcadia were likely to forget that Sidney had been unable to complete his revision. Florio adds that the copy of Arcadia Sidney had beaqueathed Greville was superior to the one Mary Sidney had in her possession, since the former was “well-corrected” while the other was “corrupt”. All in all, the Countess of Pembroke’s tribute to her brother’s talent was too weak, and as such, Florio could well encourage the Countess of Rutland and Penelope Rich to take charge of Sidney’s works. However, Florio’s plea in favour of incompletion had little success, in comparison with the numerous continuations – manuscript and published - to Arcadia.

Mary Wroth’s Response to the Editorial Debate over Arcadia

  • 27 See for instance Josephine Roberts (ed.), The First Part of the Countess of Montgomery’s Urania, Te (...)

14Among the many continuations and imitations of Sidney’s romance, Mary Wroth’s The Countess of Montgomery’s Urania is unique. It was published in 1621, in the same year that William Alexander’s “Supplement” was integrated into the printed Arcadia. It is not clear whether or not Wroth had read, or was even aware of Alexander’s continuation, but her romance illustrates a completely different approach to Sidney’s works. Wroth’s title imitates Sidney’s The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia. The character of Urania is derived from Sidney’s romance itself, since Urania is the absent shepherdess mourned by Claius and Strephon in the first page of Sidney’s romance. Numerous critics have remarked that Wroth’s romance is directly inspired by Sidney’s27. Urania, however, does not only respond to Sidney’s text, but displays both Wroth’s interest in the materiality of Arcadia and her awareness of the editorial debates over it.

  • 28 Margaret P. Hannay, “‘Your Vertuous and Learned Aunt :’ The Countess of Pembroke as Mentor to Mary (...)
  • 29 Anna Weamys, A Continuation to Sir Philip Sidney’s Arcadia, London, 1651, p. 188.

15Wroth’s romance could be considered as a continuation of Sidney’s romance. As Margaret Hannay suggests, “[s]ince Wroth’s Urania is named for a character in the Arcadia, she may have thought of her work as – in some sense - continuing Sir Philip’s unfinished romance, even as her aunt was completing the Psalmes28.” Urania, however, is not a continuation of Arcadia in the proper sense, in so far as it only features one Sidneian character – Urania – and does not complete the adventures that were left interrupted. Wroth’s romance also differs from the continuations by echoing the beginning, rather than the end(s) of Sidney’s. Complementing Claius and Strephon’s lament over the disappearance of Urania, Wroth’s romance enables readers to learn what happened to Urania – if they consider that the character is the same as Sidney’s. Mary Wroth’s romance develops its own set of characters and episodes. Wroth’s Urania, for instance, never meets Claius and Strephon. In contrast, another romance directly inspired by Sidney’s, Anna Weamys’s A Continuation to Sir Philip Sidney’s Arcadia (1651), reunites Urania, Claius and Strephon and provides a different explanation for Urania’s disappearance. In Weamys’s romance, Urania herself explains that she was abducted by Lacemon and taken to Arcadia against her will29. By filling in the gaps of Sidney’s narrative, Weamys enables Arcadia to come full circle. Wroth, rather, creates a new beginning for Sidney’s romance, changing the perspective from the shepherds’ to Urania’s. By stressing Urania’s painful ignorance of her origins at the beginning of the romance, Wroth may simultaneously be pointing to the need to return the heroine to Sidney and affirming her wish to recreate her entirely. Urania must know who she is and where she comes from so as to become a new character in Wroth’s narrative. Wroth derives her romance from Sidney’s, but sets out to write a different, more personal work. If Urania is to be considered as a continuation of Arcadia, it functions on the symbolic rather than on the narrative level.

16The connection between Wroth’s and Sidney’s romances is apparent on the title page, which clearly identifies Wroth as a Sidney :

  • 30 Mary Wroth, The First Part of the Countesse of Montgomeries Urania, London, 1621, title page.

