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What is the theme of "The Passionate Shepherd to his Love"?  

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alysza | Student, Grade 9 | eNotes Newbie

Posted September 19, 2009 at 4:25 PM via web

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What is the theme of "The Passionate Shepherd to his Love"?


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lit24 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Valedictorian

Posted September 19, 2009 at 10:43 PM (Answer #1)

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Christopher Marlowe's (1564-1593)  pastoral love lyric "The Passionate Shepherd to his Love" is believed to have been written in 1588 when he was a student at Cambridge. It was published posthumously in 1599.

The poem is the  "passionate" appeal of a young shepherd to his beloved lady love "to come and live with him." It is not a marriage proposal but an overt appeal by the shepherd requesting her to spend some time with him so that he can use her as a means of satisfying his desire for passionate sex with her.

The tone of the poem is both idealistic and idyllic. The shepherd lists out only the pleasures and not the drawbacks or dangers of a pastoral life to tempt her into accepting his offer. In the first stanza he describes the places in a very romantic manner where they could make love:

COME live with me and be my Love, /And we will all the pleasures prove /That hills and valleys, dale and field, /And all the craggy mountains yield.

In the second stanza he tells her how they will happily while away their time sitting on the rocks and watching the other shepherds feed their flocks as they listen to the melodious birds:

There will we sit upon the rocks/  And see the shepherds feed their flocks,/  By shallow rivers, to whose falls /Melodious birds sing madrigals.

In the next three stanzas he tempts her with attractive gifts like, a bed of roses, a cap of flowers, a flowery skirt, a gown of the finest wool, a beautiful belt with "corals clasps and amber studs" and slippers with golden buckles and repeats his offer which he made at the beginning of the poem.

He concludes the poem by telling her, in the last two stanzas, that although he is only a shepherd he will ensure that she enjoys a royal life style with her food being served on silver plates set on an ivory table and by promising her that every "May-morning" (every day in the month of May) country youths shall dance and sing  and entertain her if she agrees to "live with him and be his love."

Marlowe's lyric is a universal (all times and all places) example of how young men tempt pretty girls with fantastic offers - slippers with golden buckles! -to make them yield to fulfill their sexual desires.


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