Introduction. Arcades was part of a series of small-scale aristocratic entertainments, probably performed during the summer of 1633 (Carey and Fowler cite Milton's reference to thick foliage at 88-9 to support this dating). The piece honors Alice Spencer, the Dowager Countess of Derby. Her first husband was Ferdinando Stanley, Lord Strange (died 1594), thus she was also known as Lady Strange. Her kinsman, Edmund Spenser dedicated his Tears of the Muses (1591) to her, and she was the "sweet Amaryllis" in his Colin Clout's Come Home Again (1595). John Davies of Hereford dedicated Holy Rood to her, and she played the part of Zenobia in Ben Jonson's Masque of Queens. She married her second husband, Sir Thomas Egerton, in 1600, and her second daughter married Sir Thomas's son, Sir John, who became the Earl of Bridgewater in 1617. A Mask was written for him. Milton's connection with the Egertons was likely through his friend Henry Lawes, who taught Music to the Earl's children beginning in 1626.

The name and the genre of the work are pastoral. The title — meaning "the Arcadians" — is intended to recall images of classical Arcady, a region of Greece imagined as full of shepherds, nymphs, and pastoral poetry. Milton was well versed in the tradition of representing Arcadia as a pastoral ideal, and was probably familiar with the pastoral poetry of Spenser, Shakespeare, Jonson, Drayton, William Browne, and George Wither, and certainly Sir Philip Sidney's prose pastoral epic, Arcadia. Milton's masque-like pageant honors the Countess by placing her at the center of the movement of a group of noble persons. The short body of the poem is thematically very rich. Milton praises the virtues of motherhood, wisdom, and celestial beauty through the use of numerous classical allusions (especially lines 20-22). He also introduces, and alters, Platonic cosmology and the Pythagorean doctrine of the Music of the Spheres. The Genius of the wood may introduce some pagan elements, and some critics (John M. Wallace, for example) interpret Arcades as a progression from the profane to the religious, from the classical Renaissance of Italy to the transalpine reformed ethos of the north. Since Arcades was meant to flatter the Countess, it seems more likely, as Flannagan suggests, that the Genius embodies the magic and moral power of the artist in free service to aristocrats like the Countess and her descendants.

The copy-text is from Poems (1645) with some reference to the Trinity Manuscript, which, as Shawcross maintains, was probably a transcript made after the first performance. John Garber III

Countess Dowager of Darby at Harefield. Alice Spencer Egerton, patron to her kinsman Edmund Spenser, and stepmother to Sir John Egerton (the Earl of Bridgewater), who would later commission Milton's A Mask.

Noble persons. The participants in this entertainment were the children and other members of the Egerton household. Among these was the young Alice Egerton, the "Lady" of A Mask.

descry. To catch sight of, make out.

end. In the Trinity Manuscript, "Part of a maske" is written before the title. Beneath that, crossed out, "Looke nymphs & shepherds looke heere ends our quest / since at last or eyes are blest." "Maske" was changed "entertainment," and the end of the quest is not mentioned until here at line 7. That the search is ended may indicate that Arcades was the last of a series of small-scale aristocratic entertainments performed at Harefield.

throne. The imagery suggests that the Countess is sitting atop a heavily illuminated throne, and that the players are moving toward her.

Latona. Surrounded by her children, the Countess is likened to the mother of Apollo and Diana. See Cicero Against Verres 1.48.

Cybele. Mother of divine beings, Cybele is described as crowned with turrets like a castle. Again, Milton emphasizes icons of motherhood and power. See Virgil's Aeneid 6.784-87.

give her odds. Not even Juno, the queen of the gods, would compete with the Countess.

Genius. The presiding deity or spirit, often attached to a wood or other locality in the Roman religion. See the OED2.

gentle. Aristocratic.

Arcady. A mountain region of the Greek Peloponnesus imagined as the ideal place of shepherds, nymphs, and pastoral poetry. The title of the poem means "the Arcadians," as befits its rural setting and theme.

Alpheus. Milton depicts the river Alpheus as an immortal god. Described by Homer at Iliad 11.725-28, the river is supposed to descend from Arcadia, travel under the sea, and reemerge near Sicily. Milton uses the symbolic flow of water to connect Greek pastoral poetry to its descendant, Sicilian pastoral poetry. Alpheus figures prominently in Lycidas as an emblem of the pastoral mood and setting.

sluse. A channel for water, a sluice.

