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Pastoral in Shakespeare's Works

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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.

Peter Lindenbaum (essay date 1986)

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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 ordinary world in that they all endorse the idea that one must accept personal responsibility and actively engage in life.]

The Two Gentlemen of Verona provides good evidence that anti-pastoralists are made and not born, that an anti-pastoral stance arises from continued thinking on the literary use and meaning of a sojourn in a pastoral landscape. The Two Gentlemen is the earliest and least successful of Shakespeare's plays to utilize a structure that Northrop Frye has labeled the “drama of the green world,” comedies whose action “begins in a world represented as a normal world, moves into the green world, goes into a metamorphosis there in which the comic resolution is achieved, and returns to the normal world.”1 This structure, which Frye derives from popular medieval romance and folklore, is also the basic structure of pastoral romance we have seen suggested in Sannazaro's Arcadia and then subjected to Sidney's anti-pastoral purposes in the Old Arcadia. Walter R. Davis's several studies on explicitly pastoral romances—that is, works that insist upon their connection with the earlier pastoral tradition, as differentiated from Frye's more popular sources—have elaborated upon Frye's scheme and emphasized its psychological dimension. The pastoral sojourner retreats from the pain and turmoil of the actual world, experiences love and undergoes calm self-analysis in Arcadia, and then returns to the outer world in harmony with himself.2 Shakespeare was to turn to this scheme, either in this psychological or in Frye's more general form, which encompasses a play's whole society, some eight times in his career,3 and it is in the use of this particular comic structure as opposed to that of a history play or a tragedy that we might best determine the degree of the playwright's pastoralism or anti-pastoralism. For when Henry VI in the midst of battle expresses a desire “To be no better than a homely swain” (3 Henry VI, II.v.22), he is turning his back upon his responsibilities in the public, heroic world; such a wish is more likely to be expressing Shakespeare's judgment upon Henry than upon the pastoral ideal. But in the drama of the green world Shakespeare had at hand a structure in which characters might legitimately seek refuge in a pastoral landscape in order to escape fortune's blows or regain emotional balance, with no opprobrium being cast on their act of retreat; it is when and if Shakespeare shows himself unwilling to accept the full implications of that structure that we can with some assurance talk of his being anti-pastoralist in the way I have been using that term.

The full implications of the pastoral romance structure might best be understood as those assumed by Charles the Wrestler of As You Like It when he says that Duke Senior and his band “fleet the time carelessly as they did in the golden world”; they are a reflection of the merging of Arcadia with the Golden Age or prelapsarian Eden discussed in my opening chapter and are implications that Frye, with his interest not simply in literary structures but in the archetypal patterns or myths lying beneath those structures, might be expected to seize upon. And in the scheme Frye (and Davis after him) postulates, the green or pastoral world is a realm where special conditions are in effect, a realm of wish-fulfillment closer than the normal world to the ideal life of the Golden Age or Eden:

The forest or green world, then, is a symbol of natural society, the word natural here referring to the original human society which is the proper home of man, not the physical world he now lives in but the “golden world” he is trying to regain. This natural society is associated with things which in the context of the ordinary world seem unnatural, but which are in fact attributes of nature as a miraculous and irresistible reviving power.4

Frye's green world is thus qualitatively different from normal life outside its bounds, in effect morally purer since it is a more direct reflection of Eden. Contact with that purer realm must, as if of necessity, prove morally or psychically therapeutic, an assumption which might well account for the apparently miraculous events that tend to occur in Shakespeare's green worlds (for instance, the immediate conversion of villains as soon as they enter a forest).

One of the troublesome characteristics of The Two Gentlemen of Verona, yet one which makes the play instructive in a consideration of Shakespeare's attitude toward pastoral, is that in its green-world scenes it adheres unequivocally to the form and concomitant implications that Frye has sketched for us. It is, in fact, the only Shakespearian green-world play to do so, and it thereby becomes vulnerable to the charge of escapism. It does not impose the limits upon the pastoral impulse toward retirement that Shakespeare's later pastoral plays do, and unlike those later plays it does not insist upon a realistic vision of, or fallen quality in, the forest in which the characters take refuge.

The particular appeal of the forest of this early play is suggested by Valentine in the soliloquy which opens the final scene:

How use doth breed a habit in a man!
This shadowy desert, unfrequented woods,
I better brook than flourishing peopled towns:
Here can I sit alone, unseen of any,
And to the nightingale's complaining notes
Tune my distresses, and record my woes.
O thou that dost inhabit in my breast,
Leave not the mansion so long tenantless,
Lest growing ruinous, the building fall,
And leave no memory of what it was.
Repair me, with thy presence, Silvia:
Thou gentle nymph, cherish thy forlorn swain.


