Pastoral in Shakespeare's Works
Pastoral in Shakespeare's Works
Pastoral, a popular Renaissance literary genre, influenced a number of Shakespeare's works. The pastoral genre depicts an idealized vision of a simpler, rural life and a longing for a lost world of innocence. The pastoral mode was an integral part of the Renaissance debate between the virtues of the active versus the contemplative life, often expressed as the opposition of negotium, involvement in business, civic, and social life, and otium, ease or idleness. Commentary on pastoral in Shakespeare's dramatic works frequently involves references to writers who generated and developed the pastoral mode. These include the Greek poet Theocritus; the Latin poet Virgil; authors of the Italian Renaissance such as Sannazaro, Guarini, Tasso, and Mantuan; and English Renaissance pastoral writers, including Spenser, Greene, Lodge, and Sidney, whose Arcadia is considered to be one of the greatest pastorals. Many critics argue that pastoral is a way of looking at life, art, and nature—an attitude and a system of values rather than a set of formal literary conventions. However, there is general agreement regarding the three-part structure of pastoral drama—flight or exile from the court or city, retreat to a rural setting, and return. The sojourn in the countryside supposedly provides an opportunity to gain new insights and perspectives, leading to personal education, growth, and renewal. Scholars have explored Shakespeare's use of this dramatic structure, and the evidence in his plays of pastoralism and anti-pastoralism, with particular reference to As You Like It, The Winter's Tale, and The Tempest.
Scholars who write about As You Like It generally agree that the play does not represent the Forest of Arden as a lost, golden world. There is, however, a range of opinions regarding whether this comedy is anti-pastoral or merely ambivalent about the literary pastoral tradition. Laurence Lerner (see Further Reading) views Arden as having a great deal in common with the court and the city, especially with respect to social and political divisions. Similarly, Peter Lindenbaum (1986) describes the forest in As You Like It as not a golden world but a fallen one, which provides “only limited relief from the concerns of everyday life.” Alastair Fowler (1984), characterizing Arden as only a temporary reprieve from the ordinary concerns of daily life, emphasizes this play's pastoral setting as a representation of the progression of seasons and the theme of mutability. Several critics assert that As You Like It challenges conventional literary pastoralism. Lindenbaum, for example, calls attention to the different views of pastoral expressed by disparate characters in the play. Fowler describes the play as a “complex departure from pastoral,” and Brian Gibbons (1987) argues that it mocks the absurdities of the pastoral style and effectively subverts it. Gibbons, like Keir Elam (see Further Reading), pays particular attention to Shakespeare's departure in this comedy from his literary forebears, particularly Sidney and Lodge. Elam regards As You Like It as an anti-pastoral play, remarking on its freshness of style, its ironical tone, and its playfulness. Paul Alpers (1996) focuses on Colin as a descendant of the traditional literary shepherd, noting that unlike his prototype, he has a realistic view of pastoral life and values. A number of critics have addressed the issue of pastoral elements in other Shakespearean comedies. Writing about The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Lindenbaum describes the forest in this early comedy as a fantasy, a place where no ordinary rules of society apply; he attributes this depiction as evidence of Shakespeare's “unthinking or automatic acceptance of a pastoral romance structural scheme he adopted from pastoral writers before him.” Alpers addresses pastoral elements in another early Shakespearean comedy, Love's Labour's Lost, focusing on Costard as similar to shepherds in the literary pastoral tradition with the exception that he functions as a clown or fool rather than a moralizer. Camille Wells Slights (1985) maintains that in The Merry Wives of Windsor “the pastoral values of simplicity, humility, and fidelity are elusive and transitory but always accessible.” The critic also points out that Windsor is not like Sidney's Arcadia—a golden or green world—but is instead a retreat that combines two traditions: pastoral as a place of innocence and pastoral as a celebration of “sensual gratification.” Karoline Szatek (see Further Reading) similarly disputes the notion that Belmont in The Merchant of Venice represents a green world. Instead, she characterizes pastoral as a realm where cultures and ideologies clash; Belmont is not the antithesis of Venice but rather another version of the city, similarly obsessed with political and financial power.
