While it is debatable how far the audiences of most Arcadia-inspired plays were aware of the original work, the Prologue to John Day’s The Ile of Gulls announces that its ‘argument’ is a ‘little string or Rivolet, drawne from the full streine of the right worthy Gentleman, Sir Phillip Sydneys well knowne Archadea’ (sig. A2v); ‘to read [or see] it without some familiarity with the Arcadia would be an experience almost comparable to reading Shamela without a prior acquaintance with Pamela’ (Michael C. Andrews, ‘The Isle of Gulls as Travesty’, The Yearbook of English Studies, vol. 3, 1973, p. 79). Basilius and his retinue have withdrawn from the world—to a ‘desart Ile’—but with very different motives from Sidney’s king. He has ‘sent a generall challenge/To all the youthfull bloods of Affrica’. Whichever of them can somehow win his daughters ‘Shall with their loves wear my imperiall crowne’ (sig. A4). Most of the play is taken up with the farcical consequences of this situation, including a bawdier, jokier version of Pyrocles/ Zelmane’s much-loved predicament, and a version of the trick played by Dorus on Dametas and his family (sigs F2v-F3v, G1v- G4), popular in most dramatic Arcadias.
The Ile of Gulls was performed at the Blackfriars Theatre in February 1606 by the Children of the Queen’s Revels, a company (like other boys’ troupes) with a reputation for burlesque and political satire. Sir Edward Hoby reported that all the male parts were ‘acted of two diverse nations’ (English and Scottish obviously, given the contemporary resentment at James I’s Scottish favourites and followers). Basilius may have been played in such a way as to bring out resemblances with James himself. As a result, the company lost the patronage of Queen Anne of Denmark, and several of the older ‘boys’ were imprisoned (see E.K. Chambers, The Elizabethan Stage, 4 vols, Oxford, 1923, vol. 3, p. 286; Andrew Gurr, The Shakespearean Stage 1574-1642, 3rd edn, Cambridge, 1992, p. 53; The Ile of Gulls, ed. R.S. Burns, London, 1980, p. 15).
In the following extract Prince Lisander, disguised as Zelmane, faces a Basilius and Gynecia even more openly