Strephon and Phillis are archetypal Arcadian shepherds, who appear in numerous poems and prose works, including Sir Philip Sidney’s Arcadia of 1593, which provides a highly idealised version of the shepherds’ life.
Long after Henry Fielding’s time, the pair formed the centrepiece of Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic opera Iolanthe, which premiered at London’s Savoy Theatre in 1882. The opera satirises the House of Lords, as a bastion of the ineffective, privileged and dim-witted. In this telling, Strephon is the son of the fairy Iolanthe and her human husband. Strephon is in love with the Lord Chancellor’s ward of court, the beautiful Phyllis. Their wish to marry brings the House of Lords and the fairy world into an angry showdown, which is happily resolved with a merging of the species.