Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition)
Because satire cuts two ways, sometimes three or four, it is always subject to misinterpretation. However, even the most prominent scholars of eighteenth century literature admit that they are uncertain as to the purpose and meaning of The Shepherd’s Week. There are a number of theories. It is sometimes argued that Gay’s work is in large part merely a burlesque of the pastoral pattern. On the other hand, English writer Samuel Johnson and others have believed it to be a worthy example of what a pastoral should be. The moving account of Blouzelinda’s death would certainly support this view. Some critics believe that The Shepherd’s Week was intended to parody the Vergilian eclogues on which five of Gay’s poems are based; others believe that it was written in order to ridicule the poet’s contemporary Ambrose Philips, who had fallen out with Gay’s friend Pope. It has even been argued that references to the popular songwriter Thomas D’Urfey are in fact an oblique attack on Philips.
Some resolve these critical difficulties by saying that perhaps The Shepherd’s Week has no single target but is, in essence, just one jeu d’esprit after another, united in that they all reflect the poet’s perception of the absurd in human conduct. Thus in “The Proeme,” first Gay plays himself as he attacks the literary establishment with its “critical gallimawfry”; then he assumes the mask of unctuous piety, insisting...
(The entire section is 881 words.)
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