The Countesse of Montgomeries
URANIA
Written by the right honorable the Lady
MARY WROATH
Daughter to the right Noble Robert
Earle of Leicester
And Neece to the ever famous, and
Renowned Sir Philip Sidney Knight. And to
The most excellent Lady Mary Countesse
of Pembroke late deceased30.

  • 31 For Wroth and Herbert’s relationship, see for instance J. Roberts (ed.), op.cit., “Critical Introdu (...)
  • 32 For the sense of authority derived from Wroth’s belonging to the Sidney family, see M. Hannay, art. (...)
  • 33 The 1593 and 1598 editions of Arcadia were published by William Ponsonbie, but the three subsequent (...)

17On the title page, Wroth affirms her family heritage. She appears not only as Philip Sidney’s niece, but as a member of the Sidney circle, referring to her father and her aunt, as well as to Susan Herbert, Countess of Montgomery. Susan Herbert was a literary patron herself, and daughter to the courtier poet Edward de Vere. One could even argue that, by including the name of Pembroke, Wroth symbolically associates with the work her cousin and lover the poet William Herbert, third earl of Pembroke. William Herbert is most probably featured inside the romance as Amphilanthus31. On the title page, Wroth’s name is surrounded by those of the most distinguished members of the Sidney circle, as if she needed them to legitimate her response to Sidney’s romance. As a Sidney, Wroth appears “entitled” to create her own work as a response to Arcadia32. By choosing a title which directly echoes Sidney’s and by insisting on her lineage, Wroth renews the association of Arcadia with the Sidney family. Moreover, the first page of Wroth’s romance, which portrays Urania’s despair at her ignorance of her lineage, may symbolically represent Arcadia’s drift away from its real owner(s). Sidney’s Urania had a good reason for mourning because both her author and her chief editor had passed away. In the meantime, other publishers had taken hold of Arcadia33. Wroth’s romance can be read as an act of resistance against the appropriation of Arcadia by other editors, publishers and authors – as was the Countess of Pembroke’s 1593 edition. Wroth imitated her aunt’s gesture in trying to claim Arcadia back into their family circle, but she did so by publishing her own romance as opposed to a new edition of Sidney’s.

  • 34 Pamphilia’s signature appears after Sonnet 48, “How like a fire doth Love increase in me ?”, in The (...)
  • 35 Edmund Spenser, Colin Clouts Come Home Again, London, 1595, sig. C3.
  • 36 J. Roberts (ed.), op.cit., p. 371. The romance includes a poem by the Queen of Naples (p. 490), whi (...)

18Several elements in Urania demonstrate Wroth’s awareness of the editorial construction of Arcadia. By appending her sonnet sequence Pamphilia to Amphilanthus – which is reminiscent of Sidney’s Astrophil and Stella in many ways – to her romance, Wroth nodded to her aunt’s 1598 edition of Arcadia, which contained other writings by Sidney (including Astrophil and Stella). Urania similarly referred to a collection of works by its author, but Wroth strengthened the connection between the romance and the poems by fusing the heroine and the persona in the single character of Pamphilia. Wroth created a sort of referential continuity between prose and verse, which was reinforced by the autobiographical nature of the character. Pamphilia’s signature also appears in the printed sequence, contributing to the identification of character and author34. By underlining the complementarity of the romance and the sonnet sequence, Wroth suggested an understanding of the “totality” of the pastoral as a mode involving prose, poetry, and drama – she also wrote a manuscript pastoral play, Love’s Victorie. The editorial construction of Urania thus mimics that of the 1598 Arcadia and enables Wroth to comment upon pastoralism indirectly, following her aunt’s example in this respect as well. The title of Wroth’s romance itself pays homage to Mary Sidney Herbert, who was identified as “Urania, sister unto Astrofell” in Spenser’s poem “Colin Clout’s Come Home Again35.” Mary Sidney Herbert is also shadowed in the romance as the Queen of Naples, who is said to be “perfect in poetry36.” In many ways, Urania thus works as a tribute to the Countesse of Pembroke, as much as to Philip Sidney. Wroth may have intended her work to be a monument to both of them – in the same way as her aunt took charge of Philip Sidney’s works after his death.

