The Countesse of Pembroke’s Arcadia by Philip Sidney, 1590


Sir Philip Sidney (1554–1586) was an English courtier and poet. Arcadia, dedicated to his sister, Mary Herbert, the Countess of Pembroke, was a work in the new genre of prose romance. It traces the adventures of the princes Pyrocles and Musidorus, and the fortunes of the Duke of Arcadia.

Arcadia as a source for King Lear

Shakespeare used an episode from Arcadia as the source for the Gloucester subplot in King Lear.

Pyrocles and Musidorus are driven into a hovel by a fierce storm. There they meet the blind king of Paphlagonia and his son, Leonatus, both weather-beaten and poorly dressed, who recount their tale. The king’s illegitimate son, Plexirtus, full of ‘unnaturall dealings’, ‘poysonous hypocrisie’ and ‘hidden ambition’, tricked the king into hating his legitimate son and heir. The king ordered Leonatus’s death, but Leonatus escaped and fled to a new life as a soldier. Meanwhile, the king let Plexirtus govern him until he had ‘nothing but the name of a king’ left. The evil son then blinded his father and cast him out. Leonatus, hearing of this, returned to care for the old king, who tried to persuade his son to aid him in his suicide. The group in the hovel are attacked by Plexirtus, but the evil son is defeated. The king dies heartbroken from his ordeal and Leonatus is crowned king. Plexirtus wins himself Leonatus’s pardon and favour by his obsequious repentance.

Reading note: the printer on occasion uses the manuscript convention of placing a tilde (~) over a vowel to denote a following ‘n’ or ‘m’.

Full title:
The Countesse of Pembrokes Arcadia, written by Sir Philippe Sidnei
1590, London
Book / Quarto
Philip Sidney
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library

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