Pastoral in Shakespeare's Works
Pastoral, a popular Renaissance literary genre, influenced a number of Shakespeare's works. The pastoral genre depicts an idealized vision of a simpler, rural life and a longing for a lost world of innocence. The pastoral mode was an integral part of the Renaissance debate between the virtues of the active versus the contemplative life, often expressed as the opposition of negotium, involvement in business, civic, and social life, and otium, ease or idleness. Commentary on pastoral in Shakespeare's dramatic works frequently involves references to writers who generated and developed the pastoral mode. These include the Greek poet Theocritus; the Latin poet Virgil; authors of the Italian Renaissance such as Sannazaro, Guarini, Tasso, and Mantuan; and English Renaissance pastoral writers, including Spenser, Greene, Lodge, and Sidney, whose Arcadia is considered to be one of the greatest pastorals. Many critics argue that pastoral is a way of looking at life, art, and nature—an attitude and a system of values rather than a set of formal literary conventions. However, there is general agreement regarding the three-part structure of pastoral drama—flight or exile from the court or city, retreat to a rural setting, and return. The sojourn in the countryside supposedly provides an opportunity to gain new insights and perspectives, leading to personal education, growth, and renewal. Scholars have explored Shakespeare's use of this dramatic structure, and the evidence in his plays of pastoralism and anti-pastoralism, with particular reference to As You Like It, The Winter's Tale, and The Tempest.
Scholars who write about As You Like It generally agree that the play does not represent the Forest of Arden as a lost, golden world. There is, however, a range of opinions regarding whether this comedy is anti-pastoral or merely ambivalent about the literary pastoral tradition. Laurence Lerner (see Further Reading) views Arden as having a great deal in common with the court and the city, especially with respect to social and political divisions. Similarly, Peter Lindenbaum (1986) describes the forest in As You Like It as not a golden world but a fallen one, which provides “only limited relief from the concerns of everyday life.” Alastair Fowler (1984), characterizing Arden as only a temporary reprieve from the ordinary concerns of daily life, emphasizes this play's pastoral setting as a representation of the progression of seasons and the theme of mutability. Several critics assert that As You Like It challenges conventional literary pastoralism. Lindenbaum, for example, calls attention to the different views of pastoral expressed by disparate characters in the play. Fowler describes the play as a “complex departure from pastoral,” and Brian Gibbons (1987) argues that it mocks the absurdities of the pastoral style and effectively subverts it. Gibbons, like Keir Elam (see Further Reading), pays particular attention to Shakespeare's departure in this comedy from his literary forebears, particularly Sidney and Lodge. Elam regards As You Like It as an anti-pastoral play, remarking on its freshness of style, its ironical tone, and its playfulness. Paul Alpers (1996) focuses on Colin as a descendant of the traditional literary shepherd, noting that unlike his prototype, he has a realistic view of pastoral life and values. A number of critics have addressed the issue of pastoral elements in other Shakespearean comedies. Writing about The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Lindenbaum describes the forest in this early comedy as a fantasy, a place where no ordinary rules of society apply; he attributes this depiction as evidence of Shakespeare's “unthinking or automatic acceptance of a pastoral romance structural scheme he adopted from pastoral writers before him.” Alpers addresses pastoral elements in another early Shakespearean comedy, Love's Labour's Lost, focusing on Costard as similar to shepherds in the literary pastoral tradition with the exception that he functions as a clown or fool rather than a moralizer. Camille Wells Slights (1985) maintains that in The Merry Wives of Windsor “the pastoral values of simplicity, humility, and fidelity are elusive and transitory but always accessible.” The critic also points out that Windsor is not like Sidney's Arcadia—a golden or green world—but is instead a retreat that combines two traditions: pastoral as a place of innocence and pastoral as a celebration of “sensual gratification.” Karoline Szatek (see Further Reading) similarly disputes the notion that Belmont in The Merchant of Venice represents a green world. Instead, she characterizes pastoral as a realm where cultures and ideologies clash; Belmont is not the antithesis of Venice but rather another version of the city, similarly obsessed with political and financial power.
