How did I come to read about Argalus and Parthenia?

Because I am reading Baroque Times in Old Mexico, and Argalus and Parthenia is one of those poems that people read back in the 1600s!  And I wondered what it was about.  And then I learn that Francis Quarles is an ancestor of Langston Hughes.  My mind spins. And I get to read bloggers like parthenissa:

When I was thinking about English neoplatonism I kept returning to Francis Quarles’s Argalus and Parthenia (1629). It’s a narrative poem based very closely on a story from Sir Philip Sidney’s Arcadia. In it, Parthenia is pursued by Demagoras but he is thwarted by the fact that she and Argalus are in love. Incensed, Demagoras smears her face with poison and disfigures her. Parthenia, wanting to release Argalus from his romantic obligation to her, flees. Here the heroine’s disfigurement is involuntary, but like Thamire with Celidée, Argalus proves his constancy to Parthenia. It’s a happy ending (until Argalus has to fight at the castle of Amphialus, but I digress…). I quite like what Quarles did to Sidney’s story – he added a fantastically villainous mother who schemes with Demagoras to poison Argalus, and a maid, Athleia, who is initially in on the plot, but who ends up taking the poison herself out of remorse. It was an publishing sensation; the first publication of the poem appeared in 1629 and there were 16 editions between then and 1692 – and even a stage version in 1639 by William Glapthorne (it looks like the 1661 production of the play used a William Lawes song but I haven’t tracked that down yet). I do think, though, what made it so popular in the Caroline era was this neoplatonic version of perfect love that disdained the shell of the body.

Source: Argalus and Parthenia | Parthenissa

About mkevane

Economist at Santa Clara University and Director of Friends of African Village Libraries.
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