What makes "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love," by Christopher Marlowe, an example of pastoral literature?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Pastoral poems deal with nature versus society:

The pastoral is a literary style or type that presents a conventionalized picture of rural life, the naturalness and innocence of which is seen in contrast to the corruption and artificiality of city and court.

In Marlowe's poem "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love," the author is trying to convince a young woman to give in to his passionate desires. There is a great deal of imagery, which is based on nature. He speaks of dressing her in clothing made of leaves, straw and buds. He is not interested in marriage, but only in a physical relationship, living among the fields and shepherds (eNotes). His writing makes it sound like there would be nothing they could want for, if she is willing to forego the marriage vows. This idealized picture fits the description of pastoral literature

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Pastoral poetry is characterized by its setting and subject.  Pastoral poetry is about the "pasture" or rural life in a rural setting.  Usually these poems glorify the simple life and work of rural/farm/small town life, and the pleasure that comes from that kind of life.  The settings are usually idealized, as is the life-style.  In actuality, rural life was demanding--a never-ending list of responsibilities and duties.  In this poem by Marlowe, he is idealizing the life of a shepherd.  In reality, a shepherd had a very hard life--lonely, frequently out of doors in the elements, working for the owner of the sheep.  Marlowe has his speaker try to convince his love to come and join him for what he claims will be a wonderful life in the country.

The poem opens with the promise that the two lovers will "all the pleasures prove," and he goes on to explain the pastoral scene, stating that they will live amongst the"hills and valleys, dales and fields" while they just sit around and listen to the "melodious birds sing madrigals."  He promises her a "bed of roses" and "fragrant posies" "a gown of finest wool" and "fine slippers with buckles of the purest gold."  The fact is, no shepherd can make grand promises like "buckles of purest gold"; shepherds would be some of the poorest of the workers in countryside.  This is where the poem shows its pastoral quality--by glorifying the natural world and suggesting a kind of naive attitude about this life.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial