The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia

Reputation and influence

Sidney's manuscripts of the Old Arcadia were not published until the 20th century. The New Arcadia, however, was published in two different editions during the 16th century, and enjoyed great popularity for more than a hundred years afterwards. William Shakespeare borrowed from it for the Gloucester subplot of King Lear;[2] traces of the work's influence may also be found in Hamlet[3] and The Winter's Tale.[4] Other dramatizations also occurred: Samuel Daniel's The Queen's Arcadia, John Day's The Isle of Gulls, Beaumont and Fletcher's Cupid's Revenge, the anonymous Mucedorus, a play of the Shakespeare Apocrypha, and, most overtly, in James Shirley's The Arcadia.

Sidney's book also inspired a number of partial imitators, such as his niece Lady Mary Wroth's Urania, and continuations, the most famous perhaps being that by Anna Weamys. These works, however, are as close to the "precious" style of 17th-century French romance as to the Greek and chivalric models that shape Sidney's work. The Arcadia also made a small appearance at a crucial moment in history. According to a widely told story, Charles I quoted lines from the book, an excerpt termed "Pamela's Prayer," from a prayer of the heroine Pamela, as he mounted the scaffold to be executed. In Eikonoklastes, John Milton complains of the dead king's choice of a profane text for his final prayer; at the same time, he praised the book as among the best of its kind.

In the eighteenth century, Samuel Richardson named the heroine of his first novel after Sidney's Pamela. Despite this mark of continued respect, however, the rise of the novel was making works like the Arcadia obsolete. By the beginning of the Romantic era, its grand, artificial, sometimes obstinately unwieldy style (of Sidney's Areopagus school of poetry but sometimes wrongly held to be euphuistic[5]) had made it thoroughly alien to more modern tastes. However, in the 20th century, the Latin American poet Giannina Braschi spins her own rendition of Arcadia in the trilogy "Empire of Dreams", which features the book "Pastoral; or the Inquisition of Memories". While the original is still widely read, it was already becoming a text of primary interest to historians and literary specialists. The Arcadia contains the earliest known use of the feminine personal name Pamela. Most scholars believe that Sidney simply invented the name.

In 2013, the Old Arcadia was adapted for the stage by The University of East Anglia's Drama Department, and performed alongside Shakespeare's As You Like It as part of "The Arcadian Project." Performances ran from the 3–7 December 2013, at the UEA Drama Studio.

Iain Pears's novel Arcadia (2015) pays open homage to Sidney as a source of inspiration for its layered storytelling and multiple narrative paths.

On July 26, 2018, Head Over Heels (musical), a jukebox musical adapted from Arcadia featuring songs by The Go-Go's opened at the Hudson Theatre.[6][7]


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