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Yet, surprisingly, I found myself getting captivated by the plot of two princes disguised as shepherds to win the girls of their dreams (in the process, of course, they also win girls -- and guys -- of their nightmares). The somewhat stilted (even by Renaissance standards) language makes it difficult to plod through at times, but the plot is interesting and keeps your attention -- and that's ultimately what counts.
Re: this edition, it is one of the few good editions of the original "Old" Arcadia around. Sidney revised the work during his lifetime and his friend and biographer, Fulke Greville, later published a bizarre composite of the old and revised versions that for centuries stood as the definitive "Arcadia". K. Duncan-Jones provides a clean text with useful scholarly apparatus. One caveat: in my edition, pp. 297-306 were *missing*, mistakenly replaced by a double-printed pp. 307-316. This is an annoyance for someone who is reading the book as a scholar, which I believe represents the majority readership of the book, as I can't imagine casual readers picking it up for bedstand reading!
All in all, a fun work and better than the first act leads one to believe!
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The "Double Life" suggests the different ways Sidney was appreciated in England and on the continent. At home, Sidney was constantly being stifled by the whims and maneouvres of the Queen. (Elizabeth's actions are not well justified in Stewart's portrayal.) On the Continent, Sidney is venerated,befriended, and appreciated by Protestants and Catholics alike, for reasons that are not well explained in the text.
The biography also struggles to portray Sidney as a person. I could never get a handle on his personality because it seems that there is not enough documentation to determine what he was really like. Everytime his life got interesting or controversial, records or letters are absent. Thus his story, while fundamentally uninteresting is compounded with a series of anticlimaxes. The only event which was well documented was his death. This was particularly frustrating (after 310 pages) as the reader does not know whether to weep or to cheer.
The problem with Pillip Sidney: A Double Life was whether it should have been written in this format at all. The text is much more useful as an academic reference than as a "good read," yet it is packaged and written as if it were filled with intrigue, controversy, romance and interest. It is not, and probably could not be written so, due to scores of missing letters or other substantive evidence.
I gave the book two stars because it did convey a great deal of information, uninteresting or otherwise. It also did not seem to fail for any reason on its own merits of argument or fact.
I question whether this book should have been published. While I'm sure the author knows a great deal about Elizabethan England, he did not know that there simply isn't enough information about Philip Sidney to either get excited or to write an entire book about.
It seems that the reasons Pilip was regarded as the Perfect Courtier will forever remain a mystery. Vain attempts to explain this will not succeed until more information is discovered.
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There are three major flaws in the readings:
1) The readers are no better than the average untrained person, and often much worse. (You've just got to hear them for yourself to appreciate how bad they are.)
2) Successive poems by the same poet are read by different "readers." It's jarring to hear 3 or 4 poems from Poet X, each in a wildly different voice.
3) No regard is given to matching the sex of the poet and reader. In general, it is really annoying to hear your favorite poet read by the wrong sex. In particular, making this mistake on "gender specific" poems (like having a woman read Poe's "Annabel Lee") is unforgivable.
Why is this all so upsetting? Because it is practically impossible to find poetry collections on CD, making this a serious waste of limited resources. If you are looking for a good collection on CD, buy "81 Famous Poems CD" by Audio Partners (ISBN 0-945353-82-0). It's a good collection on two CDs and is read by professionals: Alexander Scourby, Bramwell Fletcher, and Nancy Wickwire. In the meantime, we can only hope that the producers of this collection will eventually come to their senses and re-record the poems with the services of trained professionals.
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