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Conventional Topoi in Spenser and Sidney’s Works Conventional Topoi in Spenser and Sidney’s Works

While both The Faery Queene and The Old Arcadia used the traditional medieval romance topoi, they each used it in a different manner. In Spenser’s Faery Queene the characters were heroic knights. In The Old Arcadia the characters were almost fantasy figures.

The knights in Faery Queene did not involve themselves with courtly love. They know their job was to protect the honor of the ladies, as well as her chastity. These knights were trained to suppress their passions and to succumb to sexual sin would destroy their whole lives.
The characters in Old Arcadia believed in courtly love. They wrote poetry and pined for the object of their affections. They went to ridiculous lengths to be near their beloved. The character, Pyrocles, disguises himself as a woman in order to get nearer to the lady of his dreams, Philoclea.
According to the Platonic Ladder of Love, once something excites admiration, usually a beautiful object, this is supposed to lead to understanding, to good, to values, to God. Sidney’s characters fall off the ladder. They are anything but heroic. Pyrocles and Musidorus know how insane they are acting but are rendered powerless by the arrows of Cupid’s bow.
The characters, namely Red Crosse, in Faery Queene would be appalled by the lengths that Pyrocles and Musidorus go to. Red Crosse might have been a knight struggling with his passions but he at least was able to see that his actions were not right by heroic love standards.

K. Y. Hamilton, BA, MA - Copyright 2001, 2006

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