Arethuse. In Ovid (Metamorphoses 5.572-641), Arethuse tells the story of her pursuit by Alpheus. Turned into a river by Diana, she escapes in that form underneath the Adriatic Sea to Sicily, only to be overtaken by the pursuing waters of the Alpheus.

Roses. The nymphs are described as human flowers.

silver-buskind. Silvery soft knee-boots. Perhaps a reference to the actors' particular costume, but also a familiar trope for tragic drama, see OED2.

solemnity. Festival. See A Mask 142.

Fame. Personification of rumor, or shallow report.

powr. Associated with a celestial order. The OED2 (senses 1.7,8): "A celestial or spiritual being having control or influence; a deity, a divinity."

quaint. Artfully arranged.

ill. The Genius casts counterspells against evil winds, vapors, dew, lightning, ill-disposed planets, and canker worms. Sabrina does something similar to defeat Comus's magic at A Mask 910-18.

and. John Shawcross points out that the Trinity manuscript (TM) has "or" instead of "and" here (Flannagan xvii). 1673 matches 1645's "and". Also, "Plants" has no initial capital in the TM.

Worm with canker'd venom. Alsophila pometaria—also known as measuring worms, inch worms, or loopers. A picture of the Cankerworm. See also Midsummer Night's Dream 2.2.3 where Titania dispatches her fairies to rescue musk-rose buds from cankerworms.

I fetch my round. That is, "I make my rounds," as a watchman.

odorous. Fragrant, sweet-smelling.

Sirens. Milton paraphrases Plato's Republic 10. 616-7. Milton's system uses nine concentric spheres folded around each other. Each sphere is controlled by a Siren singing one note, and together the ensemble sings in harmony — the Music of the Spheres. Milton makes Plato's eight spheres into nine, following Dante in Paradiso 28. 25-78.

Necessity. The end of the spindle rests on the knees of Necessity, around whom sit her three daughters Lachesis, Clotho, and Atropos. The daughters of Necessity (the Fates) collectively control the thread of life for every human being. The "vital shears" (66) to cut the thread of life are held by Atropos. Atropos and her shears also figure in "Lycidas" 75

grosse unpurged ear. Milton refers to the Pythagorean belief that the Music of the Spheres goes unheard because human ears are unworthy to hear it. He perhaps recalls Lorenzo from Merchant of Venice 5.1.64-5: "But whilst this muddy vesture of decay / Doth grossly close it in, we cannot hear it."

blaze. Proclaim.

state. Throne of state.

stemm. As in the stems or branches or a family tree.

warbled. Possibly meaning "plucked." The OED2 records this usage as unique to Milton, and cites Arcades.

Star-proof. The elms can protect those under them from the malevolent influence, or light, of any star.

SONG. John Shawcross points out that the indentations of lines in the Trinity manuscript (TMS) version of this poem are different from either the 1645 or 1673 printings. See Flannagan xvii.

Ladons. A river in Arcadia flowing into the Alpheus. See Pausanias Description of Greece 5.7.1. Milton seems to have been reading Sandys' translation of Ovid, which perhaps explains the adjective "sandy."

Lycæus. A mountain in Arcadia; home to Pan.

Cyllene hoar. Another mountain, the highest in Arcadia; "hoar" suggests frost, and the image may be taken from Vergil's Aeneid 8.191, "on hoar Cyllene's frosty summit bore." according to Apollodorus' Library, the Pleiades were born on Cyllene's summit.

Erymanth. Either a tall mountain in Arcadia where Heracles kills the Erymanthian boar (see an illustration), or another of Arcadia's rivers flowing into the Alpheus.

Mænalus. Another Arcadian mountain, sacred to Pan. Ovid's Metamorphoses 5.924-29 mentions Cyllene, Mænalus, and Erymanthus together.

Syrinx. An Arcadian nymph pursued by Pan. She fled to the river Ladon and was transformed into a reed. These lines may be a complimentary allusion to Ben Jonson's Entertainment at Althorp (20-1): "And the Dame hath Syrinx grace! / O that Pan were now in place." The "Dame" is Queen Anne, whom the Countess's father, Lord Spencer of Althorp, was entertaining.