Many scholars have analyzed Shakespeare's treatment of the pastoral tradition in his late romances, particularly The Winter's Tale, The Tempest, and Cymbeline. Jerry H. Bryant (1963) remarks on the indebtedness of The Winter's Tale to pastoral traditions but also observes its departures from them. Bryant comments on parallels between The Winter's Tale and a number of pastoral poems and plays that preceded it, emphasizing Shakespeare's modifications of traditional pastoral motifs and conventions. In particular, the critic addresses Shakespeare's treatment of the themes of love, faithfulness, and appearance versus reality. Philip M. Weinstein (1971) discusses the contradictory conceptions of pastoral in The Winter's Tale, noting in particular that the play highlights the theme of regeneration as well as the motifs of death and decay. Lindenbaum regards the play's depiction of the Bohemian countryside not as a “blissful alternative” to life at court but a parallel version of it. Similarly, Richard Studing (1982) asserts that rural Bohemia is as corrupt as the court of Sicilia, a fallen world rather than one that offers a competing set of values. He also suggests that the sheep-shearing festival presented by the supposedly innocent Perdita and her associates is a “conscious artifice.” The Tempest and Cymbeline offer abundant material for commentators on pastoral elements in Shakespeare's plays. Thomas McFarland (1972) views The Tempest as an affirmation of pastoral values that combines Christian and pastoral perspectives. He maintains that Prospero is a godlike figure who presides over a golden world, a place of social harmony where evil is defeated. By contrast, Ronald B. Bond (1978) contends that the play deviates from the pastoral tradition by showing the importance of one's obligation to contribute to society through active devotion to assigned tasks and diligent care for others. According to Bond, the play demonstrates that living in idleness or ease in a remote setting is neither enviable nor something to be emulated. Similarly, Lindenbaum proposes that the play promotes acceptance of personal responsibility and engagement in society and rejects the attractions of the idealized, contemplative life. Kevin Pask (2002) also considers the play's depiction of the contrast between a life of idleness or ease and one of active engagement. He argues that Prospero must forego the notion of a place of pastoral retreat so that he can carry out his “political project”: the reestablishment of his dynasty through the marriage of Ferdinand and Miranda. Michael Taylor (1983) considers the distinction in Cymbeline between Imogen's fantasy of “pastoral innocence” and her awakening next to the headless corpse of Cloten, whom she mistakes for the body of her husband Posthumus. Taylor calls attention to the hyperbolic language of the play, as well as to the harsh and “unsentimental” pastoral setting in which Imogen finds herself.
Shakespeare's use of pastoral conventions in his tragedies has not received a great deal of critical attention, but the commentary is significant nonetheless. Alpers discusses the grave-digger scene in Hamlet with regard to the clown as a descendant of pastoral shepherds or rustics who are truth-tellers. Nancy R. Lindheim (1974) examines the pastoral elements in King Lear. The critic maintains that in the play Lear comes to understand such pastoral concerns as how individuals should interact with nature and society and the importance of demonstrating pity and compassion for others. Lisa Hopkins (2000) views Othello as a reversal of the pastoral pattern of a retreat to an idealized world where regeneration occurs. Hopkins maintains that in Othello Venice represents a pastoral inversion, a desolate place rather than a setting that fosters self-education and personal renewal.
Criticism: Overviews And General Studies
SOURCE: Lindenbaum, Peter. “Shakespeare's Golden Worlds.” In Changing Landscapes: Anti-Pastoral Sentiment in the English Renaissance, pp. 91-135. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1986.
[In the following essay, Lindenbaum traces the development of Shakespeare's anti-pastoral sentiment in his works. Beginning with The Two Gentlemen of Verona, the critic notes that the forest in this early play is sentimentalized, a place of idleness (otium) where none of society's rules apply or must be obeyed. By contrast, he argues, the pastoral realms of his later plays, including As You Like It, The Winter's Tale, and The Tempest, are not that different from the ordinary world in that they all endorse the idea that one must accept personal responsibility and actively engage in life.]
The Two Gentlemen of Verona provides good evidence that anti-pastoralists are made and not born, that an anti-pastoral stance arises from continued thinking on the literary use and meaning of a sojourn in a pastoral landscape. The Two Gentlemen is the earliest and least successful of Shakespeare's plays to utilize a structure that Northrop Frye has labeled the “drama of the green world,” comedies whose action “begins in a world represented as a normal world, moves into the green world, goes into a metamorphosis there in which the comic resolution is achieved, and returns to the normal...
