Once upon a time there was a land known as Arcadia. It was the happiest land in all of Greece. Except that its peasants occasionally drank too much and rampaged through the countryside in unruly mobs. But more often than not, the pastoral landscape was ambled through by peaceful shepherds singing about the desperately lonely state of their lives. Arcadia was ruled by the loving Duke Basilius who was wise in all matters, except those which involved absurd oracular prophecies. In these matters Basilius usually believed the words of every oracle he happened to consult and not the perfectly rational advice of his adviser, Philinax. Upon hearing that his daughters would be taken away from him by princes and lowlifes, and that he would have an illicit relationship with his still-fairly-comely wife Gynecia, Basilius decided to go into hiding. He moved his family into the country, which was a perfectly infallible plan except that both rampaging peasants and wandering princes (the sort who are not to be trusted with anyone’s daughter) seemed to know exactly where he was living and would visit him from time to time. Not always with the best intentions!
On the other side of Greece was Macedon which was not quite so peaceful a country as Arcadia. The King of Macedon, one Euarchus, was at war with basically everyone except Arcadia and Thessaly where his sister (who’s not really important enough to name) lived with her son Musidorus. Euarchus, being sensible enough to desire his own son to live to something resembling an old age, sent Pyrocles to live with his cousin in Thessaly. These two young lads were the best of friends, and probably spent their youth in manly fights and rapey exploits. Years passed. Euarchus decided he was tired of fighting for a bit, and sent for his son and his nephew. They were well on their way but instead got shipwrecked and decided to take a Grand Tour of Lower Asia, and Egypt, and Syria, and basically anywhere that they could continue to kill giants and their pet dragons. Finally they arrived in Arcadia and Pyrocles, having heard of Basilius’s attempts to guard his daughter’s virginity, felt the man was simply daring him to take his daughter away. Or at least have a sneaky peek at her. Asking some locals where he could locate the disguised duke, he found the secret royal cottage in a matter of hours. No sooner did he rejoice in his triumph over Basilius than he was promptly overcome by the beauty of the younger daughter Philoclea. He began mooning about and thinking of ways to get her into bed.
Musidorus, finding his friend’s demeanour much changed, and given to mopeyness, tried to encourage Pyrocles to take up his manly giant-killing and xenophobic exploits again. But Pyrocles declared himself tired of murdering giants and non-Greek peoples, and instead outlined a dubious-sounding plan to dress as an Amazon woman and befriend Philoclea. Musidorus thought this plan might not be entirely sound, but having caught a glimpse of elder sister Pamela in the corner of his eye, decided to dress as a shepherd and try to get her into bed while he waited for Pyrocles to recover his senses.
Everyone fell in love with the mysterious Amazon woman calling herself “Cleophila”: including Gynecia and Basilius! Philoclea also fell in love but was strangely confused by her feelings because everyone had always told her that women certainly cannot love other women! But then Cleophila explained that he was really Pyrocles and everything was alright and she fell in love with him more happily. Meanwhile, “Dorus” (as our other knightly lad was then calling himself) was living in the house next door with the shepherd family who had adopted Pamela in an effort to thwart the prophecy. Dorus got nowhere with Pamela because she thought he was poor. But, pretending to be in love with the ugly Mopsa (Pamela’s “sister”) he was able to tell her that he actually had lots and lots of money back home. Also he was pretty manly-looking. She fell in love with him.
Then a bear and a lion attacked and had to be killed. After various limbs were chopped off and presented as gifts to the pretty Ladies, some depressing shepherds sang about how their loves had left them.
Basilius and Gynecia fell more madly in love with “Cleophila”; that young wo/man gallantly used their affections to concoct a plan to sneak away for a few hours with Philoclea.”Dorus” probably spent most of his days sighing over Pamela, or jumping out from behind bushes at her and then admiring her form after she fainted. Some peasants got drunk and attacked the Mr and Mrs Basilius’s. Some more depressing shepherds sang about how heroic our two knightly lads were.
Dorus decided to go back to Thessaly with Pamela. He read some pages out of The Alchemist and Volpone and decided to trick and humiliate Mopsa and her family in order to give himself the opportunity to steal away with the heir of Arcadia in an ever-so-chivalrous fashion. “Do you know your husband’s cheating on you?” he asked Pamela’s foster mother. And when she had rushed to pursue vengeance he tied up her daughter Mopsa (who was ugly as well as stupid) and stuck her in a tree. Meanwhile, Pyrocles compromised Philoclea’s virtue (which was a capital punishment in those days) while promising to help both Basilius and Gynecia compromise their virtue by having sex with each other. [Note: at this point in the text Lalus gets married; and the depressing shepherds grudgingly sing at his wedding.] Which deed being discovered by they were none too happy about. Desperate to escape thinking about the deception, Basilius drank something that he thought was wine and Gynecia thought was a love potion but really was poison.
He died. The shepherds sang.
Gynecia confessed to murdering him, and both Pyrocles and Musidorus (who had both been accidentally captured), because their lovers had forbid them to try to kill themselves, instead confessed that they were guilty. Philinax, by now gone mad with years of Basilius ignoring his sage advice, and also a little upset that this same Basilius was dead, held a ruthless trial, over which he appointed Euarchus (who, still tired of war, had decided to visit with Basilius and tell him how he could so take Arcadia if he wanted. He just didn’t want to right now). Euarchus thought that “Tympinus” and “Palladius” (as our knights were now calling themselves) were fairly good-looking young men (though Tympinus/Pyrocles was not nearly as manly-looking as Palladius/Musidorus); he didn’t want to kill them except they were so obviously guilty. He also thought that “Tympinus” was probably lying about Philoclea still being a virgin, but decided to humour him. And so Philoclea and Pamela were allowed to live even though our lads were sentenced to death by being torn apart by horses. Gynecia was also sentenced to be buried alive with Basilius. But then Kerxenes (the only fellow who really knew Pyrocles’s and Musidorus’s true identities, but not someone distinguished enough to be a memorable character) told everyone who they were. But Euarchus decided justice was too important to make allowances for his son and nephew (plus he was kind of irked that they chose to spend their days with women and shepherds instead of him), and decided to kill them anyways. Everything looked hopelessly tragic until Basilius woke up in a turn of events that we might call Romeo and Juliet Gone Right.
And everyone got married.
And the shepherds sang.
23 June 2011 ~ Hamilton