The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia Literary Elements

The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia Literary Elements


Medieval Greek Tragedy

Setting and Context

The Kingdom of Arcadia in the region of Greece, at a time of peace, during Elizabethan England/ Medieval times

Narrator and Point of View

The narrator is the author and he tells the story from the point of view of Basilius, the Duke of Arcadia

Tone and Mood

On one hand the tone is humorous and the tone farcical; on the other it is deeply tragic, antagonistic and threatening.

Protagonist and Antagonist

Basilius is the Protagonist. The antagonists vary throughout the novella but include the two princes, the oracle and the people whom he has seemingly abandoned by leaving Arcadia

Major Conflict

There is major political conflict between the people who feel that Basilius has deserted them, and Basilius, who feels that he has been benevolent in leaving a good and fair man in charge of the nation. There is personal conflict between Gynecia and Cleophila, as Gynecia wants a relationship with "him" and has to use threats to make this happen. There is also conflict between all of the characters engaged in some way in the complicated love triangles going on simultaneously.


The climax is the moment when Basilius wakes up, his comatose body having been mistaken for a corpse, thereby bringing peace to the region once more, and also alleviating the burden of guilt on his wife who realizes that she did not murder him after all.


The predictions of the Oracle foreshadow all of the events in the novella - the fact that both of his daughters are whisked away by suitors who appear to be "unsuitable", (although they are actually princes); his wife attempting to cuckold him (although she doesn't succeed) and the political turbulence and attempts to gain control of Arcadia in Basilius' absence


The love triangle is described as complicated which is understated because it is so complicated that it is not even a triangle; as a shape it would need far more sides and angles because at any given time in the novella, two people are disguised, three people are in love with a cross-dressed man, two women are in love with a man disguised as a shepherd, and nobody is whom they claim to be.


There are no specific examples of allusion in the novella


The majority of the imagery describes the appearance of the people in the novel and specifically the disguises that they are wearing. There is no religious imagery to speak of.


The Oracle's predictions do seem to come true but paradoxically by moving his family away from Arcadia, Basilius does seem to have turned the predicted events from negative to positive ones; yes, his daughters are taken by suitors, but they are the son and the nephew of a man Basilius is friends with, and they are famed and valiant soldiers and adventurers, and princes. Yes, his wife tries to cuckold him by sleeping with Cleophila, but she doesn't succeed because she is duped into spending the night with her husband instead. Yes, there is a threat to the nation from unfriendly foreign entities - but the only man who is actually in the process of becoming ruler when it is thought that Basilius has died is his friend. So, although the Oracle's predictions come true broadly as events, paradoxically their actuality is a great deal different.


There is a parallel between the way in which Basilius and his wife do not seem to recognize each other in the cave despite having a close kinship, and the way in which Euarchus does not seem to recognize his own son and nephew at the trial and sentencing.

Metonymy and Synecdoche

The rabble were angry - the rabble in this context being used to describe all of the individual citizens angrily included in it.


The Oracle's prediction is said to threaten Basilius but the prediction itself cannot threaten anyone as it does not have the ability to develop intent.

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