The first six lines especially do little but present a very conventional statement of the country's superiority to the court, the only doubt of this superiority being expressed in the initial line's suggestion that Valentine has had to learn to enjoy the country, that he at first held a courtier's prejudice against it. The country, here, holds much the same appeal for Valentine as it did for Sannazaro's Sincero. This green world is a place where a “forlorn swain” can indulge himself in grief and not worry overmuch about most of life's responsibilities; the country is being viewed, to use Panofsky's phrase again, “through the soft, colored haze of sentiment,” and that view is symptomatic of the handling of the forest scenes throughout the final two acts of the play.

We are otherwise told relatively little about the forest of The Two Gentlemen. Silvia in the final scene wishes that she had been seized by a hungry lion rather than saved by the false Proteus (V.iv.33-35); but there are no hungry lions in this particular forest. In lieu of other evidence we are forced to accept the outlaw existence of the exiles who inhabit the forest as representative of life there generally. And if life at court in the play proves to be characterized by petty squabbles, below-stairs plotting, and flamboyant and unrealistic speechifying, the Robin Hood life that the forest scenes present hardly serves as a more viable alternative. Upon one brief meeting, the outlaws consider Valentine “a man of such perfection” (IV.i.57) that they elect him their leader, simply on the basis of his “goodly shape,” his own claim that he knows languages, and his announcement that he has killed a man. The whole sequence of events in the forest scenes—from the moment when the exiled Valentine in effect applies for membership in the outlaw band by inventing an offense far more serious than the intended elopement of which he was guilty (IV.i.26-29) to his final request that the Duke pardon those companions “full of good, / And fit for great employment” (V.iv.154-55)—is merely wish-fulfilling fantasy. The humor with which Shakespeare handles his pasteboard outlaws, who equate an outright murder with an attempt to elope with a Duke's daughter, calling both “petty” crimes (IV.i.47-52), reveals that the playwright himself is looking upon the green world of this play as a realm where society's everyday rules do not apply and do not need to.

What is perhaps most startling about this treatment of life in the forest is that the forest scenes come at the end of a play that has in every other respect been moving its characters to a realistic perception of themselves and the world around them. The play as a whole is structured around the education of the two gentlemen of the title, an education which Proteus's guardians see as designed to make a young man “perfect,” by which is meant early in the play simply “tried and tutor'd in the world”; the young gentlemen are to become courtiers, adept in the social arts (I.iii.17-23). Their full education takes them, though, both to the court at Milan and to those “unfrequented woods” where both young men are brought to understand that true human perfection would involve unfallen virtue and hence that there is slight possibility of actually achieving that state. It is Proteus himself who ultimately corrects Valentine's and Julia's earlier descriptions of him as possessing “angel-like” and “divine” perfection (II.iv.61; II.vii.13), when he admits fully to what has been his own very imperfect conduct:

                                                                                                                        O heaven, were man
But constant, he were perfect. That one error
Fills him with faults; makes him run through all th' sins;
Inconstancy falls off, ere it begins.
What is in Silvia's face but I may spy
More fresh in Julia's, with a constant eye?


Just as Shakespeare has Proteus speak here in terms of a generalized man, not simply of personal offenses, a proper view of any man in the world of this play has to take into account the ways in which man is not perfect but rather quite flawed and fallen.

If we can speak of accepting full responsibility for one's own bad actions in a tarnished world as part of an anti-escapist ethic, The Two Gentlemen of Verona presents an unusual instance of an author proposing such an ethic before realizing that an attitude toward a pastoral retreat might in some way be related to it. The play reveals a disharmony between the realistic vision toward which the action as a whole moves its characters and the quite unrealistically portrayed green world in which that vision is finally achieved. There is little reason why Proteus's final recognition of himself and all men as imperfect and fallen should take place in this particular forest. While using the Renaissance pastoral romance's sojourn in the green or pastoral world in order to resolve complications arising at court, Shakespeare fails to take full advantage of a natural setting which might better have served to mirror more explicitly the fallen state of the men going into it; the setting might thereby have enhanced the education in man's own nature which was the main concern of the play.6 The woods of The Two Gentlemen can be said to have been unfrequented, then, not only by figures in the play's normal court world, but by the playwright himself: Shakespeare simply did not bring the force of his whole imagination to bear on the forest he was using, and the result was an unthinking or automatic acceptance of a pastoral romance structural scheme he adopted from pastoral writers before him, most likely from Montemayor, whose Diana was one of the sources of the play.

