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In 1586, Sir Philip Sidney died fighting the Spanish in the Netherlands. (1) His death marked one episode during the conflict between Spain and England that would reach its apex with the launching of the Armada in 1588. Yet political and personal records give us ambivalent rather than strictly oppositional views of Sidney's dealings with the Elizabethans' most formidable enemy. Fulke Greville relates that the Spanish ambassador, upon learning of Sidney's demise, "could not but lament to see Christendome depriv'd of so rare a light in those cloudy times; and bewail poor widow England--so he term'd her--that having been many years in breeding one eminent spirit, was in a moment bereaved of him, by the hands of a villain" (36). Despite his own anti-Spanish political leanings, Greville acknowledges an Anglo-Spanish connection that transcends Christian and national divides to include Sidney in a community that encompassed the Spanish nobility. Fascinated by Spanish accomplishments, Sidney recommended that his brother travel in Spain to learn "their good and grave proceeding, their keeping so many provinces under them, and by what means, with the true points of honour" (Major Works 286). Though Sidney never traveled to Spain, and though much of his career was dedicated to quelling Spanish power, his Hispanophilia manifests itself in his New Arcadia. This essay contends that Sidney's view of Spain was equivocal, marked by admiration and envy as well as by distaste and fear. With intertextual and topical references to Spain in his New Arcadia, Sidney opens a counterdiscourse to the English extremes of anti-Spanish sentiment in the 1580s. Attending to generic politics in the storylines of Miso, a celestinesque bawd, and Philisides, Sidney's aristocratic Iberian alter-ego, discloses textual borrowings from Spanish literature and ambivalent representations of Spanish identity. Sidney's equivocal stances toward the mixed generic model of tragicomedy and toward Spain come to the fore in his romance, where tragicomic admixture tempers the melancholic humor of AngloSpanish discord. Thus the presence of these suspect forms and cultures in the New Arcadia ultimately works to defuse generic and political tensions.
Tragicomic structure organizes Sidney's New Arcadia, which has been called the "supreme Elizabethan example of ... the mixed mode" (Greenblatt 269). The generic mixture of the romance's narrative is characterized by the "alternation of exposition and action, of tragic and comic," but the "huge structure" of the romance is controlled by "narrative patterns and echoes based on parallel or contrasting sequences of action which form a commentary on each other and underline the common moral issues" (Evans 41). While adding variety to the romance, Sidney balances contrasting tragic and comic elements through systematic structural control. The resulting juxtapositions harmonize and amplify underlying themes, such as the depiction of Spanish identity, a technique that echoes tragicomedy's workings. (2) It is not surprising to find tragicomic elements in the Arcadia, because, like tragicomedy itself, romance is generically mixed. In grappling with new genres that did not fit into classical poetics, Renaissance theorists often extrapolated rules about long narratives from precedents for drama, which were more clearly defined in antiquity. Alonso Lopez Pinciano, for example, calls the epic genre "un monton de Tragedias" ("a heap of tragedies"; 1: 240), and when speaking of the Aethiopica, an ancient romance that Sidney imitates in the Arcadia, Martinus Crusius believes "[t]otam vero Historiam, veluti Tragicocomoediam dicentes, haud errauerimus" ("truly, if we treat the whole History as if it were a Tragicomedy, we wouldn't err"; 8). Romance could, I suggest, be considered the long narrative version of tragicomedy. In this case, generic mixture sheds light on social tensions. Viewing Sidney's Spanish connections from the perspective of theories of generic mixture alongside English estimations of Spain illuminates their implications for Anglo Spanish exchange. What does it mean for Sidney to employ a genre that he understood to be both Spanish and "mongrell" in his romance? The striking conceptual analogy between how generic contamination was described and how the English categorized Spanish identity provides an answer.
The mixture of contrasting elements in romance and tragicomedy stages social and political tensions in fiction. (3) Romance narratives are characterized by generic contamination, and tragicomedies mix elements of the tragic and comic specifically. These generic mixtures supersede the boundaries of other forms and bring social problems to the fore. M. M. Bakhtin has noted the heteroglossia of the romance genre, and Patricia Parker considers the ambivalence and errancy of romance as "a form which simultaneously quests for and postpones a particular end, objective, or object" (4). As Barbara Fuchs adds, the romance "infects other genres ... as an often unwelcome, or at least vexed, strategy of errancy and multiplicity. Romance counters teleology--and the accompanying ideology of national or religious destiny--with a special kind of narrative entropy, often coded as the presence of the feminine or the religious/racial Other" (72). The subversive hybridity of the romance not only threatens to undermine conservative control over genre systems, but also disrupts control of ethnic, gender, and other cultural identities.4 So too do the "dichotomous perspectives of tragicomedy," which Nancy Klein Maguire claims "invite the dramatist to insert any clear-cut set of contrarieties--whether religious, political, or psychological--into the generic form. This central contrast makes it easy to set up and oppose any ideology, and the potential for depicting two opposing perceptions of reality make[s] tragicomedy a natural tool for politicizing" ("Introduction" 7). Generic interpenetration of romance and tragicomedy thus facilitates cultural contamination as well.
Moreover, early modern ambivalence toward generic mixtures is analogous to equivocations about ethnic contamination in political discourse. Scholars note the importance of such equivocations in each context, but viewing these two discourses together links the aesthetic and social interplay that the Arcadia practices. For example, Sidney's language describing tragicomedy parallels English descriptions of Spanish identity. On the one hand, the negative reaction to generic and ethnic mixture portrays mixture as monstrous--Sidney's "mongrel tragicomedy" (Defence 46) for instance. The connection between Sidney's "mongrelization" of the genre and ethnic discourse is underscored in the anonymous seventeenth-century Spanish translation of the Defence, which renders the phrase as "mestisa y bastarda tragicomedia" (Defensa 82). (5) We also find the language of debasing mixture in texts that denigrate cultural Others, as is the case in Edmund Spenser's ethnographic claims about Spaniards in A View of the Present State of Ireland. Irenaeus declares that Spaniards "come from as rude and savage nations as [the Irish], there being, ... (though they therein labour much to enoble themselves) scarce any drop of the old Spanish blood left in them" (49-50). Attacking Spanish ethnic purity, Irenaeus claims that through the reconquista the Spanish
were not so cleansed, but that through the marriages which they had made [with Arabs], and mixture with the people of the land, during their long continuance there, they had left no pure drop of Spanish blood, no more than of Roman or of Scythian. So that of all nations under heaven (I suppose) the Spaniard is the most mingled, and most uncertaine. (50)
Though cleverly calculated to play on Spanish anxieties over pureza de sangre (" blood purity"), the attack is tame by the standards of Spenser's day, when the black legend fueled English invectives against Spaniards.
Yet these stances on generic and ethnic mixture tend to be equivocal. Sidney, when considering the mixture of genres, also claims that "if severed they be good, the conjunction cannot be hurtful" (Defence 25), an admission that must be made if room is allowed for literary experimentation. Similarly, right after criticizing Spanish ethnic mixture, Irenaeus vacillates:
for in that I said he is a mingled people, it is no dispraise, for I thinke there is no nation now in Christendome, nor much further, but is mingled, and compounded with others: for it was a singular providence of God, and a most …