  • 37 The continuation ends thus : “Amphilanthus wa[s] extreamly”. Josephine Roberts, Suzanne Gossett and (...)

19In one respect, however, Mary Wroth distances herself from her aunt’s edition of Arcadia. Wroth’s romance ends in mid-sentence as did the New Arcadia, and thus stands against the artificial completion of the narrative in the hybrid Arcadia. Wroth’s romance highlights incompletion as a defining characteristic of the mode – or at least as an essential aspect as both her and her uncle’s romances. The last word, “and,” with a possible pun on “end,” functions as an ironical reminder that the plot is never complete. Urania as a whole is built upon the endless repetition of similar stories of unrequited and disappointed love. The final word also serves to tie the romance to the poems, drawing the reader’s attention to the unity of the volume. However, “and” is also the last word in Greville’s summary of the last chapter of the 1590 Arcadia. In choosing the same word to end her own text, it seems that Wroth paid her respects to Greville and acknowledged that the 1590 edition was more accurate in one respect because it reproduced the incomplete state of Sidney’s romance. Wroth wrote a manuscript continuation of her romance which ends in mid-sentence as well37. She could well have finished The First Part of the Countess of Montgomery’s Urania if she had chosen to. Incompletion, therefore, is part of the narrative economy. Wroth indicates that this characteristic can be the result of authorial intention – in her case, and possibly, in Sidney’s.

20Moreover, the diverging evolutions of the two heroines, Urania and Pamphilia, illustrate Wroth’s interest in incompletion. The story of Urania’s lineage comes to a full resolution at the end of Book 3, when the characters trapped in the Hell of Deceit are freed upon the apparition of a magical book narrating Urania and Veralinda’s lives :

  • 38 J. Roberts (ed.), op. cit., p. 455.

This wise man who had made this inchantment preserved her, tooke her from those robbers, left the purse and mantle with her to be the meanes for those that took her up to cherish her, and then being Lord of this Island, framed this inchantment, whither he knew she should come and give part of the conclusion to it38[…]

  • 39 Ibid., p. 22-23.
  • 40 Ibid. p. 656. The narrator bitterly describes Amphilanthus’s lack of resolution : “he was called to (...)
  • 41 Ibid., p. 656.
  • 42 Ibid., p. 660 : “protesting the water he dranke being mixed with her teares, had so infused constan (...)

21The words “frame” and “conclusion” emphasize the circular progress of the romance. Urania’s origins had already been explained in Book I39. Urania also symbolically represents the move from pastoral to heroic romance. At the beginning of the romance, Urania appears as a shepherdess (like Sidney’s Urania), but she soon learns that she actually is a princess. She is finally liberated from an enchantment by the magical reiteration of her identity. While Urania is able to solve her initial questionings, Pamphilia’s pains seem to have no end. A few pages before the end of the romance, Amphilanthus proves his inconstancy once again when he rescues Musalina instead of Pamphilia from the Hell of Deceit40. In this context, Amphilanthus’s statement “‘And now, […] I am disinchanted41’” and the subsequent affirmation that Pamphilia’s tears have cured his inconstancy are a little difficult to believe42. In the very last lines of the romance, Pamphilia and Amphilanthus are happily reunited, but this happy ending is constructed in such a way as to qualify it strongly. The final “and” ironically announces more sufferings to come, and contradicts the impression of closure. If Urania’s progress is a circular one, Pamphilia’s is helplessly linear and endlessly repeats the same torments. The unfinished last sentence emphasizes the structural necessity of incompletion, but Wroth simultaneously recognizes that the urge to complete stories is indispensable to drive the narrative. The tension between completion and incompletion thus becomes essential to Wroth’s romance and illustrates her conscious and original reworking of elements directly taken from Arcadia.

