"Idle work": The satiric digressions of Sidney’s Old Arcadia
Studies in Philology
In the letter to the Countess of Pembroke that serves as its preface, Philip Sidney offers up to his sister what he characterizes as his “idle work”: The Old Arcadia. The oxymoron of “idle work” offers an instructive contrast to the “real work” Sidney was at that time not doing at court or on the battlefield. Sidney’s retirement from court, whether forced or voluntary, provides an important backdrop for this text, which is itself a series of digressions, interruptions, and diversions, but one that should be considered as a critique of Elizabeth’s strategy of deferral in matters both military and marital. The idea that idleness can itself be a productive employment is behind the discourses of the Elizabethan pastoral. While many scholars have pointed to political correspondences in the text, few have suggested that the apparently casual and offhand structure of the work carries a potential meaning for those of Sidney’s inner circle among whom the manuscript would have circulated. The structure of Sidney’s text—with its series of interlocking interruptions and suspensions—and its digressive narrative devices enact the political strategy of deferral and create a pastoral satire of the Elizabethan government.
English and Comparative Literature
Adrienne L. Eastwood. ""Idle work": The satiric digressions of Sidney’s Old Arcadia" Studies in Philology (2021): 521-537. https://doi.org/10.1353/sip.2021.0016