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Summary of Week 4

We covered types of Christian belief and classical deities in our discussion of the Sidneys and Religion this week.

To provide a context for the religious writings of the Sidneys we looked at extracts from Robert White’s funeral sermon for Sir Henry Sidney’s funeral, a stridently Protestant piece of rhetoric. Your reactions on #protestantism were animated- pointing out the offensive nature of many of White’s comments about Catholicism and drawing attention to Sir Henry Sidney’s involvement in the English imperialist aggression in Ireland. One might say that the force of White’s vehement rhetoric is a symptom of Protestant insecurity in the face of the Catholic Counter-Reformation.

Many of you expressed interest in St John the Baptist Church in Penshurst, just beyond the garden wall of Penshurst Place and curiosity about the family vault.
We studied #MarySidneyHerbert’s translation of Philippe de Mornay’s ‘Discourse of Life and #Death’, and, considered how the selection and translation into English of this text suggests she shared them and wanted to broadcast them publicly in print. Many of you commented on the feminization of death, exemplified in the church by the ‘Smiling Lady of Penshurst’ and the ways in which the positive representation in the extracts matches that of other writers, including Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, Emily Dickinson and John Donne’s sonnet beginning ‘Death be not proud.’ If you are interested in following this idea further, do read John Donne’s brilliant sermon ‘Death’s Duel’ and the Satire III on Religion which he sees standing on a huge hill as well (it is in the Oxford Classics edition ed. John Carey).

Many of you noticed the connection between Mary’s dedication of her work to ‘The Angel Spirit’ to Philip and his dedication of the Arcadia. We noted weaving as a self-conscious literary metaphor and it might be useful to think about how mourning for her brother is also interwoven in her other writings such as the Discourse of Life and Death and her translation of The Tragedy of Antony that we looked at last week. In studying the Sidney #psalms comparisons were made to more familiar versions of Psalm 23 in Hebrew, and in the later King James Bible. Your enjoyment of #SirPhilipSidney’s translation of Psalm 23 and the filmed readings in the church included comments on the illustrations from Sir John Davies’s manuscript transcription of the Sidney Psalter.

We discussed how in the O and P sections of Psalm 119 the Pslamist’s voice also gave opportunities for #MarySidneyHerbert’s voice to emerge. It is delightful that some of you have been prompted to buy copies of the Sidney Psalter to take this study further. We considered the influence of classical gods as alternative images of the #divine in the Sidney writers in an extract from Philip Sidney’s #Arcadia, which encouraged many pertinent observations on the fluid nature of desire across and between genders, and, through Philoclea’s writing on the stone the representation of #WomensWords and #WomensWriting. #PhilipSidney’s understanding of the difficulties facing his sister and niece in taking up the pen are something that could be further considered. The sylvan setting as opposed to the church setting received comment, including comparison to the Hadrian’s Wall mooc. Thank you to Joan Greenleaf who coined the term #intermoocularity which Janet P used this week. I think it’s marvellous - the Sidneys would be proud of Joan! The term matches the family’s own range of interdisiplinary interests. I have been constantly surprised how their names keep cropping up in my other areas of early modern research from Shakespeare to early modern views of Troy. I hope you will all be able to take sections of the Sidneys to other courses in an ongoing process of #intermoocularity.

We considered a speech by #Silvesta dedicating herself to Diana in Wroth’s Love’s Victory, and identified #chastity with #freedom for the early modern woman. Sharp observers noted that Silvesta addresses Apollo, the god of poetry as well as the sun, which would make Silvesta an appropriate avatar for Wroth as writer. Another perceptive point was that these lines might be #MaryWroth’s way of writing back to #WilliamHerbert’s treatment of her and her resulting #misery, a different kind of grief from that of Mary for the loss of her brother #philipsidney. Biographical readings of ‘The Temple of #Love’ with reference to #Penshurst Mount were balanced by cautions against assuming that Silvesta is only – or is the only – dramatic representation of Wroth. Gary Waller’s chapters on Wroth in his new book The Female Baroque are recommend to those of you interested in pursuing this line of thought.

There were some ingenious suggestions for a stage setting for Venus’s Temple using the springboard of the description in Urania. Perhaps the most daring is a trans-pennine conflation of Botlon Abbey in Yorkshire, the Ashton Memorial in Lancaster (and the gardens of Heligan), which is displayed on the padlet wall. Love’s Victory indeed! The final section invited you to watch a production showing the ending of the romantic plots of Wroth’s play end with Love’s Victory. Queries were raised over what happens to the Forester who offers himself as a substitute #sacrifice to love. These are unresolved in the text, although it seems unlikely that he goes off to embrace a martyr’s fate of burning at the stake (the kind he imagined Silvesta would suffer.

Please see the ‘Additional Resources’ for ‘Suggestions for Further Reading and for ‘Recorded Performances’

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Penshurst Place and the Sidney Family of Writers

Lancaster University