22Arcadia developed various literary responses throughout the seventeenth century, which were derived not only from Sidney’s text, but also from its editorial history, and particularly, from the ideological and literary standpoints the two original editions expressed. While Greville’s 1590 edition emphasized incompletion, Mary Sidney Herbert’s 1593 edition deliberately ended the romance. Both editions, however, set a precedent for continuations by other authors, as they reinforced the assumption that the incompletion of the text was involuntary. The Countess of Pembroke’s 1598 edition similarly set a precedent by transforming Arcadia from one work into a collection of works. In this context, Mary Wroth’s Urania is particularly original in so far as she uses her awareness of the literary debates over Arcadia so as to construct her own narrative. Mary Wroth reacted to the erasure of incompletion in the successful editions of Arcadia by emphasizing incompletion in her own work, but simultaneously questioned that choice. Mary Wroth’s reading of Arcadia challenged many contemporary assumptions about her uncle’s work. She produced a radical response to Arcadia which was rooted in the defense of her family heritage.

Haut de page

Notes

1 See Annabel Patterson, Censorship and Interpretation, Madison, University of Wisconsin Press, 1984, p. 34-5 ; Laurence Plazenet, “Inopportunité de la mélancolie pastorale : inachèvement, édition et réception des œuvres contre logique romanesque,” Etudes Épistémè, n°3, 2003 p. 31-33 ; H. R. Woudhuysen, Sir Philip Sidney and the Circulation of Manuscripts, 1558-1640, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1996, p. 312-5.

2 As L. Plazenet points out, the period when Sidney revised the manuscript Arcadia is still unclear, and debated among critics. He seems to have worked at it some time between 1581 and 1584. See art. cit., p. 32-33, note 15.

3 Book 3 of the revised version ends in the midst of a fight between Anaxius and Zelmane : “But Zelmane strongly putting it by with her right-hand sword, coming in with her left foot and hand, would have given a sharp visitation to his right side, but that he was fain to leave away. Whereat ashamed, (as having never done so much before in his life).” Philip Sidney, The Countesse of Pembrokes Arcadia, London, 1590, sig. Zz8v. (last page).

4 Joel Davis, “Multiple ‘Arcadias’ and the Literary Quarrel between Fulke Greville and the Countess of Pembroke,” Studies in Philology, vol. 101, n° 4 (Autumn, 2004), p. 401-430, p. 402-403.

5 In contrast with later editions, there is no final punctuation mark in the text indicating incompletion, but three centered asterisks after a blank space, and a small picture of cherubs playing music at the bottom of the page. See Philip Sidney, The Countess of Pembrokes Arcadia, London, 1590, sig. Zz8v.

6 P. Sidney, The Countesse of Pembrokes Arcadia, London, 1590, sig. A6v.

7 See J. Davis, art.cit., p. 415-417.

8 Ibid., p. 414.

9 The letter was also published as a preface to Greville’s edition, but it carried much more weight in Mary Sidney Herbert’s own edition. Hugh Sanford insisted on her legitimacy as editor in his note “To the Reader”, as we will see below.

10 P. Sidney, The Countesse of Pembrokes Arcadia, London, 1593, p. 3.

11 Ibid., p. 3.

12 Fulke Greville, The Life of the Renowned Sir Philip Sidney, ed. Charles Nowell Smith, London, Clarendon Press, 1907, p. 14. Greville assigned numbers to events or comments in Arcadia, but the numbers do not respect the chronology of the romance. Instead, Greville put forward certain “serious” issues by referring to them as numbers one or two, and systematically assigned the more romantic or comic episodes the later numbers. Davis analyses the numbering of Greville’s summaries as a way to guide readers through a moral reading of Arcadia  : “Greville’s editorial work […] encourages the audience to read the Arcadia as if it were a moral and political history similar to the Roman histories associated with the Essex circle.” J. Davis, art.cit., p. 420.

13 P. Sidney, The Countesse of Pembrokes Arcadia, London, 1593, “To the Reader,” p. 4.

14 Davis argues that the words “disfigured face” work as an insult which “contradicts the supposition that Greville and Herbert worked harmoniously to produce the 1590 and 1593 Arcadias.” J. Davis, art. cit., p. 426.

