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As much a work of entertainment and wit as of instruction, it affords the best insight we have into the tastes and standards of the Elizabethans. Sidney became to his contemporaries the beau ideal of the Renaissance courtier and his Arcadia embodies the highest literary aspirations of the age. Here we have a gladiatorial display of rhetoric which outshines anything achieved in English before and possibly since. Though there has been much scholarly study of Sidney over recent years, The Countess of pembroke's Arcadia, in the traditional form in which it was read down the centuries, is not available anywhere else. The text is accompanied by a full introduction and notes.
Basilus, a foolish old duke, consults an oracle as he imperiously wishes to know the future, but he is less than pleased with what he learns. To escape the oracle's horrific prophecies about his family and kingdom he withdraws into pastoral retreat with his wife and two daughters. When a pair of wandering princes fall in love with the princesses and adopt disguises to gain access to them, all manner of complications, both comic and serious, ensue.
Part-pastoral romance, part-heroic epic, Sidney's long narrative work was hugely popular for centuries after its first publication in 1593, inspiring two sequels and countless imitations, and contributing greatly to the development of the novel.
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Sir Philip Sidney (1554-1586) became one of the Elizabethan Age's most prominent figures. Famous in his day in England as a poet, courtier and soldier, he remains known as a writer of sonnets.