The Two Gentlemen's forest scenes represent what we can consider a missed opportunity for Shakespeare, but one he would not miss again. In his later green-world comedies, and particularly his two most overtly pastoral plays, As You Like It and The Winter's Tale, the playwright does focus fully upon the assumptions embodied in the pastoral romance form, and the outcome of this new concentration is an attitude toward a pastoral sojourn similar to, if less assertive than, Sidney's. Life in Sidney's Arcadia proved to be virtually indistinguishable from life outside its boundaries, and his Arcadia provided no escape from the normal cares and responsibilities of the outside heroic world. Sidney was able to call upon pastoral's traditional function of examining man as man—as an individual as opposed to a prince or public figure—and yet still nursed in both versions of his Arcadia an objection to the requirement of placing such an examination in a pastoral setting. The pastoral worlds of As You Like It and The Winter's Tale are, similarly, only simplified reflections of the normal world outside their bounds, not qualitatively different from it; they provide only limited relief from the concerns of everyday life. Shakespeare is, to be sure, less grudging than Sidney in granting his characters a sojourn in Arcadia, but the force of his pastoral plays' arguments is either to insist upon the need to leave Arcadia again or at least to cure characters of wrong ways of thinking about Arcadia and the idea of retreat generally. While Shakespeare uses the pastoral sojourn to educate his characters, those characters emerge from Arcadia and their education, much like Pyrocles and Musidorus before them, not closer to man's unfallen state but more fully aware of the ways in which they themselves and the world around them are time-bound, fallen, and limited. The pastoral plays, like all of Shakespeare's comedies, are directed not toward any past or even future more perfect life but toward full participation in life in the present.


As You Like It is the most self-consciously literary of Shakespeare's pastorals and among the most literary of all his plays. Like Sidney's Old Arcadia, it takes its start from an argument with conventional literary pastoralism, in this case as that mode is represented by the play's main source, Lodge's Rosalynde. While relying heavily upon Lodge for his characters and action, Shakespeare uses his inherited material in such a way as to undermine many of the basic assumptions of Lodge and other pastoral writers like Sannazaro and Montemayor, particularly the belief in Arcadia as a special land of ease and escape from worldly responsibilities.7 If Shakespeare paid too little attention to the pastoral setting of his first green-world play, in this one he may well have paid it too much; for the play is, as critical studies have frequently pointed out, particularly lean in dramatic action. In place of any dramatic complication or plot, we have in the middle acts especially a series of apparently casual encounters or debates between various characters in which they discuss their views primarily on two closely related subjects, romantic love and pastoral life.8 But no matter what the appearances, those encounters in the forest are not so casual after all. Shakespeare uses them to mold, burnish, and refine his version of an ideal human sensibility, the sensibility embodied in the play by the central, controlling figure of Rosalind. It is a sensibility that can, among other things, take full advantage of the freedom a pastoral sojourn might offer without succumbing to the belief that life in Arcadia is significantly different from life elsewhere.

The Forest of Arden is no Eden.9 While apparently miraculous conversions of evil men to good do occur in the Forest of Arden, those conversions warrant close examination to determine how miraculous they actually are. That they are in the play at all is an indication that the connection between Arcadia and Eden or the Golden Age was a part of Shakespeare's consciousness in writing a pastoral work; yet the thrust even of those conversions, and particularly Oliver's, which is described in most detail, is to remind us of the difference between present Arcadia or Arden and past Eden. Oliver is rendered a true brother again and fully confesses to his former “unnatural” behavior in seeking to kill Orlando (IV.iii.123-37).10 Such wording might appear to mark a return toward man's original condition when his actions and desires would have been totally in accord with God's design for him, before man's true nature was obscured by the fall. But Oliver's conversion did not just occur as if by magic in the forest: it was the result of considered, human action on Orlando's part, and action that involved ridding Oliver of the threat of a serpent and a lioness. This is plainly not a realm in which lions lie down peacefully next to lambs, or men; and serpents also have already become dangerous. If Oliver has entered into a “better world” (LeBeau's phrase of I.ii.274) in the forest, it is an entrance made with full recognition both of human sinfulness and of animal savagery.

That Arden is a fallen landscape we learn initially from Duke Senior, who at his first appearance defines both himself and his immediate surroundings for us:

Now my co-mates and brothers in exile,
Hath not old custom made this life more sweet
Than that of painted pomp? Are not these woods
More free from peril than the envious court?
Here feel we not the penalty of Adam,
The seasons' difference, as the icy fang
And churlish chiding of the winter's wind,
Which when it bites and blows upon my body
Even till I shrink with cold, I smile, and say
“This is no flattery. These are counsellors
That feelingly persuade me what I am.”
Sweet are the uses of adversity.