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SOURCE: Alpers, Paul. “Pastoral Speakers.” In What Is Pastoral?, pp. 185-222. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996.
[In the following essay, Alpers identifies Shakespearean characters who, like Melibee and Colin Clout in Spenser's Faerie Queene, assume the role of the traditional literary shepherd to assert pastoral virtues and values. Alpers describes the following characters as “representative shepherds”: Costard in Love's Labour's Lost, Corin in As You Like It, the grave-digger in Hamlet, and Florizel, Perdita, Autolycus, and Polixenes in Act IV of The Winter's Tale.]
The Virgilian figure of the representative shepherd is inherently capable of fresh interpretation and application. Its possibilities provide one way of accounting for both the importance and the variety of pastoral poetry in the sixteenth century. Even when conventional pastoral genres seem to lose their vitality (roughly, around the turn of the seventeenth century) pastoral retains its capacity for fresh realization and for extending its range. The effect of Shakespearean pastoral—historically in England and “typologically” in our account—was to unsettle and diversify the Virgilian formula, “The poet represents (himself as) a shepherd or shepherds.” When pastoral values and usages are located in a variety of figures and are no longer closely identified with...
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Criticism: Pastoral Elements In The Comedies
SOURCE: Fowler, Alastair. Pastoral Instruction in As You Like It, pp. 1-14. London: University of London, 1984.
[In the following essay, a printed version of a lecture delivered at the University of London on February 18, 1984, Fowler discusses As You Like It as a blend of genres with a particular indebtedness to “realistic pastoral.” The critic maintains that the Forest of Arden is not a timeless, static world but rather one in which time must be spent in productive activity, especially in learning the significance of human mortality and the meaning of faithfulness in love.]
If critics of As You Like It agree on one thing, it is that the play is pastoral-romantic by genre. The plot, what there is of it, conforms to ‘the standard dramatic pastoral pattern … of extrusion or exile, recreative sojourn in a natural setting, with ultimate return “homeward” … a return in moral strength reinforced by the country experience’.1 The action actually introduces the keeping of sheep; which is more than pastoral dramas always do. And life has a natural simplicity in Arden, which from a distance at least seems like life in the Golden Age: there the banished Duke Senior's followers ‘fleet the time carelessly as they did in the golden world’. Then, many minor pastoral romance motifs are worked in, such as the carving of names on trees;2 and many regular pastoral...
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SOURCE: Slights, Camille Wells. “Pastoral and Parody in The Merry Wives of Windsor.” English Studies in Canada 11, no. 1 (March 1985): 12-25.
[In the following essay, Slights maintains that in The Merry Wives of Windsor “the pastoral values of simplicity, humility, and fidelity are elusive and transitory but always accessible.” The critic also points out that Windsor is not like Sidney's Arcadia—a golden or green world—but is instead a retreat that combines two traditions: pastoral as a place of innocence and pastoral as a celebration of “sensual gratification.”]
Sir Hugh Evans, the Welsh parson in The Merry Wives of Windsor, tries to arrange Master Slender's marriage to Anne Page and in the process offends another of Anne's suitors, Doctor Caius, who challenges him to a duel. Act three finds Parson Evans waiting, with considerable trepidation, to answer the challenge:
Pless my soul, how full of chollors I am, and trempling of mind: I shall be glad if he have deceived me. How melancholies I am! I will knog his urinals about his knave's costard when I have good opportunities for the 'ork. Pless my soul!
Suddenly, in the course of expressing his malevolence and apprehension, he breaks into song:
To shallow rivers, to whose falls...
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SOURCE: Gibbons, Brian. “Amorous Fictions and As You Like It.” In “Fanned and Winnowed Opinions”: Shakespearean Essays Presented to Harold Jenkins, edited by John W. Mahon and Thomas A. Pendleton, pp. 52-78. London: Methuen, 1987.
[In following essay, Gibbons remarks on the influence of Sidney's Arcadia and Lodge's Rosalynde on Shakespeare's treatment of pastoral in As You Like It.]