15 Ibid., p. 427 : “The 1593 preface continuously invokes the Sidney family name as protection for the work, and it scorns everyone outside the family who worked on the 1590 edition.”

16 The 1593 edition uses a full stop at the end of the unfinished last sentence of Book 3, contrary to Greville’s (see note 4 above.) The use of a punctuation mark in this case could be interpreted as an attempt to conceal the incompleteness of the sentence by letting it be merged into the whole.

17 P. Sidney, The Countesse of Pembrokes Arcadia, London, 1593, p. 171.

18 For examples of the literary response to Arcadia, see Martin Garett, (ed.), Sidney : the Critical Heritage, London, Routledge, 2003 [1996.] Heidi Brayman Hackel studies the manuscript response to the romance in her Reading Material in Early Modern England : Print, Gender, and Literacy, Cambridge, CUP, 2005. See chapter 4, “Noting readers of the Arcadia in marginalia and commonplace books,” p. 137-195.

19 The title page reads “The Countesse of Pembrokes Arcadia. Written by Sir Philip Sidney Knight. Now for the third time published, with sundry new additions of the same author,” London, 1598.

20 The additions were namely “Syr P. S. His Astrophel and Stella Wherein the excellence of sweete poesie is concluded,” London, 1591, 1597 ; “An Apologie for poetry. Written by the right noble, vertuous, and learned Sir Phillip Sidney, Knight,” London, 1595. The “newly printed sonnets” appeared p. 472-490 of the 1598 Arcadia, and the Lady of May was the last piece contained in the folio, p. 570-576.

21 Sidney translated Du Plessis Mornais’s De la vérité de la religion chrestienne and Du Bartas’s epic poem La semaine ou Création du monde, although he did not complete the translations. The Countess of Pembroke completed her brother’s translation of the Psalms after his death.

22 P. Sidney, The Countesse of Pembrokes Arcadia, London, 1593, p. 171.

23 P. Sidney, The Defence of Poesy, in The Major Works, ed. Katherine Duncan-Jones, Oxford, OUP, 1989, p. 217 ; in 1598, p. 495.

24 P. Sidney, The Old Arcadia, ed. K. Duncan-Jones, Oxford, OUP, 2008 [1985,] p. 361. In the 1598 edition, the passage appeared p. 471.

25 John Florio, The essayes or morall, politike and millitarie discourses of Lo : Michaell de Montaigne,… And now done into English by… Iohn Florio, London, 1603, R3. Quoted in Martin Garrett, p. 169.

26 F. Greville, op.cit., p. 14.

27 See for instance Josephine Roberts (ed.), The First Part of the Countess of Montgomery’s Urania, Tempe, Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2005 [1995,] “Critical Introduction,” xxv-xxvi. See also Naomi J. Miller, “‘Not Much to be Marked :’ Narrative of the Woman’s Part in Lady Mary Wroth’s Urania,” SEL 1500-1900, Vol. 29, N°1, The English Renaissance, (Winter, 1989), p. 123 ; Gavin Alexander, Writing After Sidney : The Literary Response to Sir Philip Sidney 1586-1640, Oxford, OUP, 2006, p. 287-291 ; and Paul Salzman, Reading Early Modern Women’s Writing, Oxford, OUP, 2006, p. 87.

28 Margaret P. Hannay, “‘Your Vertuous and Learned Aunt :’ The Countess of Pembroke as Mentor to Mary Wroth,” in Naomi J. Miller and Gary Waller (eds.), Reading Mary Wroth : Reading Alternatives in Early Modern England, Knoxville, University of Tennessee Press, 1991, p. 24. Ann Margaret Lange similarly asserts that “in a very subtle manner Wroth also ‘inherits’ her uncle’s earlier work by presenting hers as a continuation, or perhaps, more correctly, a continuation and completion of one of its stories.” Writing the Way Out : Inheritance and Appropriation in Aemilia Lanyer, Isabella Whitney, Mary (Sidney) Herbert and Mary Wroth, Bern, Peter Lang, 2011, p. 195, n. 25.

