Frances Quarles, Argalus and Parthenia
Sir Philip Sidney concludes his monumental romance, The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia (1590) by enumerating the plot threads as yet unrelated, noting that they “may awake some other spirite to exercise his penne in that, wherewith mine is already dulled.” This call to begin where the Arcadia leaves off is indicative of Sidney’s placement of his authorial legacy into the hands of the reader--and readers, in turn, obliged. First printed in 1629, Francis Quarles’ Argalus and Parthenia is only one of numerous works expanding upon or continuing Sidney’s romance. Quarles’ text complemented, for instance, a staged version of the Argalus and Parthenia story (written by Henry Glapthorne) that was performed before Charles I and Henrietta Maria in the 1630s.
Taking as its starting point the perfect matrimonial love between two of Sidney’s most beloved characters, Quarles’ text is a prequel to Sidney’s. In the latter, Argalus and Parthenia die as innocents amidst the war for the Arcadian throne. Quarles, though, relates their backstory, describing their initial meeting and the numerous obstacles they overcame before their marriage. “I was a Silence taken out of the Orchard of Sir Philip Sydney, of pretious memory,” Quarles writes in his preface, “which I have lately grafted upon a Crab-stocke in mine owne: It hath brought forth many leaves, and promises pleasing fruit, if malevolent eyes blast it not in the bud” (A3r). Indeed, Quarles’ work was so popular that it was reprinted into the eighteenth century, its eleventh edition in 1656 even featuring new, original illustrations. Such early modern “fan fiction” speaks to Sidney’s accretive authorial legacy, which invited, rather than disdained, subsequent amendation and interpretation.