Guide to Literary Terms

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What is the definition of pastoral?

The definition of pastoral is literature depicting rural life, typically idyllic.

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Last Updated May 25, 2023.

A pastoral is a written work that portrays life in the countryside, particularly that of shepherds, in a simple and idealized way. 

Pastoral derives from the Latin word pastoralis, meaning “of shepherds, of herdsmen.” 

Pastoral literature originated in ancient Greece. The earliest known pastoral is a collection of poems by Theocritus, called Idylls. The literary form gained popularity in English literature following Edmund Spenser’s The Shepheardes Calendar. William Shakespeare’s As You Like It is an example of a pastoral play.

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