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Untold FuturesTime and Literary Culture in Renaissance England$
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J. K. Barret

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9781501702365

Published to Cornell Scholarship Online: January 2017

DOI: 10.7591/cornell/9781501702365.001.0001

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Promising the Future

Promising the Future

The Language of Obligation in Sidney’s Old Arcadia

(p.23) Chapter 1 Promising the Future
Untold Futures

J. K. Barret

Cornell University Press

This chapter presents a reading of Sir Philip Sidney’s prose romance, the Old Arcadia. It argues that the romance undermines devices intended to cast and secure particular futures, such as promises and prophecies, to foreground the generative potential of the flux of experience. Sidney repeatedly employs the vocabulary and context of retrospection and judgment in scenes that investigate the fixity afforded to art. His use of legal language invites comparison to the disputes over debt, exchange, and contractual responsibility that became paramount in the English common law courts in the sixteenth century. However, rather than striving to establish mechanisms by which language can ensure outcomes, Sidney highlights the failure of forms that depend upon intention and obligation to reveal that individual identity is no more binding than artistic representation.

Keywords:   Sir Philip Sidney, prose romance, The Old Arcadia, future, retrospection, judgment, individual identity, artistic representation, legal language

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