The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia Background

The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia Background

The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia was written by Sir Philip Sidney towards the end of the Sixteenth Century. It is a long work of prose that is sometimes known by the abbreviated name of Arcadia. After finishing the first draft of his original text, Sidney expanded on it quite significantly and because of this, the original version is referred to as The Old Arcadia and the expanded version as The New Arcadia. Although better known for his sonnets, which were very influential, Sidney's first long prose work is considered to be literarily significant and, in its own way, just as influential as his sonnets.

Sidney was only in his mid-twenties when he first began to work on Arcadia in the latter 1570s. The work was never intended for greatness, or even for public consumption; Sidney wrote the text to entertain his sister Mary Herbert, the eponymous Countess of Pembroke. This original version is narrated with the events in chronologicaL order as they happen and the books are separated from each other by poems. Whilst staying with Mary at her estate to watch an eclipse, Sidney finished the first manuscript. However, it was illicitly circulated in manuscript form by a bookbinder in Paul's Churchyard (later to become known as St. Paul's Cathedral). The text was largely forgotten until 1908; antiquarian book dealer Bertram Dobell discovered that the copy of the manuscript that he had just purchased was significantly different from the published version of Arcadia. The original hitherto unpublished manuscript was published within an anthology of Sidney's works curated by Albert Feuillerat in 1912.

The version of the manuscript known as New Arcadia is much longer than the first version. Sidney fleshed the story out considerably, adding in the story of the rebel Amphialus. Sidney died before he could finish all his revisions. The book is an unlikely romance which offers idealistic views of certain characters, for example, the shepherds, but adds in stories that are almost out of place within the portrayal of gentle Hellenic country life, such as the. Sry English pastime of jousting. The narrative is influenced by Greek literature as the individual stories intertwine and several stories develop out of the same situation.

After Sidney's death in 1586, the manuscript was published in two different editions; the 1590 edition is so true to the original manuscript that it finishes mid-sentence. The New Arcadia was comparatively asinine and artificial when compared to the original, shorter version, but it is the version that reached a wider readership and that cemented his historical position as an influential literary figure; William Shakespeare even drew inspiration from the manuscript and used an episode from it as the source for the Gloucester sub-plot in King Lear.

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