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“To Speak Metaphorically”: Sidney in the Subjunctive Mood

  • Judith Dundas (a1)


The relationship of the imagination to the realities of life, whether factual or moral, was not something that Sidney could take for granted. He is forever trying to make known its proper role; and for him, this means essentially the role of metaphor. Throughout the Apology, he not only identifies his metaphors but also tries to explain their workings; within the Arcadia, he exercises the utmost freedom in his use of them, but also signals them, so that they are clearly identified as metaphors. Finally, the whole of the Arcadia is a metaphor because it is fiction, a fiction set in pagan times and therefore needing from the Christian reader even more understanding of its relationship to higher truth. So, from small metaphors to large ones, he holds in his hands imagery to reflect the motions of the soul and the life of the affections as on a screen.



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1 Cf. C. S. Lewis’ reference to the need felt in Sidney's time for “a defence not of poetry as against prose but of fiction as against fact… What is in question is not man's right to sing but his right to feign, to ‘make things up'.” (English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, [Oxford, 1954] 318.)

2 Sir Sidney, Philip, An Apology for Poetry, ed. Shepherd, Geoffrey (Manchester, 1965) 101 . Subsequent references are to this edition and are noted parenthetically in my text.

3 I am aware that S. K. Heninger, Jr., and some others, would link “to speak metaphorically” with the preceding phrase, so that it reads “figuring forth to speak metaphorically.” See his recent article, “'Metaphor’ and Sidney's Defence of Poesie,” John Donne.Journal, 1 (1983):I 17-49. All standard modern editions, however, read “to speak metaphorically” with “a speaking picture.” See Jan Van Dorsten's comment on this issue, in “How Not To Open the Sidneian Text,” Sidney Newsletter, 2 (1981):4-7.

4 Sir Edward Dyer, “A Fancy,” 11. 73-76.

5 Wilson, Thomas, The Arte of Rhetorique, ed. Mair, G. H. (Oxford, 1909) 196 .

6 Ibid, 171. I have normalized the use of u/v.

7 Sir Davies, John, Nosce Teipsum (1599) 49 .

8 For quotations from Sidney's works, I have italicized the “as it were” and related key phrases.

9 Quintilian, Institutes of Oratory, VIII. 3.37, trans. John Selby Watson (London, 1913) 2:96.

10 Cicero, , De Oratore, III. 41, trans. Guthrie, William (Oxford, 1840) 261 .

11 Sir Sidney, Philip, The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia (The Old Arcadia), ed. Robertson, Jean (Oxford, 1973) 335 . Subsequent references to this edition are noted parenthetically in my text.

12 Brian Vickers quotes one of Bacon's “as it were” sentences and notes, in passing, his care in following the advice of classical rhetoricians for handling metaphor in prose. Apart from Vickers, I have not come across any modern discussion of this rhetorical feature of Elizabethan or Jacobean prose. See Vickers, , Francis Bacon and Renaissance Prose (Cambridge, 1968) 156 .

13 See, for example, Longinus, On the Sublime, trans, and ed. W. Rhys Roberts (Cambridge, 1899), XXXII. 3: “In the same spirit, Aristotle and Theophrastus point out that the following phrases serve to soften bold metaphors—'as if,’ and ‘as it were,’ and ‘if one may so say,’ and ‘if one may venture such an expression'; for the qualifying words mitigate, they say, the audacity of expression” (121-23). Cf. Roberts’ references on 219 to Cicero, De Oral. III.41.165 and Quintilian, Inst. Or. VIII.3.37.

14 Erasmus, , On Copia of Words and Ideas, trans. King, Donald B. and David Rix, H. (Milwaukee, 1963) 47.

15 Ibid.,

16 Peacham, Henry, The Garden of Eloquence (1593), Scholars’ Facsimiles & Reprints (Gainesville, Florida, 1954) 14.

17 Quintilian, Institutes (VIII.6.17) 2:128. For an Elizabethan version, see Puttenham, George, The Arte of English Poesie (1589), ed. Willcock, G. D. and Walker, A. (Cambridge, 1936) 8 . Puttenham notes that prose is not “allowed that figurative conveyance” that verse is permitted.

18 Erasmus, , On Copia 29 .

19 ‘Cicero, De Oratore, 111,38.155. Cf. Aristotle, Rhetoriclll. 10.2. Puttenham gives examples of how metaphor is used “for necessity or want of a better word.” See 178-79.

20 Spenser, Prefatory Letter to The Faerie Queene.

21 Hoskins, John, Directions for Speech and Style (1599), ed. Hudson, Hoyt H. (Princeton, 1935) 8 .

22 See Peacham 3 on the importance of both memory and judgment in the use of metaphor.

23 Sir Sidney, Philip, The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia, (The New Arcadia), ed. Skretkowicz, Victor (Oxford, 1987) III . Subsequent references to this edition are noted parenthetically in my text.

24 Metamorphoses, V. 425ff.

25 Hoskins 9.

26 One of the most valuable points made in Rosemond Tuve's Elizabethan and Metaphysical Imagery (Chicago, 1947) is that all tropes, including metaphor, do more than hand over sensations or paint pictures; they always to some degree interpret the image, even as they assist in creating it. See especially 99-109.

27 Tuve 310-11. Sidney himself noted in his Apology that “the force of a similitude” is not “to prove anything to a contrary disputer, but only to explain to a willing hearer” (139). Nevertheless, he would have recognized explanation as a logical function, even if he did not express himself in a sufficiently Ramistical way to suit William Temple. See Temple's Analysis of Sir Philip Sidney's Apology for Poetry, ed. and trans. John Webster (Binghamton, N.Y., 1984) 163 and 185 n. 56.

