The Countesse of Pembrokes Arcadia

Chrzanowski 1598s-2In the Third Book of Sir Philip Sidney’s Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia, there is an intense battle between Prince Pyrocles, disguised as Zelmane, an Amazon warrior, and Anaxius, governor of the castle where Zelmane had been held captive. An enraptured reader of present copy of the third edition would learn that:

Anaious finding Zelmane so neare unto him, that with little motion he might reach her; knitted all his strength together, at that time mainlie foyned at her face. But Zelmane stronglie putting it by with her right hand sword, coming in with her left foote and hand, would have given a sharpe visitation to his right side, but that he was faine to leape away. Where at ashamed, (as having never done so much before in his life).

How this combate ended, how the Ladies by coming of the discovered forces were delivered, and restored to Basilius, and how Dorus regime returned to his old master Dameta is altogether unknowne. What afterward chaunced, out of the Authors owne writings and conceits hath bene supplied, as followeth.

The book continues, picking up the storyline elsewhere. Arcadia, like all of Sidney’s works, was published posthumously. All of Elizabethan England mourned when the noble poet, courtier, and soldier died in 1586 from a wound received fighting in the Low Countries in the struggle against Catholic Spain. The first pastoral English novel, Arcadia was written by Sidney in the late 1570s to entertain his sister (Mary Herbert, the Countess of Pembroke) and her circle. During the next decade he substantially rewrote it, adding episodes and expanding the book. He did not live to finish the revision. To the delight of English readers, Arcadia was published in 1590—ending mid-sentence. In 1593 the Countess saw the book published with the original version’s ending as a continuation to the unfinished revision. The present copy is the third edition (1598), which can more properly be described as the first edition of “Philip Sidney’s Works.” It includes Arcadia, Sidney’s Sonnets, the Defence of Poesie, Astrophel and Stella, and the Lady of the May.

Shakespeare was greatly indebted to Sidney’s poetry and Arcadia. In particular, he based the story of Gloucester and his sons in King Lear on an episode in Book Two, and many phrases in his plays, especially in the Tempest and Midsummer Night’s Dream, closely resemble expressions in Arcadia.

Chrzanowski 1598s *

STC 22541

Title List

1479–1550 | 1551–1580 | 1583–1608 | 1609–1675