Many scholars have analyzed Shakespeare's treatment of the pastoral tradition in his late romances, particularly The Winter's Tale, The Tempest, and Cymbeline. Jerry H. Bryant (1963) remarks on the indebtedness of The Winter's Tale to pastoral traditions but also observes its departures from them. Bryant comments on parallels between The Winter's Tale and a number of pastoral poems and plays that preceded it, emphasizing Shakespeare's modifications of traditional pastoral motifs and conventions. In particular, the critic addresses Shakespeare's treatment of the themes of love, faithfulness, and appearance versus reality. Philip M. Weinstein (1971) discusses the contradictory conceptions of pastoral in The Winter's Tale, noting in particular that the play highlights the theme of regeneration as well as the motifs of death and decay. Lindenbaum regards the play's depiction of the Bohemian countryside not as a “blissful alternative” to life at court but a parallel version of it. Similarly, Richard Studing (1982) asserts that rural Bohemia is as corrupt as the court of Sicilia, a fallen world rather than one that offers a competing set of values. He also suggests that the sheep-shearing festival presented by the supposedly innocent Perdita and her associates is a “conscious artifice.” The Tempest and Cymbeline offer abundant material for commentators on pastoral elements in Shakespeare's plays. Thomas McFarland (1972) views The Tempest as an affirmation of pastoral values that combines Christian and pastoral perspectives. He maintains that Prospero is a godlike figure who presides over a golden world, a place of social harmony where evil is defeated. By contrast, Ronald B. Bond (1978) contends that the play deviates from the pastoral tradition by showing the importance of one's obligation to contribute to society through active devotion to assigned tasks and diligent care for others. According to Bond, the play demonstrates that living in idleness or ease in a remote setting is neither enviable nor something to be emulated. Similarly, Lindenbaum proposes that the play promotes acceptance of personal responsibility and engagement in society and rejects the attractions of the idealized, contemplative life. Kevin Pask (2002) also considers the play's depiction of the contrast between a life of idleness or ease and one of active engagement. He argues that Prospero must forego the notion of a place of pastoral retreat so that he can carry out his “political project”: the reestablishment of his dynasty through the marriage of Ferdinand and Miranda. Michael Taylor (1983) considers the distinction in Cymbeline between Imogen's fantasy of “pastoral innocence” and her awakening next to the headless corpse of Cloten, whom she mistakes for the body of her husband Posthumus. Taylor calls attention to the hyperbolic language of the play, as well as to the harsh and “unsentimental” pastoral setting in which Imogen finds herself.
Shakespeare's use of pastoral conventions in his tragedies has not received a great deal of critical attention, but the commentary is significant nonetheless. Alpers discusses the grave-digger scene in Hamlet with regard to the clown as a descendant of pastoral shepherds or rustics who are truth-tellers. Nancy R. Lindheim (1974) examines the pastoral elements in King Lear. The critic maintains that in the play Lear comes to understand such pastoral concerns as how individuals should interact with nature and society and the importance of demonstrating pity and compassion for others. Lisa Hopkins (2000) views Othello as a reversal of the pastoral pattern of a retreat to an idealized world where regeneration occurs. Hopkins maintains that in Othello Venice represents a pastoral inversion, a desolate place rather than a setting that fosters self-education and personal renewal.
SOURCE: Lindenbaum, Peter. “Shakespeare's Golden Worlds.” In Changing Landscapes: Anti-Pastoral Sentiment in the English Renaissance, pp. 91-135. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1986.
[In the following essay, Lindenbaum traces the development of Shakespeare's anti-pastoral sentiment in his works. Beginning with The Two Gentlemen of Verona, the critic notes that the forest in this early play is sentimentalized, a place of idleness (otium) where none of society's rules apply or must be obeyed. By contrast, he argues, the pastoral realms of his later plays, including As You Like It, The Winter's Tale, and The Tempest, are not that different from the...
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SOURCE: Alpers, Paul. “Pastoral Speakers.” In What Is Pastoral?, pp. 185-222. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996.