The Duke is saying, not that he escapes from the effects of the fall in Arden, but that he is fully conscious of those effects and yet they do not bother him (hence there is no need for Theobald's famous emendation of line 5's “not” to “but”). But if the Duke is apparently clear-sighted in his observation of Arden as fallen and demonstrates some familiarity with his natural surroundings, he is nonetheless an unreliable witness; for there is much in his opening speech to suggest that he has never left the court and been in a state of nature after all.11 Like Valentine's forest, the Duke's Arden is perceived very much after the manner of earlier Renaissance pastoral poetry and romance. He expresses the view that country life is superior to life at court, and in finding his present life “more sweet / Than that of painted pomp” and the woods “More free from peril than the envious court,” he thinks he sees a definite difference between court and country. He is assuming the view of the country as a place of relief from worldly cares, a view common in pastoral poetry written at court but not nearly so common among actual country people.

The play's most explicit connection between the Duke's point of view and literary pastoralism is to be found in Amiens's lovely and extremely conventional pastoral song of II.v; the courtier is an extension of the Duke himself, and his song is essentially a restatement of the Duke's opening speech:

Under the greenwood tree,
          Who loves to lie with me,
And turn his merry note
          Unto the sweet bird's throat,
Come hither, come hither, come hither.
          Here shall he see
          No enemy,
But winter and rough weather.
Who doth ambition shun,
          And loves to live i' th' sun,
Seeking the food he eats,
          And pleas'd with what he gets,
Come hither, come hither, come hither.
          Here shall he see
          No enemy,
But winter and rough weather.

[II.v.1-8, 35-42]

The tradition has been Anglicized in the song's reference to the greenwood tree of English ballads rather than to the more specific beech of Virgil, but the posture of a man lying beneath a tree and gaily singing or piping to the birds overhead is one that looks back ultimately to Virgil's First Eclogue and, beyond that, to Theocritus's Idylls. With the important qualification which admits once again that there is a winter season in Arden and hence that the forest is not actually part of an Edenic or “golden world,” this song's evocation of traditional pastoral otium bears out at least the substance of Charles's remark about Duke Senior's life in the forest: while the Duke, Amiens, and the rest of the gentlemen-foresters there sing, hunt, talk, and feast, they do “fleet the time carelessly.”

The Duke and Amiens come by their conception of country life most directly from Lodge's Rosalynde. But there, the view of the country as a place essentially free from care is ascribed to a country figure rather than an exiled courtier, and this difference accounts in large part for the considerable differences in tone and attitude between the play and its source. Lodge fully endorses the attitudes expressed by the Duke and by Amiens's song; since a shepherd ought to be able to speak authoritatively about the country in which he has spent all his life, there is little reason to question the picture of country life Coridon provides:

and for a shepheards life (oh Mistresse) did you but live a while in their content, you would saye the Court were rather a place of sorrowe, than of solace. Here (Mistresse) shall not Fortune thwart you, but in meane misfortunes, as the losse of a few sheepe, which, as it breedes no beggerie, so it can bee no extreame prejudice: the next yeare may mend al with a fresh increase. Envie stirres not us, wee covet not to climbe, our desires mount not above our degrees, nor our thoughts above our fortunes. Care cannot harbour in our cottages, nor doo our homely couches know broken slumbers: as we exceede not in diet, so we have inough to satisfie: and Mistres I have so much Latin, Satis est quod sufficit.12

Lodge is assuming for the purposes of his fiction that the literary conception of pastoral otium presents an accurate view of country life, and his Rosalynde is throughout marked by just such a strict, unquestioning adherence to the assumptions of the pastoral convention.13 Lodge's Arden is an artificial, idealized realm of special conditions, one in which courtiers and shepherds can converse with one another on equal terms, in fact, in exactly the same terms; all the lovers in the work, regardless of class, speak the same elegant, Petrarchan language. The sheep that most need tending here are thoughts or passions, and few of the normal concerns of everyday country life enter within its borders.

Shakespeare's distance from the assumptions of his source is shown most directly in his character Corin, the figure in the play who corresponds in his actions, but not in many of his opinions, to Lodge's Coridon. Corin presents a much more down-to-earth picture of life in the country, and his overall function in the play is to act as a corrective to the Duke's and Amiens's view of pastoral life. He later is to announce that he (like Coridon) envies no man and is satisfied with little (III.ii.71-75), but his first words to a court figure attest that a shepherd's life is by no means necessarily an easy or happy one, that very real misery exists in Arden:

Who calls?
Your betters sir.
Else are they very wretched.