The date of As You Like It is usually accepted as 1599, although the play's direct source, Thomas Lodge's Rosalynde, had been first published as long ago as 1590 and so too had the finest pastoral romance of all in English, Philip Sidney's Arcadia. Such was their popularity that Rosalynde was reprinted in 1592 and 1596, and Arcadia in 1593, before both of them were again reprinted in 1598. According to some scholars it was a revival of Lyly's pastoral comedies by the children's companies that gave an immediate incentive to Shakespeare and his company, with their new Globe Theatre, to respond to the revived fashion for pastoral comedy.1 It is my contention that what we know of the circumstances of Shakespeare's company in 1599, and of Shakespeare's work of the time, makes his decision to turn to pastoral more than opportunist.
As You Like It is a self-consciously stylish play, and in this essay I seek to explore its style as a...
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Criticism: Pastoral Elements In The Romances
SOURCE: Bryant, Jerry H. “The Winter's Tale and the Pastoral Tradition.” Shakespeare Quarterly 14, no. 4 (autumn 1963): 387-98.
[In the following essay, Bryant comments on parallels between The Winter's Tale and a number of pastoral poems and plays that preceded it, emphasizing Shakespeare's modifications of traditional pastoral motifs and conventions. In particular, the critic addresses Shakespeare's treatment of the themes of love, faithfulness, and appearance versus reality.]
It is curious that no appraiser or appreciator seems to have puzzled over the kinship of The Winter's Tale with the pastoral tradition. Most commentators tacitly assume the connection, then abandon it to court other features. Some explain the drama as tragicomedy, some as one of the “last plays”. Others see it against the background of Elizabethan thought. Still others, lately, have examined the grammar, the vocabulary, and the reverberations of the imagery. All these approaches are good, cogent, helpful; but the pastoral element has gone begging for an analyst. For that matter, Sir Walter Greg once went so far as to say that “it is characteristic of the shepherd scenes in that play, written in the full maturity of Shakespeare's genius, that, in spite of their origins in Greene's romance of Pandosto, they owe nothing of their treatment to pastoral tradition, nothing to convention, nothing to...
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SOURCE: Weinstein, Philip M. “An Interpretation of Pastoral in The Winter's Tale.” Shakespeare Quarterly 22, no. 2 (spring 1971): 97-109.
[In the following essay, Weinstein discusses the contradictory conceptions of pastoral in The Winter's Tale, noting in particular that the play highlights the theme of regeneration as well as the motifs of death and decay.]
Did you not name a tempest, A birth and death?
(Pericles V. iii. 33-34)
They looked as they had heard of a world ransomed, or one destroyed.
(The Winter's Tale V. ii. 14-15)
As is well known, the Pastoral Scene in The Winter's Tale functions, basically and indisputably, as a contrast with life in the Sicilian court. And this purpose is so well achieved, the sense of rebirth so strong, that E. M. W. Tillyard has written: “Now the latest plays aim at a complete regeneration; at a melting down of the old vessel and a recasting of it into something new. Thus Florizel and Perdita re-enact the marriage of Leontes and Hermione, but with better success.”1 No one would reject outright Tillyard's statement, but in an important way it overstates the case, asserting resolution where there still remains considerable conflict. Seeking to define how the Pastoral Scene functions in the play as a whole, this...
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SOURCE: McFarland, Thomas. “So Rare a Wondered Father: The Tempest and the Vision of Paradise.” In Shakespeare's Pastoral Comedy, pp. 146-75. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1972.
[In the following essay, McFarland views The Tempest as an affirmation of pastoral values that combines Christian and pastoral perspectives. The critic maintains that Prospero is a godlike figure who presides over a golden world, a place of social harmony where evil is defeated.]
Standing first in Heminge and Condell's arrangement of the plays, and last chronologically among Shakespeare's major achievements, The Tempest in still other ways constitutes the alpha and omega of Shakespeare's comedy. For here the two great realities of Shakespeare's comic vision—the movement toward social concord on the one hand, and on the other the recognition of disharmony and disruption (identifiable as early as The Two Gentlemen of Verona, and grown almost cancerously into the bitterness of the middle comedies)—come face to face in a final confrontation. The Tempest reaffirms the festive happiness of A Midsummer-Night's Dream, and at the same time completes and overcomes the motif of Jacobean “cohaerence gone” that strained against Shakespeare's comic dream in Measure for Measure and Troilus and Cressida, in Cymbeline and Pericles. Accepting in...