[In the following essay, Alpers identifies Shakespearean characters who, like Melibee and Colin Clout in Spenser's Faerie Queene, assume the role of the traditional literary shepherd to assert pastoral virtues and values. Alpers describes the following characters as “representative shepherds”: Costard in Love's Labour's Lost, Corin in As You Like It, the grave-digger in Hamlet, and Florizel, Perdita, Autolycus, and Polixenes in Act IV of The Winter's Tale.]
The Virgilian figure of the...
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SOURCE: Fowler, Alastair. Pastoral Instruction in As You Like It, pp. 1-14. London: University of London, 1984.
[In the following essay, a printed version of a lecture delivered at the University of London on February 18, 1984, Fowler discusses As You Like It as a blend of genres with a particular indebtedness to “realistic pastoral.” The critic maintains that the Forest of Arden is not a timeless, static world but rather one in which time must be spent in productive activity, especially in learning the significance of human mortality and the meaning of faithfulness in love.]
If critics of As You Like It agree on one thing, it is that the play is...
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SOURCE: Slights, Camille Wells. “Pastoral and Parody in The Merry Wives of Windsor.” English Studies in Canada 11, no. 1 (March 1985): 12-25.
[In the following essay, Slights maintains that in The Merry Wives of Windsor “the pastoral values of simplicity, humility, and fidelity are elusive and transitory but always accessible.” The critic also points out that Windsor is not like Sidney's Arcadia—a golden or green world—but is instead a retreat that combines two traditions: pastoral as a place of innocence and pastoral as a celebration of “sensual gratification.”]
Sir Hugh Evans, the Welsh parson in The Merry Wives of Windsor,...
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SOURCE: Gibbons, Brian. “Amorous Fictions and As You Like It.” In “Fanned and Winnowed Opinions”: Shakespearean Essays Presented to Harold Jenkins, edited by John W. Mahon and Thomas A. Pendleton, pp. 52-78. London: Methuen, 1987.
[In following essay, Gibbons remarks on the influence of Sidney's Arcadia and Lodge's Rosalynde on Shakespeare's treatment of pastoral in As You Like It.]
The date of As You Like It is usually accepted as 1599, although the play's direct source, Thomas Lodge's Rosalynde, had been first published as long ago as 1590 and so too had the finest pastoral romance of all in English, Philip Sidney's...
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SOURCE: Bryant, Jerry H. “The Winter's Tale and the Pastoral Tradition.” Shakespeare Quarterly 14, no. 4 (autumn 1963): 387-98.
[In the following essay, Bryant comments on parallels between The Winter's Tale and a number of pastoral poems and plays that preceded it, emphasizing Shakespeare's modifications of traditional pastoral motifs and conventions. In particular, the critic addresses Shakespeare's treatment of the themes of love, faithfulness, and appearance versus reality.]
It is curious that no appraiser or appreciator seems to have puzzled over the kinship of The Winter's Tale with the pastoral tradition. Most commentators tacitly assume...
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SOURCE: Weinstein, Philip M. “An Interpretation of Pastoral in The Winter's Tale.” Shakespeare Quarterly 22, no. 2 (spring 1971): 97-109.
[In the following essay, Weinstein discusses the contradictory conceptions of pastoral in The Winter's Tale, noting in particular that the play highlights the theme of regeneration as well as the motifs of death and decay.]
Did you not name a tempest, A birth and death?
(Pericles V. iii. 33-34)
They looked as they had heard of a world ransomed, or one destroyed.
(The Winter's Tale V. ii. 14-15)
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SOURCE: McFarland, Thomas. “So Rare a Wondered Father: The Tempest and the Vision of Paradise.” In Shakespeare's Pastoral Comedy, pp. 146-75. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1972.
[In the following essay, McFarland views The Tempest as an affirmation of pastoral values that combines Christian and pastoral perspectives. The critic maintains that Prospero is a godlike figure who presides over a golden world, a place of social harmony where evil is defeated.]
Standing first in Heminge and Condell's arrangement of the plays, and last chronologically among Shakespeare's major achievements, The Tempest in still other ways constitutes...
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SOURCE: Bond, Ronald B. “Labour, Ease, and The Tempest as Pastoral Romance.” Journal of English and Germanic Philology 77, no. 3 (July 1978): 330-42.