And he goes on to provide evidence that, quite contrary to the implications in the Duke's thinking, people in the country can be just as selfish and greedy as those at court: Corin can provide little aid for the travel-weary Aliena because he is not master of his own sheep but is subject to the rule of a churlish country master who “little recks to find the way to heaven / By doing deeds of hospitality” (II.iv.78-80). An actual shepherd does not simply lie beneath a greenwood tree and play upon his pipe as Amiens's song might have us believe, but rather has to make a living, even in Arden. Like the Duke, Corin recognizes a difference between court and country, but in contrast with the Duke's assumption that court people are envious and malicious while country people are not, the distinction he points to is a real one. The difference between court and country people is merely a difference in manners and customs, rather than one in man's nature:

Those that are good manners at the court are as ridiculous in the country as the behaviour of the country is most mockable at the court. You told me you salute not at the court, but you kiss your hands: that courtesy would be uncleanly if courtiers were shepherds.


It is Corin's direct knowledge of the greasy quality of a sheep's fleece which prompts him to make such an observation. And his direct knowledge of country life enables him to point out for us the discrepancy between country life as it really is and idealized country life as it is envisioned by Duke Senior, Amiens, and Thomas Lodge.

Shakespeare's treatment of the other shepherds in his play shows a similar movement away from Lodge's pastoralism. Silvius, like Montanus, his counterpart in Lodge, is through much of the play pursuing the proud and pitiless Phebe, claiming in Petrarchan manner that he bears invisible wounds from love's keen arrows (III.v.30-31). Phebe has a more critical sensibility than does Lodge's shepherdess of that name—she points to the exaggeration in Silvius's complaints—but she also has considerably less beauty. Instead of a figure who in Lodge was the fairest shepherdess in all Arden, we have in As You Like It one who needs to be told by Rosalind that she should sell when she can (III.v.60). Such a figure can have little claim to occupy the idealized realm of conventional Renaissance pastoralism she aspires to in her Petrarchan disdain. Even less appropriate in such a realm would be the two rustics Shakespeare added to his source, William and Audrey. Lodge's Montanus was bilingual (one of his songs was in French); Shakespeare's William has barely mastered English. The longest single word he speaks is his own name. He and Audrey are caricatures of country figures, Shakespeare's equivalent to Sidney's Dametas and his family, and (it is to be hoped) as far removed from actual shepherds as are Silvius and Phebe. Shakespeare has given us in Corin a country figure with a good measure of dignity and intelligence; in the literal-minded William and Audrey he shows that living close to nature does not necessarily provide even a modicum of good sense, much less refinement.

Corin, Silvius and Phebe, William and Audrey, all provide what we can call unconscious criticism of Duke Senior's and Lodge's pastoralism. They help Shakespeare establish a realistic picture of pastoral life and love, but in doing so are unaware that they serve such a function. Corin, for example, does not intentionally correct the Duke; he simply speaks of his life as he lives and sees it. To all these unwitting critics, Shakespeare added two others not to be found in Lodge, both of whom consciously set themselves up as critics of Duke Senior's attitude. Touchstone and Jaques are directly familiar with both court and country, and both hold to the belief that country life is no better than life at court; in fact, in several respects it is decidedly worse. Both see that the country is by no means necessarily a place of ease and relief. Touchstone bemoans the lack of simple creature comforts there, and Jaques, in effect agreeing with Corin's realistic picture of country life, counters Amiens's song praising the country with his own verse asserting that only an ass or stubborn-willed fool (like the courtiers circled around him as he speaks) would leave the court's “wealth and ease” to take up life in the forest (II.v.47-54); if otium is to be found anywhere, it is only in the aristocratic life at court where there are servants and courtiers of lower rank to do one's bidding.

It is Jaques's claim that there is a close affinity between himself and Touchstone, so close that he wishes to assume a suit of motley and set himself up as a professional fool. But whereas the two do have a good deal in common, both having been added by Shakespeare to his source material to puncture the illusions of their fellow characters and to help in the criticism of more conventional literary pastoralism, the two actually serve very different purposes in the play. As professional fool, Touchstone acts very much as his name suggests. Through parody and mimicry he tests the assumptions of the play's other characters in order to expose their illusions, but without necessarily suggesting what should be substituted in their stead. His comments do reveal a rather conservative estimate of what is real, as he customarily disregards whatever he does not break his shins against. But beyond that, there is not much consistency to his opinions: he simply assumes one perspective and then another—for instance, when in conversation with Corin he tries at the same time both to mock the affected snobbery of a courtier and yet to bring Corin to admit that the country is inferior to the court (III.ii.31-83). He holds to what Richard Lanham has called the rhetorical view of life.14 Merely a rhetorical being, he has, finally, no substantive existence in the play's world, and although we should be very sorry to see him go, Touchstone is thus not strictly necessary to the play's central argument. Jaques, on the other hand, is necessary to that argument and represents a much more significant addition to Shakespeare's source than all the others combined. Accordingly, it is necessary to examine Jaques and his position in the play in detail.

