The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia Characters

The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia Character List

Basilius, King of Arcadia

Basilius is the central character in the novella. He is the ruler of the Kingdom of Arcadia, in the Greek archipelago. Although he came to rule by virtue of succession, he is benevolent and forthright and good to his citizens who in turn trust and respect him. He is a popular monarch. He is a family man. Still inquisitive enough about the future to consult an Oracle for guidance he is horrified by the prediction he receives and decides that he has the ability and intelligence to outwit the prediction and to re-write the future, demonstrating his lack of complete commitment to the art of sooth-saying. He is concerned to make sure his wife is faithful but not too concerned about his own fidelity as he is intent upon sleeping with Cleophila believing she is a woman . His preoccupation with avoiding the future detailed in the prediction definitely caused his life to spiral out of control downwards and also puts the future of Arcadia in jeopardy as his absence makes his citizens start to question his loyalty to them after all. He is a good judge of character as the friend he leaves in charge of Arcadia is a fair and good person who seems to rule well. However all hearts concerned with is Cleophila. He is forgiving and seems to forgive his wife accidentally poisoning him. Thought to be a murder victim, the novella turns from a tragedy back into a love story when he awakens fin a deep coma at the end.


Gynecia is Basilius' wife and they seem to be happy and loving. However, when she meets Cleophila she is taken over by a desire that seems to confuse her thought processes and she begins to act in a way that appears out of character. She is absolutely determined to sleep with Cleophila when she realizes that she is really a man although it is not clear whether or not she is also attracted to him as a woman or whether she is only attracted to him because she has realized that there is a handsome young man underneath the disguise. This passion does not bring out the best in her as she is overtaken by jealousy and plans to poison Cleophila after their tryst in the cave; however she accidentally poisons her husband when the two are tricked into spending the night in the cave together and he drinks from the poisoned cup. Gynecia is then almost mad with remorse and wants a swift death penalty for her crime. When it is revealed that she did not murder Basilius after all she is exonerated.


Pamela is the eldest daughter of Basilius and Gynecia and the prediction states that she would be taken by an unsuitable suitor. This is in part correct as when she is "taken" - although she goes with Dorus willingly - it is by a man assumed by all to be a wandering shepherd, clearly an unsuitable match for a monarch's daughter. When Pamela agrees to elope it is with the full knowledge of Midorus' disguise and his identity. Their relationship does not seem as complete or as equal as that of Pyrocles and Philoclea as Midorus rapes her whilst they are in hiding.


Philoclea is the youngest daughter of Vasilius and Gynecia and possessed of unbelievable beauty. It is her beauty that sets the chain of events in the novella in motion as seeing a picture of her inspires Pyrocles to disguise himself as a woman and force a meeting with her. Philoclea was also predicted to betaken by an unsuitable suitor and although she knows Cleophila's identity is that of Pyrocles the valiant prince, his antics support the predicted unsuitability of him as a royal beau. Philoclea is an equal partner in their relationship and although Pyrocles is accused and convicted of her rape, their union is very much consensual.

Pyrocles / Cleophila

Pyrocles is a valiant prince renowned for his acts of courage and daring, and he in fact demonstrates this when saving Basilius' family from attack by a lion. He falls in love with Philoclea not even at his first sight of her in person but with her portrait and determined to meet her. He disguises himself as an Amazonian woman named Cleophila who is at once attractive to both Philoclea and her father. After killing the lion his physical movements and demeanor betray his real gender to Gynecia who subsequently also wants a relationship with him too. Cleophila then becomes embroiled in one of the most complex love knots in literature. Pyrocles/Cleophila is basically a worthy and brace young man whose love for Philoclea makes him act desperately. He narrowly escapes being poisoned by the jealous and angry Gynecia by tricking her and her husband into meeting him/her at the cave and leaving them to spend the night with each other, rather than with him. Although accused of murder he is exonerated but still sentenced to death for raping Philclea although in his case the dec between them is consensual. He is later freed when Basilius wakes from his coma and assumes his monarchy again, giving his blessing to Pyrocles, the son of his dear friend Euarchus, to marry his daughter.

Midorus / Dorus

Midorus is the cousin of Pyrocles and the men are also very close and loyal friends. He is as valiant as his cousin and whilst Pyrocles saves the family from attack by a lion he battles and kills an attacking bear. He also manages to defend against a drunken rabble of angry citizens relatively single handed. Initially just accompanying Pyrocles on a quest he feels is fairly ridiculous he finds himself instantly smitten with Pamela and also uses a disguise to infiltrate the family and get to know her. He dresses as a shepherd and is taken in by the manservant and his family. He quickly gets close to Pamela who reciprocates his love. Strategically he pretends to be flirting with the servant's daughter Mopsa to avoid drawing attention to his real intentions. He elopes with Pamela but reveals a darker side when he cannot resist the urge to rape her. At the end of the novel when Basilus awakens and all charges against him are dropped he is free to marry Pamela.


Damitas is Basilus' servant. He is boorish and lacks finesse usually evident in a royal servant but is loyal and a hard working man. He is charged with the task of protecting the King's daughters but is easily outwitted when Cleophila tells him about a bogus treasure hunt and he decides to attend. He is a peripheral character but important to the novella nonetheless because he provides the accommodations that allow Midorus to stay and pursue Pamela.


Euarchus is by coincidence Pyrocles' father and Midorus' uncle although surprisingly does not allow this kinship to change his mind about the sentence they receive. He is a firm but fair ruler in the same vein as Basilus and the men are also friends. Although he has no desire to take over Arcadia he agrees to act as a guardian of the kingdom to make sure stability is maintained.


Philanax is a loyal subject of Basilus and although his precise role prior to this is not mentioned he must have been a relatively senior member of the court or the government to come to the King's mind for this role. He appears to maintain stability for the most part although there is undeniable dissent which he manages to put down. He is concerned for the good of the kingdoms and its future and serves Basilus loyally.

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