Greenes Arcadia, or Menaphon: Camillaes alarum to slumber Euphues at Sliexedra
Educated at Cambridge, Robert Greene established himself in the mid- to late-1580s as the most popular author of the day. Widely read in the classics and a prolific writer, Greene brought to print more than twenty-five works of prose and managed to support himself financially as an author. His works included prose romances, plays, “coney-catching” pamphlets, and late in his life, didactic works and the autobiographical The Repentance of Robert Greene. Greene’s prose romances targeted a leisured audience, including courtiers and their ladies and gentlemen of the Inns of Court and the universities. His two best efforts were Pandosto (1588), transformed by Shakespeare into The Winter’s Tale, and Menaphon (1589), in later editions retitled Greenes Arcadia, or Menaphon, riding on the success of Sidney’s Arcadia and recognizing Greene’s name as the author.
Greene shared company with a cadre of “University Wits” and mingled with bohemian London, learning the ways of cut-purses and other scoundrels. Disillusionment set in as public attention grew to lesser-schooled writers and performing tragedians. He died in 1592, broke at the time and leaving behind a posthumously-printed pamphlet that complains about “an upstart Crow, beautified with our feathers, that…supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blanke verse as the best of you.” This veiled reference to Shakespeare—and a song from Menaphon that Sephestia sings to her infant child—are Robert Greene’s most remembered words.
Menaphon is the story of Sephestia, who with her infant son Pleusidippus, is shipwrecked after being exiled by her angry father, Democles, King of Arcadia. She fears her lover, Maximius, has been lost at sea. The King’s Shepherd, Menaphon, and his companions welcome her, and she chooses to live modestly as a shepherdess. Pleusidippus is kidnapped by pirates and grows up to become a brave knight in service to the King of Thessaly. Circumstances arise that lead to Democles and Maximius, both disguised as shepherds, and Pleusidippus all falling in love with Sephestia, who remains the loveliest shepherdess in Arcadia. As events lead to a crisis, an old woman unravels an earlier cryptic prediction from the oracle at Delphi and reveals the true relationships. All is sorted out to everyone’s satisfaction.
The present copy is an example of the fourth edition of Menaphon. Earlier editions are known, respectively, in only four (of which only one is complete), one, and five copies—all in institutions. The book’s preface is the first published work by Thomas Nashe, an erudite (and rather pretentious) piece of literary criticism in defense of poetry.