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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1094

The king of Calabria has usurped the crown of Sicily from Prince Philaster’s father, now dead. Because the Sicilian people love their young prince, however, the king does not dare imprison him or harm him in any way, but he does plan to marry his daughter, Arethusa, to Pharamond, a...

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The king of Calabria has usurped the crown of Sicily from Prince Philaster’s father, now dead. Because the Sicilian people love their young prince, however, the king does not dare imprison him or harm him in any way, but he does plan to marry his daughter, Arethusa, to Pharamond, a Spanish prince, who would thereby become heir to both thrones. Pharamond proves to be pompous and conceited. When Philaster, who is quite free and outspoken in his manners, tells Pharamond that only over his dead body could he marry Arethusa, the king admonishes Philaster to restrain himself. Philaster declares that he will restrain himself only when he is better treated; he believes that he is suddenly possessed by the spirit of his late father. Philaster is promised aid by the loyal Lord Dion and by two noble gentlemen, Cleremont and Thrasilene.

At an audience with Princess Arethusa, Philaster is taken aback when he hears Arethusa tell him that she loves him deeply, and he declares his love for her in return. To avoid detection under the suspicious eyes of the court, he promises to send his servant to Arethusa as their messenger. When Pharamond enters Arethusa’s apartment, Philaster departs with words of scorn for the boastful Spanish prince. Later, he has difficulty in persuading his servant, Bellario—who is actually Lord Dion’s daughter, Euphrasia, in disguise—to enter Arethusa’s service.

At court, meanwhile, Pharamond attempts the virtue of Galathea, a court lady who leads him on but refuses all his base suggestions. Later, he makes an assignation with Megra, a court lady of easy virtue. Galathea, having overheard the conversation between Pharamond and Megra, reports the prince’s dissolute ways to Arethusa.

That night the king discovers Megra in the prince’s apartment. Pharamond is in disgrace. Megra, however, manages to extricate herself to some extent by insinuating that Arethusa is as wicked as she and that Bellario is more than a mere servant to Arethusa. The princess makes much of Bellario because the page is a gift from Philaster. The king, who has not even heard of Bellario’s existence, is confounded by Megra’s suggestions.

Megra’s story convinces even Philaster’s friends that Arethusa is unfaithful to the prince, but when they tell Philaster what has happened he refuses to believe them. Nevertheless, his trust in Arethusa is shaken. When Bellario delivers a letter from Arethusa to Philaster, who is still in doubt, the disguised girl innocently damns herself by speaking in praise of Arethusa and by describing Arethusa’s virtuous affection for the page. Philaster accuses Bellario of perfidy and, overcome with the passion of jealousy, threatens to take the page’s life. Only because of Bellario’s sincere protestations of innocence does Philaster, although still not convinced, spare his servant.

The king orders Arethusa to discharge her young page. When Philaster finds Arethusa depressed over Bellario’s dismissal, he reveals his suspicions and declares that he will give up his claim to the throne and become a hermit. The wretched Arethusa, knowing that she is guiltless, can do nothing to prevent Philaster’s departure.

Philaster goes to a nearby forest and wanders about disconsolately. At the same time the king and the court enter the forest to hunt. During the chase, Arethusa disappears. The hunters find her riderless horse but no trace of the princess. Bellario, having been banished from court, also went into the forest. When he encounters Philaster, the page is brusquely ordered away. In another part of the forest, Arethusa, stunned by recent events and without direction in her wandering, sits down to rest and suddenly faints. Bellario appears in time to revive her, only to be told by Arethusa that efforts to help her in her distress are wasted; the princess is prepared to die.

Philaster comes upon the pair. Thinking that their meeting was planned, and that Bellario and Arethusa are lovers, he tells Bellario to take his wretched life. When Bellario disregards his order, Philaster angrily dismisses the page and then, assuming the role of an agent of justice, attempts to kill Arethusa. He only wounds her, however. A peasant comes upon the scene of violence. In the fight that follows, Philaster is seriously wounded, but he flees when he hears horsemen approaching.

When Pharamond, Lord Dion, and others of the hunting party arrive to find Arethusa wounded, they immediately begin their search for her attacker. In his flight, Philaster, who was hurt and is now bleeding, comes upon Bellario asleep. Distractedly, Philaster wounds the page before collapsing from loss of blood. Faithful Bellario administers gently to Philaster and convinces the prince that he had made a mistake in his belief that Arethusa had been unfaithful to him. Hearing Philaster’s pursuers, they flee. Bellario is captured, but not before the page had led them away from the prince. To further protect the fugitive, Bellario confesses to the attack on Arethusa. When Philaster overhears this confession, he comes out of hiding to defend Bellario. The king orders that both be imprisoned, but Arethusa, somewhat recovered from her injuries, prevails upon her father to give her the custody over the prince and the page.

In prison, Philaster, about to be executed, and Arethusa, his guard, pledge their troth. The king disavows his daughter when he learns of the marriage. The people of Sicily, aroused by Philaster’s imprisonment and impending execution, seize Pharamond and threaten total revolt. The king, fearful for his safety and at last repentant for his usurpation of the throne, promises to restore the crown of Sicily and to approve Arethusa’s marriage to Philaster, if the prince will only calm the enraged citizens. The people return quietly to their homes when Philaster assures them that he is now quite free and that he is their new ruler.

The king, still not satisfied with the relationship between Arethusa and Bellario, commands that Bellario be tortured in order that he might learn the truth. Philaster protests vehemently against the order. As the king’s servants prepare to strip Bellario for the ordeal, the page reveals that she is, in reality, Euphrasia, daughter of Lord Dion. Having loved Philaster from childhood and despairing, because of a difference in rank, of ever marrying him, she had allowed everyone to think that she had gone overseas on a pilgrimage. Instead, she had disguised herself as a boy and taken service with Philaster to be near him. Philaster and Arethusa, moved by Euphrasia’s devotion, make her a lady-in-waiting to the queen.

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