29 Anna Weamys, A Continuation to Sir Philip Sidney’s Arcadia, London, 1651, p. 188.

30 Mary Wroth, The First Part of the Countesse of Montgomeries Urania, London, 1621, title page.

31 For Wroth and Herbert’s relationship, see for instance J. Roberts (ed.), op.cit., “Critical Introduction,” lxxxvi- lxxxix. The narrator of Urania praises Amphilanthus’s “excellent verses,” ibid., p. 295. For Wroth’s relationship to other members of the Sidney circle, see Gary Waller, “Mary Wroth and the Sidney Family Romance : Gender Construction in Early Modern England,” in N. Miller and G.Waller (eds.), op.cit., p.35-63, and Gary Waller, The Sidney Family Romance : Mary Wroth, William Herbert and the Early Modern Construction of Gender, Detroit, Wayne State UP, 1993.

32 For the sense of authority derived from Wroth’s belonging to the Sidney family, see M. Hannay, art. cit., p. 15, and Mary Ellen Lamb, Gender and Authorship in the Sidney Circle, Madison, University of Wisconsin Press, 1990, p. 20-21.

33 The 1593 and 1598 editions of Arcadia were published by William Ponsonbie, but the three subsequent editions had different publishers : Matthew and Humphrey Lownes in 1605 and 1613, and the Societie of Stationers in Dublin in 1621.

34 Pamphilia’s signature appears after Sonnet 48, “How like a fire doth Love increase in me ?”, in The First Part of the Countesse of Montgomeries Urania, London, 1621, sig. Dddd. The sonnet sequence is paginated independently from the romance but not consistently.

35 Edmund Spenser, Colin Clouts Come Home Again, London, 1595, sig. C3.

36 J. Roberts (ed.), op.cit., p. 371. The romance includes a poem by the Queen of Naples (p. 490), which was attributed to Mary Sidney Herbert by M. Hannay, art. cit., p. 27. Hannay also studies the influence Mary Sidney Herbert exercised upon her niece in her biography, Mary Sidney, Lady Wroth, Farnham, Ashgate, 2010, p. 38-39, p. 209, p. 229.

37 The continuation ends thus : “Amphilanthus wa[s] extreamly”. Josephine Roberts, Suzanne Gossett and Janel Mueller (eds.), The Second Part of the Countess of Montgomery’s Urania, Tempe, Arizona Medieval Texts and Studies, 1999, p. 418.

38 J. Roberts (ed.), op. cit., p. 455.

39 Ibid., p. 22-23.

40 Ibid. p. 656. The narrator bitterly describes Amphilanthus’s lack of resolution : “he was called to for helpe by Musalina, her hee saw, she must be followed, Pamphilia is forgotten, and now may lie and burne in the Cave, Lucenia must bee rescued also, […] then came on other boats, as standing doubtfully whether to returne to Pamphilia, or follow Lucenia.” Wroth’s style is close to paratax here, and appropriately mimics Amphilanthus’s inconstancy.

41 Ibid., p. 656.

42 Ibid., p. 660 : “protesting the water he dranke being mixed with her teares, had so infused constancy and perfect truth of love in it as in him it had wrought the like effect.”

Haut de page

Pour citer cet article

Référence électronique

Aurélie Griffin, « Mary Wroth’s Urania and the Editorial Debate over Philip Sidney’s Arcadia », Études Épistémè [En ligne], 22 | 2012, mis en ligne le 01 septembre 2012, consulté le 30 avril 2017. URL : http://episteme.revues.org/388 ; DOI : 10.4000/episteme.388

Haut de page

Auteur

Aurélie Griffin

Aurélie Griffin, agrégée d’anglais, est ATER à l’université d’Angers. Elle prépare un doctorat à l’Université Sorbonne-Nouvelle Paris 3. Ses recherches portent sur les liens entre pastorale et mélancolie dans l’Arcadie de Philip Sidney et l’Uranie de Mary Wroth.

Articles du même auteur

Haut de page
  • Revues.org