Jaques, quite unlike Touchstone, speaks and acts from a fixed point of view, one that is consistently negativistic and pessimistic. A generation ago James Smith accused him of posing as a skeptic, an adherent to what is in fact an inconsistent doctrine, a belief that denies the possibility of belief and of meaningful human action.15 We need not necessarily posit a whole philosophic system to Jaques or label it, but we should note that his point of view is pronounced enough to put him at odds with virtually every other character in the play. And because of his negativism Jaques cannot be included in the celebration at the play's end: as all the other characters proceed to the marriage feast presided over by Hymen, who “peoples every town” (V.iv.143), as they thus take active steps toward ensuring the continuance of the race and building a society that is to endure into future generations, Jaques is forced not only by his own desires but by the play's comic logic as well to retire to a more remote part of the forest and to absent himself from the new society taking shape at the play's conclusion.

At the point Jaques announces his desire to become a professional fool, he receives the strongest of several rebukes he has to endure in the play:

Most mischievous foul sin, in chiding sin.
For thou thyself hast been a libertine,
As sensual as the brutish sting itself,
And all th' embossed sores and headed evils
That thou with license of free foot hast caught
Wouldst thou disgorge into the general world.


This speech is somewhat out of character for the basically good-natured Duke, who has earlier confessed that he actually enjoys coping with Jaques in the latter's sullen fits (II.i.67). And we are by no means obligated to accept its charges as fully true; there is little direct evidence within the play that Jaques was once a libertine. But the lines do indicate that the period of Jaques's activity—if it ever did exist, and whether it was good or bad—is in the past. The position he now holds is that of someone tired of action and of life. The melancholy man, Thomas Overbury tells us, “thinkes businesse, but never does any: he is all contemplation, no action.”16 And the melancholy Jaques is merely an observer, one who goes around gaining knowledge and experience and doing nothing with them. When he looks back at the society he detaches himself from, he expresses distaste for everything he sees: both court and country life, love, lovers, even the name of Rosalind. Everything human is alien to him. He urges Orlando to sit down with him and “rail against our mistress the world and all our misery” (III.ii.272-74), an invitation Orlando refuses to accept, since he finds no cause to chide anything in the world besides himself. The celebrated speech on the seven ages of man, with its focus only on woeful pageants (II.vii.139-66), of course presents a very one-sided picture of human life. The speech conveys not only Jaques's essential dislike of human life but his detachment from it: the metaphor of the world as stage suggests that any given human being is only playing at a part and thus is not a figure one need sympathize with fully in his joys and sorrows.

Donning a suit of motley would enable Jaques to express his dislike of the world around him at will: he says he wishes to “Cleanse the foul body of th' infected world” (II.vii.60), but he is willing to do so only under the condition that no one consider him wise, and hence serious (II.vii.44-47). The statement of this rather contradictory desire is of interest on several counts. One is that it reflects a basic misunderstanding of the role of professional fool in a society. A fool has a special status, occupying a position both inside and outside society at the same time. He is permitted to mock, to parody, to criticize in ways that others are not, but he does so as part of an established social function: he allows for the release through laughter of emotions that would under normal circumstances be repressed by society. He is, then, ultimately a source of social cohesion and remains, like Touchstone at the end of As You Like It, a part of the society he criticizes. Jaques, from an alienated vantage point that can see only an “infected world” around him, wants the fool's freedom but fails to recognize the fool's concomitant responsibility of playing an active (if indirect) part in the construction of an enduring, cohesive social group.17 More important yet is the fact that Jaques's desire to take up motley betrays a wish to avoid moral as well as social responsibility. In desiring the fool's traditional immunity from prosecution (or, alternately, freedom of the press for satirists), Jaques would also gain unlimited opportunity to vent his spleen without ever being called to account for his words. This indulgence, if granted, would place him not simply in the social no-man's land he already occupies in his detachment but in a moral no-man's land as well. And the desire to avoid full moral accountability for what one says or does betrays what we can label as escapist tendencies.

As we might expect, any escapist desires Jaques might have are revealed most fully in his attitude toward pastoral life. One of Duke Senior's lords remarks that Jaques, in ruminating on the fate of an injured deer, pours forth invectives not only against the country, city, and court but even against the particular type of pastoral existence the Duke and his followers are experiencing in the forest:

Thus most invectively he pierceth through
The body of country, city, court,
Yea, and of this our life, swearing that we
Are mere usurpers, tyrants, and what's worse,
To fright the animals and to kill them up
In their assign'd and native dwelling-place.