[In the following essay, Bond contends that The Tempest diverges from the pastoral tradition by depicting idleness (otium) as a moral weakness and work or devotion to a task (negotium) as a virtue.]
In the last decade, several studies of The Tempest have re-examined the old claim that the play is a pastoral romance. Common to these is the assumption that the play embodies elements of two genres, that it, like much Elizabethan and Jacobean literature, has wedded the impulse of...
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SOURCE: Studing, Richard. “Shakespeare's Bohemia Revisited: A Caveat.” Shakespeare Studies 15 (1982): 217-26.
[In the following essay, Studing argues that Act IV of The Winter's Tale demonstrates that rural Bohemia is not a refuge from the vices of the court but rather a similarly corrupt world.]
In approaching the pastoral scene in The Winter's Tale as an idyll and place of relief from the falseness and misery of courtly life, commentators have dwelled, generally and specifically, on the simplicity, naturalness, and pristine values of Bohemia. The entire country scene, with its trappings of shepherds and shepherdesses, sheep-shearing festival,...
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SOURCE: Taylor, Michael. “The Pastoral Reckoning in Cymbeline.” Shakespeare Survey 36 (1983): 97-106.
[In the following essay, Taylor considers the distinction in Cymbeline between Imogen's fantasy of “pastoral innocence” and her awakening next to the headless corpse of Cloten, whom she mistakes for the body of her husband Posthumus. Taylor calls attention to the hyperbolic language of the play, as well as to the harsh and “unsentimental” pastoral setting in which Imogen finds herself.]
The most astonishing scene in Cymbeline unnerves us with the grotesque spectacle of its heroine waking up in a pastoral setting from a death-like sleep...
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SOURCE: Pask, Kevin. “Prospero's Counter-Pastoral.” Criticism 44, no. 4 (fall 2002): 389-404.
[In the following essay, Pask analyzes a number of Prospero's actions in The Tempest that are incongruous with the values of the pastoral genre. The most prominent of these, the critic claims, are Prospero's masterminding of the marriage of Ferdinand and Miranda to serve imperialist aims and the denial of Caliban's claim to the sovereignty of the island through his mother Sycorax.]
At the beginning of the period in which Caliban was to acquire his strongest association with revolutionary energies of every sort, William Hazlitt lodged what...
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SOURCE: Lindheim, Nancy R. “King Lear as Pastoral Tragedy.” In Some Facets of King Lear: Essays in Prismatic Criticism, edited by Rosalie L. Colie and F. T. Flahiff, pp. 169-84. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1974.
[In the following essay, Lindheim examines the pastoral elements in King Lear and maintains that in the play Lear comes to understand such pastoral concerns as how individuals should interact with nature and society and the importance of demonstrating pity and compassion for others.]
That King Lear has some connection with pastoral literature is not altogether a new idea. Critics of As You Like It have long noted...
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SOURCE: Hopkins, Lisa. “‘This is Venice: My house is not a grange’: Othello's Landscape of the Mind.” Upstart Crow 20 (2000): 68-78.
[In the following essay, Hopkins views Othello as a reversal of the pastoral pattern of a retreat to an idealized world where regeneration occurs. The critic maintains that in Othello Venice represents a pastoral inversion, a desolate place rather than a setting that fosters self-education and personal renewal.]
It has been often noticed that many of Shakespeare's comedies depend for their dénouement on retreat to a green world, a life-giving natural space which allows for personal growth and...
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Bernard, John D. “The Pastoral Vision of The Winter's Tale.” Iowa State Journal of Research 53, no. 3 (February 1979): 219-25.
Contends that The Winter's Tale portrays the regeneration of a kingdom as well as its sovereign's loss and recovery of understanding. Bernard also proposes that the entire play, not just the scenes in Bohemia in Act IV, reflects the idea that pastoral is a means of clarifying vision and inducing truth.
Bulman, J. C. “As You Like It and the Perils of Pastoral.” In Shakespeare on Television: An Anthology of Essays and Reviews, edited by J. C. Bulman and H. R. Coursen, pp....
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