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SOURCE: Bond, Ronald B. “Labour, Ease, and The Tempest as Pastoral Romance.” Journal of English and Germanic Philology 77, no. 3 (July 1978): 330-42.
[In the following essay, Bond contends that The Tempest diverges from the pastoral tradition by depicting idleness (otium) as a moral weakness and work or devotion to a task (negotium) as a virtue.]
In the last decade, several studies of The Tempest have re-examined the old claim that the play is a pastoral romance. Common to these is the assumption that the play embodies elements of two genres, that it, like much Elizabethan and Jacobean literature, has wedded the impulse of pastoral with its literary antecedents and its sometimes etiolated conventions to the sturdier form of romance, which, though no less traditional in some senses, carries with it the baggage of fewer associations and is thus a freer, less confined mode of the creative imagination.1 But despite these explanations of its pastoral elements, The Tempest remains a play revealing few of the topographical features of the pastoral landscape, few of the topoi of the pastoral genre. Ubi sunt? we might well ask, when trying to align the traditional view of the play as a species of pastoral with the characteristics of the pastoral mode. The atmosphere of the play impels us to ask where is innocence, where is the carefree, where...
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SOURCE: Studing, Richard. “Shakespeare's Bohemia Revisited: A Caveat.” Shakespeare Studies 15 (1982): 217-26.
[In the following essay, Studing argues that Act IV of The Winter's Tale demonstrates that rural Bohemia is not a refuge from the vices of the court but rather a similarly corrupt world.]
In approaching the pastoral scene in The Winter's Tale as an idyll and place of relief from the falseness and misery of courtly life, commentators have dwelled, generally and specifically, on the simplicity, naturalness, and pristine values of Bohemia. The entire country scene, with its trappings of shepherds and shepherdesses, sheep-shearing festival, dances, rustic foolery, and rustic lovemaking, has often been idealized as an Arcadia, an Eden of love, friendship, and good will. Edwin Greenlaw considers it to be “the most exquisite and satisfying pastoral in Elizabethan literature.” Much in the same spirit, G. Wilson Knight believes the Pastoral Scene “sums up and surpasses all Shakespeare's earlier poetry of pastoral and romance.”1
More specifically, much consideration has been given to the simple nobility and virtue of country life, which are thought to outshine vigorously the woe and destruction bred in Sicilia's court. The natural piety and conduct of the old Shepherd and his son, for instance, have been singled out as somewhat naive but nevertheless...
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SOURCE: Taylor, Michael. “The Pastoral Reckoning in Cymbeline.” Shakespeare Survey 36 (1983): 97-106.
[In the following essay, Taylor considers the distinction in Cymbeline between Imogen's fantasy of “pastoral innocence” and her awakening next to the headless corpse of Cloten, whom she mistakes for the body of her husband Posthumus. Taylor calls attention to the hyperbolic language of the play, as well as to the harsh and “unsentimental” pastoral setting in which Imogen finds herself.]
The most astonishing scene in Cymbeline unnerves us with the grotesque spectacle of its heroine waking up in a pastoral setting from a death-like sleep (induced by Dr Cornelius' box of drugs) to the sight of what appears to be her decapitated husband sprawled alongside her. Et in Arcadia ego, with a vengeance! Until this rude awakening, Imogen had imagined herself to be safe in her pastoral sanctuary, far from the corruption of Cymbeline's court, secure in the immediate and excessive affection displayed for her by Arviragus and Guiderius who, despite her male disguise, and despite the fact that they have never met her before, have instinctively and conventionally responded to the ties of blood between them. Horrified now by this change in her situation, Imogen at first concludes that she must be dreaming:
I hope I dream, For so I thought...
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SOURCE: Pask, Kevin. “Prospero's Counter-Pastoral.” Criticism 44, no. 4 (fall 2002): 389-404.
[In the following essay, Pask analyzes a number of Prospero's actions in The Tempest that are incongruous with the values of the pastoral genre. The most prominent of these, the critic claims, are Prospero's masterminding of the marriage of Ferdinand and Miranda to serve imperialist aims and the denial of Caliban's claim to the sovereignty of the island through his mother Sycorax.]