Peter G. Phialas has observed that Jaques here is holding to an extreme form of pastoralism,18 the most extreme voiced in the play. Jaques is totally opposed to man's occupancy of the natural world. By implication he is looking back for his ideal to a benign period before man was forced to hunt and kill animals, even before there was such a thing as human society at all. He yearns, then, for the distant past and for impossible conditions, and with such an attitude he can only observe and attack the world he sees in motion around him. He must be totally outside life that moves in time—precisely the position in which he chooses to remain at the play's conclusion when he decides to stay on in the forest. His claim is that he will observe and learn from the habits of the new monk, Duke Frederick: “Out of these convertites, / There is much matter to be heard and learn'd” (V.iv.183-84). But by this point in the play, it is clear that Jaques will only be gaining more experience and, as Rosalind has suggested earlier, doing nothing with it but make himself sad (IV.i.20-27). Remaining in the forest will enable him to make permanent both his stance as an observer outside society and his refusal to take up meaningful action of any sort.

In fairness to Jaques, we should observe that while alienated and melancholic, he is not at all a malicious figure. There is a considerable measure of goodwill and humor in the blessings he doles out to the other characters as he takes his leave:

[TO Duke Sen.]
You to your former honour I bequeath,
Your patience and your virtue well deserve it.
[TO Orl.]
You to a love that your true faith doth merit:
[TO Oli.]
You to your land and love and great allies:
[TO Sil.]
You to a long and well-deserved bed:
[TO Touch.]
And you to wrangling, for thy loving voyage
Is but for two months victuall'd. So to your pleasures.
I am for other than for dancing measures.


But while not in fact a villain, Jaques assumes the role of villain in the thoroughly comic world of the forest, a world in which true villains are converted to goodness as soon as they enter. For Jaques puts forward the point of view that must be cast out before the life-affirming philosophy of Rosalind and Orlando can reign supreme. By his very existence in the play's world, Jaques helps to define the positive ideals which the play embodies. He favors solitude, detachment, and inaction; he looks back longingly toward the distant past and thus wishes to stop time and to escape from a world governed by it. His whole world view thereby stands diametrically opposed to that held initially by Rosalind alone and finally by Rosalind and Orlando together, an opposition Shakespeare objectifies nicely by his staging when he has Jaques exit right before each of the two great wooing scenes in the forest (at III.ii.289 and IV.i.36).

What precisely Jaques is opposed to in the play can be seen from examining Rosalind's (and ultimately Orlando's) very different response to time.19 Once Rosalind establishes that Orlando is listening to her, the first question she asks of him in the forest is “I pray you, what is't o'clock?” (III.ii.294). The question proves significant, since it is asked by someone very aware of time's passing and of a figure for whom time is not yet consistently important. Orlando earlier expressed considerable dismay over the enforced idleness resulting from his brother's neglect of him (I.i.32-34), and he showed a distaste for wasting time when he first encountered Duke Senior in the forest and observed that the Duke and his followers “Lose and neglect the creeping hours of time” (II.vii.112). But here in III.ii, Orlando answers Rosalind's query with the assertion that “there's no clock in the forest” (295-96). Rosalind's response in turn is that if Orlando were the kind of lover his poems claim he is, he himself would be the forest's clock: “Then there is no true lover in the forest, else sighing every minute and groaning every hour would detect the lazy foot of Time, as well as a clock” (297-99). Were Orlando to become the kind of lover she suggests, he would of course become even more like the ridiculous Silvius than he already is. But Rosalind's humor covers serious concern: despite his claim to be “love-shaked,” Orlando does not yet seem to have a committed lover's consciousness of time, or of anything else. He misses his next appointment with his mock-Rosalind, rather casually excusing himself by saying that he has come within an hour of his promise (IV.i.40-41).