28 Peacham 198-99.

29 See, for example, Richard A. Lanham, “The Old Arcadia,” in Sidney's Arcadia, by Walter R. Davis and Richard A. Lanham (New Haven, 1965) 348. Cf. Robertson, xxix.

30 “A Dedication to Sir Philip Sidney,” in The Prose Works of Fulke Greville, Lord Brooke, ed. John Gouws (Oxford, 1986) 134. On the skeptical narrator of The Arcadia, who “wonders at the very things he describes, qualifying his own statements,” see Altman, Joel B., The Tudor Play of Mind (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1978) 97 .

31 For a comparison of Lyly's style with Sidney's, see Albert Duhamel, P., “Sidney's Arcadia and Elizabethan Rhetoric,” Studies in Philology, 45 (1948): 134-50. Duhamel notes that Lyly makes virtually no use of tropes but makes considerable use of schemes of balance and of sound patterns. On the other hand, Sidney regularly subordinates “ornament to meaning” (149).

32 See Cicero, De Oratore, III. xliv. 175-76. Cf. Lorna Challis, “The Use of Oratory in Sidney's Arcadia,” SP, 62 (1965): 561-76, especially 563-64.

33 Fraunce, Abraham, The Arcadian Rhetorike (1588), ed. Seaton, Ethel (Oxford, 1950) 20 . Fraunce's examples are taken from The Old Arcadia.

34 Ibid. 15.

35 See above, n. 13. On the whole subject of comparison in classical rhetoric, see Marsh H. McCall, Jr., Ancient Rhetorical Theories of Simile and Comparison (Cambridge, Mass., 1969), especially 54, which supports my view that “as it were” signals metaphor, rather than simile.

36 Cf. Giraldi Cinthio, On Romances (1554), trans. Henry L. Snuggs (Lexington, Kentucky, 1968) 137. Cinthio says that metaphors beyond one word “should always be in similitude and sustained to the end.”

37 Dolce, Cf. in Roskill, Mark W., Dolce's “Aretino” and Venetian Art Theory of the Cinquecento (New York, 1968) 129 : “I would also like to warn the painter not to be satisfied with a single invention when it comes to his trying out in preliminary sketches the imaginative ideas inspired in his mind by the subject matter, but to evolve several of these and then pick out the one which succeeds best, taking into account both the collective whole and the individual parts.“

38 See Nicholas Hilliard's Art of Limning, ed. Arthur F. Kinney and Linda B. Salaman (Boston, 1983) 27. On miniature technique, see V. J. Murrell, “The Art of Limning,” in Artists of the Tudor Court (catalogue of the exhibition held at the Victoria and Albert Museum, 9 July-6 November, 1983) 13-26.

39 Hoskins 42.

40 Cf. Hoskins, who says that Sidney's “course was … to imagine the thing present in his own brain, that his pen might the better present it to you” (42). By implication, the excellent painter to whom Sidney alludes in his Apology (102) would do the same when he undertakes to depict Lucretia.

41 Hoskins 2. Here my emphasis differs somewhat from Forrest G. Robinson's in The Shape of Things Known (Cambridge, Mass., 1972). I hope to develop this point of difference in another publication.

42 Hoskins 8.

43 Here I allude to two recent works which offer stimulating treatments of antithetical topoi in Sidney's thought and style: Nancy Lindheim's The Structures of Sidney's Arcadia (Toronto, 1982) and Margaret Ferguson's chapter on Sidney's Apology in her Trials of Desire: Renaissance Defenses of Poetry (New Haven, 1983) 137-62.

44 “A Dedication to Sir Philip Sidney” 91-92 and n. Cf. Sidney's dedication of The Arcadia to his sister. He refers to “this idle work of mine” and calls it “but a trifle.“

45 Ibid. 11.

46 To my knowledge, the only critic who has used the term “subjunctive” to characterize Sidney's point of view is Don Cameron Allen. After I had written this essay, I happened upon one sentence in his book The Legend of Noah (Urbana, 1949; rpt., 1963). After speaking of men of the Renaissance who were “beset with the yearning to detach themselves from the orderly forms of logic… and to set out on pilgrimages to regions that are beyond logic and above the flight of reason,” he says that Sidney expresses “this universal desire in his Defence of Poetry, when he implies that the poet does not think in the indicative mode, but in the subjunctive” (20-21).

47 Milton, , “Eikonoklastes,” in Complete Poems and Major Prose, ed. Hughes, Merritt Y. (New York, 1957) 793 . For the context of Milton's diatribe, see Merritt Y. Hughes, “New Evidence on the Charge that Milton Forged the Pamela Prayer in the Eikon Basilike,” RES n.s. 3 (1952): 130-40, especially 138-40.

48 A Woorke Concerning the Trewnesse of the Christian Religion (1587), in Feuillerat, Albert, The Complete Works of Sir Philip Sidney (Cambridge, 1923) 2:326 . The translation is now considered to be entirely the work of Arthur Golding, although he may have had access to a partial translation by Sidney. See Miscellaneous Prose of Sir Philip Sidney, ed. Katherine Duncan-Jones and Jan Van Dorsten (Oxford, 1973) 155-57. For a comment on the passage from The Old Arcadia, see Jean Robertson's note to pp. 372-73 of her edition.

49 The Second Anniversary 11. 291-92. Cf. Gianfrancesco Pico della Mirandola: “The spiritual eye, joined to the body, makes use of images to contemplate truth, as the eye of dull vision uses glass lenses to gaze at a sensible object; and it is deceived exactly as is the bodily eye itself.” (On the Imagination, trans, and ed. Harry Caplan [New Haven, 1930] 51.) Ultimately, too, Sidney has similar reservations about images as conveyers of perfect truth.

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“To Speak Metaphorically”: Sidney in the Subjunctive Mood

  • Judith Dundas (a1)


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