Critical Evaluation

(Masterpieces of British Fiction)

John Barclay, the son of a Scot, was born in France, died in Italy, and wrote in Latin. His last work, ARGENIS, finished only a month before his death, became immediately popular and remained so for two centuries. Seven years after its publication, it had been honored by three translations into English (the first, by Ben Jonson, in 1623, is, unfortunately, not extant), and as late as the nineteenth century it received the high praise of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Its original popularity was not entirely the result of its artistic merits, however, for it was as satire that it first caught the fancy of readers on both sides of the Channel.

Barclay had already a reputation as a satirist, but in ARGENIS the objects of his attacks are generalized behind a screen of allegory. The story of the love of Poliarchus and Argenis is supposed to represent the wars and intrigues in France before the Concordat under Henry IV. As revealed by the CLOVIS, published in the edition of 1623, Sicily, the scene of the action, stands for France, with Argenis a personified symbol of the throne contested during the religious wars, and Poliarchus and Archombrotus representing different aspects of Henry of Navarre (later Henry IV). Meleander is Henry III; Mauritania is England; Hyanisbe, Elizabeth; and Radirobanes, the rapacious and deceitful Philip of Spain. The whole work is aimed at opponents of the monarchical system.

Although interest in the work as satire lasted only as long as the controversy over the divine right of kings remained a vital issue, ARGENIS was long...

(The entire section is 654 words.)