Written around 1580, Philip Sidney's 'Arcadia' is a romance, a love story, a work of wit and enchantment set in an ancient and mythical land. But, as Blair Worden now startlingly reveals, it is also a grave and urgent commentary on Elizabethan politics. Under the protective guise of pastoral fiction, Sidney produced a searching reflection on the misgovernment of Elizabeth I and on the failings of monarchy as a system of government.
Blair Worden reconstructs the dramatic events admidst which the 'Arcadia' was composed and shows for the first time how profound is their presence in it. The Queen's failure to resist the Catholic advance at home and abroad, and her apparent resolve to marry the Catholic heir to the French throne, seemed likely to bring tyranny and persecution to England. Her policies provoked a radical political dissent which historians and literary critics have missed, and of which the 'Arcadia' is the most penetrating and eloquent expression.
'The Sound of Virtue' combines, in a manner and on a scale never before attempted, the close analysis of a literary text with the scholarly reconstruction of its historical context. It transforms our understanding of Sidney's masterpiece and offers a new approach to the relationship between the history and literature of the Renaissance.
Blair Worden was Fellow and Tutor in History at St Edmund Hall, Oxford, between 1974 and 1995, and is now Professor of Early Modern History at the University of Sussex.