What are some critical approaches to the poem titled "The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd"?

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sfwriter | College Teacher | (Level 2) Associate Educator

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Sir Walter Ralegh's poem (also called "Answer to Marlowe") is a philosophically satirical poem, so approaching it critically requires an understanding of the poem's meaning and references.  Ralegh is specifically answering Christopher Marlowe's "The Passionate Shepherd to his Love", so it's important to read and understand Marlowe's poem first, and then apply criticism to Ralegh's poem with Marlowe's poem in mind. Ralegh's poem is self-conscious and satirical because it bursts the bubble of Marlowe's beautiful pastoral world.  It's humorous in the way Ralegh turns all of Marlowe's constructions ("coral clasps and amber studs," "beds of roses") into absurdities; but it is more than that.  Ralegh is making a philosophical point (a Platonic one, about the dangers of poetry) that the world created by love-poets is unreal and out of the temporal world.  Marlowe's Shepherd, says Ralegh, could not possibly exist.So some critical approaches would be: feminist criticism might have the practical nymph representing clear-headed humanity against Marlowe's flighty Shepherd, a Marxist criticism would question how the rural worker Shepherd would be able to afford the finery he's offering, and a New Historical criticism would look at this poem in the light of conditions in the political hotbed of Ralegh's day.  It's a poem ripe for exploration, and provides good material for many different types of criticism.

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