The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia

Appearance, Attire, and Deception in Sidney's Arcadia College

'The roote of my desire Was vertue cladde in constant louse attire.' (Arcadia, III)

Attire and appearance lie at the heart of Sir Philip Sidney's The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia, (or simply Arcadia) with the plot hinging on ideas of costume, shifting identity, and deceit; hardly surprising considering Sidney's part in the humanist tradition of the Renaissance era, in which writers revived ideas from classical antiquity. Greek literature and mythology relied heavily on ideas about disguise and costume, with the title of Ovid's Metamorphoses for instance translating to 'books of transformations.' 'Transformations' here seems a term particularly relevant to Arcadia, in which a change of costume or clothing equates to a transformation of identity rather than a simple adoption of one; attire and appearance are important therefore in the sense that they are the primary deciding factor as to how each character is approached and treated by others.

In book I, both of the princes adopt different identities as means to woo Pamela and Philoclea, bypassing the Duke's refusal to allow noblemen near his daughters. Musidorus remains male but dons the clothes of a shepherd and becomes 'Dorus,' whilst Pyrocles dons 'womanish apparel' and...

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