How is love represented in "A Passionate Shepherd and His Love"?

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andrewnightingale | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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Christopher Marlowe wrote this poem in the pastoral style, where the speaker promises the object of his affections an idyllic life if she chooses to become his love. The speaker paints a highly romanticized picture of how he and his love would enjoy the greatest leisure and how he would provide for her every material need.

Love is presented as something quite materialstic. The speaker says very little of the care and passion he will share with his love if she chooses to be with him, but focuses on what he will provide in a material sense. He promises her a veritable Garden of Eden. They will witness the beauty of nature - he will provide her with a bed of roses and posies embroidered with "leaves of myrtle" and present her with a gown made from the highest quality wool, fancy slippers with gold buckles and all the material things made of the best quality and embroidered with jewels, if she should choose to live with him and be his love.

It is clear that the speaker feels that what he offers in this sense should be enough to lure the one he loves. Offering her these delights should be more than enough to appease her. However, it does smack of a very shallow understanding of what moves a fair maiden to choose a lover and disregards the fact that these material qualities would fade over time and become tarnished and lose their value - exactly the point made by Sir Walter Raleigh when he wrote "The Nymph's Reply to the Sheperd" in 1600. In his poem the nymph rejects all the promises of gifts made by the shepherd, and says that she would be prepared to live with him and be his love if youth and love were ageless and timeless and love would still grow and was not determined by age.

In other words, if the shepherd had promised her that his love would be everlasting and not fade because of time, she would have considered his proposal. Otherwise not.

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