Pastoral Literature of the English Renaissance Criticism: Overviews And General Studies - Essay

William Empson (essay date 1935)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: “Proletarian Literature,” in Some Versions of Pastoral, New Directions, 1968, pp. 11-15.

[In the following excerpt from a work first published in 1935, Empson contends that pastoral literature reflects an impulse to clarify difficult issues by restating them in terms spoken by common folk, thus emphasizing their universal nature.]

The essential trick of the old pastoral, which was felt to imply a beautiful relation between rich and poor. was to make simple people express strong feelings (felt as the most universal subject, something fundamentally true about everybody) in learned and fashionable language (so that you wrote about the best subject in the best...

(The entire section is 1081 words.)

Frank Kermode (essay date 1952)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Introduction to English Pastoral Poetry: From the Beginnings to Marvell, edited by Frank Kermode, George Harrap and Company, 1952, pp. 11-44.

[In the following excerpt, Kermode looks at the scope of the pastoral form, especially as it was used by English Renaissance poets; outlines its history and its critical and philosophical background; and discusses the general theory of Imitation as it relates to the pastoral.]

Jove, Jove! this shepherd's passion
Is much upon my fashion.

As You Like It, II, iv, 56-57.

Hast any philosophy in thee, shepherd?

Ibid., III, i, 21.

Pastoral is one of...

(The entire section is 10445 words.)

S. K. Heninger, Jr. (essay date 1961)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: “The Renaissance Perversion of Pastoral,” in Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 1, No. 2, April-June 1961, pp. 254-61.

[In the following essay, Heninger claims that in the sixteenth century the classical pastoral was “perverted” to express moral, satirical, and sentimental themes, and that this adaptation was the result of a humanist desire to explore real life in a form that was originally developed to reflect the ideal.]

When the youthful Alexander Pope had finished his pastorals, he wrote a “Discourse” which offers both an encomium of the pastoral tradition and an apologia for his interpretation of it. He began with a characteristically...

(The entire section is 4008 words.)

Laurence Lerner (essay date 1972)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: “The Pastoral World: Arcadia and the Golden Age,” in The Pastoral Mode: A Casebook, edited by Bryan Loughrey, Macmillan Publishers Ltd., 1984, pp. 133-54.

[In the following excerpt from an essay first published in 1972, Lerner argues that the pastoral, as a representation of the provincial mediated by courtly writers seeking relief from the problems of a sophisticated society, is poetry of illusion and thus of wish-fulfillment.]

Every culture has one or more centres of social, artistic and moral standards, a place where the educated people live, where the King's English, or its equivalent, is spoken, where the theatres perform and the political decisions...

(The entire section is 4114 words.)

John Barrell and John Bull (essay date 1974)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: “The Elizabethan Pastoral,” “The Pastoral Drama,” and “The Seventeenth-Century Pastoral,” in The Penguin Book of English Pastoral Verse, introduced and edited by John Barrell and John Bull, Penguin Books, 1974, pp. 13-20; 107-11; 141-48.

[In the following excerpts, Barrell and Bull trace the development of English pastoral poetry and its relation to the changing social conditions of the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods. The critics examine the relations between the conventions of the pastoral mode and the actuality of rural life as well as the evolving historical reality of gentlemen-poets' connection with the land.]


(The entire section is 7206 words.)

Louis Adrian Montrose (essay date 1983)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: “Of Gentlemen and Shepherds: The Politics of Elizabethan Pastoral Form,” in ELH, Vol. 50, No. 3, Autumn 1983, pp. 415-59.

[In the following excerpt, Montrose offers an historical prologue to reading the Elizabethan pastoral, and claims that the pastoral embodies the contradictory values of Elizabethan social life.]


Modern theories of pastoral have a way of turning into theories of literature. Perhaps the most influential of such theories have been those of William Empson and Renato Poggioli. The former isolates the pastoral “process” in verbal strategies for “putting the complex into the simple”; the...

(The entire section is 9380 words.)

Bryan Loughrey (essay date 1984)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Introduction to The Pastoral Mode: A Casebook, edited by Bryan Loughrey, Macmillan Publishers Ltd., 1984, pp. 8-17.

[In the following excerpt, Loughrey discusses the classical European origins of the pastoral form and surveys its embodiment in works by writers of the English Renaissance.]

Pastoral is a contested term which modern critics have applied to an almost bewildering variety of works. In earlier critical discourse, however, it had a fairly limited and stable sense, describing literature which portrayed, often in an idealised manner, ‘the life of shepherds, or of the country’.1 The genre originated with the Greek poet Theocritus (c....

(The entire section is 3920 words.)