At the beginning of the period in which Caliban was to acquire his strongest association with revolutionary energies of every sort, William Hazlitt lodged what remains a powerful if underappreciated critique of this association. Writing in response to the report of a lecture in which Coleridge described Caliban as “an original and caricature of Jacobinism, so fully illustrated at Paris during the French Revolution,” Hazlitt responded with some heat:
Caliban is so far from being a prototype of modern Jacobinism, that he is strictly the legitimate sovereign of the isle, and Prospero and the rest are usurpers, who have ousted him from his hereditary jurisdiction by superiority of talent and knowledge. “This island's mine, by Sycorax my mother,” and he complains bitterly of the artifices used by his new friends to cajole him out of it....
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Criticism: Pastoral Elements In The Tragedies
SOURCE: Lindheim, Nancy R. “King Lear as Pastoral Tragedy.” In Some Facets of King Lear: Essays in Prismatic Criticism, edited by Rosalie L. Colie and F. T. Flahiff, pp. 169-84. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1974.
[In the following essay, Lindheim examines the pastoral elements in King Lear and maintains that in the play Lear comes to understand such pastoral concerns as how individuals should interact with nature and society and the importance of demonstrating pity and compassion for others.]
That King Lear has some connection with pastoral literature is not altogether a new idea. Critics of As You Like It have long noted various parallels between that play and King Lear,1 and recently Maynard Mack has suggested Lear's relation to pastoral romance. In Professor Mack's assessment, King Lear alludes to the patterns of pastoral romance only to turn them upside down: ‘It moves from extrusion not to pastoral, but to what I take to be the greatest anti-pastoral ever penned.’2 What I wish to suggest instead is that King Lear makes no apologies for taking its pastoral ‘straight,’ and that pastoral is relevant to its germinating impulses. King Lear derives its resemblance to As You Like It and to pastoral romance from something which is basic to its conception. We have only to reflect upon what...
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SOURCE: Hopkins, Lisa. “‘This is Venice: My house is not a grange’: Othello's Landscape of the Mind.” Upstart Crow 20 (2000): 68-78.
[In the following essay, Hopkins views Othello as a reversal of the pastoral pattern of a retreat to an idealized world where regeneration occurs. The critic maintains that in Othello Venice represents a pastoral inversion, a desolate place rather than a setting that fosters self-education and personal renewal.]
It has been often noticed that many of Shakespeare's comedies depend for their dénouement on retreat to a green world, a life-giving natural space which allows for personal growth and regeneration and a rebalancing of psyches unsettled by the pressures of urban living. It is rather less of a critical commonplace that several of his tragedies feature an inversion of this pattern,1 generally in the form either of an image pattern playing on death, waste, and decay, or of an actual staging of a scene in a non-urban location marked as a wasteland rather than as a rural retreat. In Macbeth, for instance, the heath is withered, emblematizing the desolation of Macbeth's Scotland, while the English soldiers who carry boughs to Dunsinane are clearly readable within traditions such as the May-lord and rites of renewal; in Hamlet, there is a developed motif of blighted pastorality and unweeded gardens; and in both...
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Bernard, John D. “The Pastoral Vision of The Winter's Tale.” Iowa State Journal of Research 53, no. 3 (February 1979): 219-25.
Contends that The Winter's Tale portrays the regeneration of a kingdom as well as its sovereign's loss and recovery of understanding. Bernard also proposes that the entire play, not just the scenes in Bohemia in Act IV, reflects the idea that pastoral is a means of clarifying vision and inducing truth.
Bulman, J. C. “As You Like It and the Perils of Pastoral.” In Shakespeare on Television: An Anthology of Essays and Reviews, edited by J. C. Bulman and H. R. Coursen, pp. 174-79. Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 1988.
Discusses Basil Coleman's BBC production of As You Like It as an example of the challenges facing film and television directors who attempt to transfer pastoral comedy from the stage to the screen.
Cartelli, Thomas. “Jack Cade in the Garden: Class Consciousness and Class Conflict in 2 Henry VI.” In Enclosure Acts: Sexuality, Property, and Culture in Early Modern England, edited by Richard Burt and John Michael Archer, pp. 48-67. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1994.
Explicates the conflicting visions of pastoral expressed by Jack Cade and Alexander Iden in Act IV, scene ix of Henry...
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