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  This country Arcadia among all the provinces of Greece hath ever been had in singular reputation; partly for the sweetness of the air and other natural benefits, but principally for the well-tempered minds of the people...


Sir Philip Sidney's Arcadia is an English prose romance, a very early novel set in the quasi-mythological utopia and Greek province Arcadia. Sidney wrote it for his sister the Countess of Pembroke, leading to its full title The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia. The original version, known as the 'Old' Arcadia, was only circulated in manuscript among Sidney's family and friends. He later set about revising it, making it longer and more elaborate, but this project was interrupted in mid-sentence by his death. In 1590, this 'New' Arcadia was published, followed in 1593 with a hybrid version which patched together the completed sections of the New and the ending of the Old. This is widely agreed not to have been a success. In 1911 the original 'Old' version was rediscovered and published. Its popularity hasn't endured into this century, but it was a smash hit in the late sixteenth century and influenced Shakespeare and other writers.

The book follows two foreign princes, Pyrocles and Musidorus, who arrive in Arcadia and in order to get close to two princess, Philoclea and Pamela respectively, they disguise themselves. Pyrocles dresses as a woman and takes on the imaginative name Cleophila (changed to Zelmane in the New Arcadia), while Musidorus dresses as a humble shepherd and starts calling himself Dorus. They engage in various adventures and also have to deceive the Duke of Arcadia, Basilius, and his wife, Gynecia. After each book and before the beginning of the next are selections of poems called the Eclogues, which are sung by various characters, often the Arcadian shepherds Strephon and Klaius.

Tropes include (spoilers abound):

  • Attractive Bent Gender: Basilius falls for Pyrocles while the latter is disguised as Cleophila.
  • Bed Trick: A double one: when Gynecia discovers Pyrocles is a man, she wants to sleep with him, and he arranges to meet her in a cave that night. As 'Cleophila', he's also being lusted after by her husband Basilius, so he says he'll meet him in the cave that night too, and gives Gynecia his garment so Basilius will think it's Cleophila. Gynecia and Basilius, the married couple, have sex in the cave, each thinking the other is Pyrocles/Cleophila. Which puts our hero into Magnificent Bastard territory.
  • Hero of Another Story: Strephon and Klaius, the two shepherds from the Eclogues, sing about their own set of adventures.
  • Near-Rape Experience: A sort of hybrid of this and Attempted Rape; Musidorus almost rapes his love Pamela when they've run away together and she's sleeping under a tree, but then by coincidence a mob of rebels shows up just in time. They haven't come to save Pamela, but it distracts Musidorus anyway. We never find out if he'd actually have done it.
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