Rosalind meanwhile has been very conscious of the time passing when Orlando is away, and while her high spirits consistently temper her concern with a note of mock sentimentality, she reveals a true lover's distress and dedication when she asks Celia, “But why did he swear he would come this morning and comes not?” (III.iv.17-18) or announces, “I'll tell thee Aliena, I cannot be out of the sight of Orlando” (IV.i.205-6). It is largely because she is aware of the true identity of the man she has been speaking to that time trots hard for Rosalind when Orlando is absent. And he is, no doubt, to be excused for his lack of punctuality and for his ability to part for two hours calmly because he does not realize that Ganymede is his real Rosalind. But one of the ways that Shakespeare has of showing that Orlando is worthy of the love of the generally more witty Rosalind is to bring him to her consciousness of time. On the second occasion that he misses an appointment with Ganymede, Orlando has a valid excuse, his fight with the lion which threatened his brother. And despite his wound, he remembers this time to send a messenger to his mock-Rosalind to explain his absence. It is when Orlando finally expresses impatience with the masquerade with Ganymede, when a mock-Rosalind will no longer serve his turn for the real one, that she acknowledges that Orlando has passed his test and is ready to receive her. Rosalind has used a game as a way of showing Orlando that his earlier claim to be a lover was also only a type of game or pose, merely borrowed Petrarchanism. When Orlando now announces that he can “live no longer by thinking” (V.ii.50), Rosalind responds with, “I will weary you then no longer with idle talking,” a line which in itself ought to promise fair for Orlando, given his own earlier stated concern over idleness. Mere game playing is now a thing of the past.

Rosalind has been asserting consistently that time is, or should be, important to a lover. But even in the two wooing scenes in the forest when she has been discussing this importance, all movement has in effect stopped while their love is allowed to blossom. It is in these scenes that Shakespeare allows his characters (and us) to relax, to enjoy their pastoral existence more than Sidney's heroes ever could. Orlando may have his obligations to the Duke and he has his fight with the lion, but these are offstage; when onstage the two lovers return over and again to the question whether Orlando is truly in love. Although Rosalind is actually using these encounters to educate Orlando and is not herself idle in them, the two scenes convey a general impression of timelessness, an impression we may in fact not be fully or immediately conscious of as the scenes themselves progress; what points it out forcefully is the abruptness with which the concern for events offstage is reasserted toward the end of IV.i. With no preparation whatsoever, following a speech in which Rosalind discusses the use women make of their wit, Orlando announces: “For these two hours Rosalind, I will leave thee” (168). Orlando's outburst of impatience in V.ii dispels that impression of timelessness and has the effect of bringing their pastoral sojourn to an end. By his impatience Orlando is expressing a desire that time move on so that he might devote himself to action, action in this context being defined as genuine loving as opposed to a life of pretense or mere thinking about love. Rosalind's own interest in a life of such action is to be seen in the complex yet very direct speech which continues from her statement that she will weary Orlando no longer with idle talking:

Know of me then—for now I speak to some purpose—that I know you are a gentleman of good conceit. I speak not this that you should bear a good opinion of my knowledge, insomuch I say I know you are; neither do I labour for a greater esteem than may in some little measure draw a belief from you to do yourself good, and not to grace me. Believe then, if you please, that I can do strange things. I have since I was three year old conversed with a magician, most profound in his art and yet not damnable. If you do love Rosalind so near the heart as your gesture cries it out, when your brother marries Aliena, shall you marry her.


Even though Rosalind is still in disguise as she says this, she shows a desire to get beyond ulterior motives in conversation, to communicate precisely and completely what she means. Language here is stripped bare of any possible ambiguities of expression. In a work with so much play upon and criticism of style, and particularly style in courting, this speech is a breakthrough. In its unambiguous directness it acts out a commitment to action, in this case, to love as opposed to a desire to talk about love as a substitute for the thing itself; such expression stands utterly at odds with both the self-conscious poses of a conventional Petrarchan and pastoral lover like Silvius or the early Orlando and the equally self-conscious detached observations of a Jaques.

Once Orlando and Rosalind have determined that the masquerade should cease, the play's main action is, in effect, completed. Before all the plot complications are resolved and the play's various lovers are paired off in appropriate manner, though, Shakespeare presents us with a picture of yet another pair of pastoral lovers, in a song which itself serves as a reprise for the wooing scenes in the forest. The song helps to enforce a final realistic vision of life in a pastoral world; for it tells of a country lover and his lass who live in a world in which time passes, and in its final two stanzas especially, it insists upon the consequent necessity of seizing the opportunity to love when one can:

This carol they began that hour,
          With a hey and a ho and a hey nonino,
How that a life was but a flower,
          In spring-time, the only pretty ring-time,
When birds do sing, hey ding a ding, ding,
Sweet lovers love the spring.
And therefore take the present time,
          With a hey and a ho and a hey nonino,
For love is crowned with the prime,
          In spring-time, the only pretty ring-time,
When birds do sing, hey ding a ding, ding,
Sweet lovers love the spring.


Unlike Marvell's appeal to a coy mistress, this song is an uncompromisingly happy one. In that happiness, it reiterates much of the spirit of life in Arden as experienced by Rosalind and Orlando. Like Rosalind herself, the song recognizes time's passing and yet accepts that movement with joy and confidence. Touchstone claims that there is “no great matter in the ditty” and considers that it is “but time lost to hear such a foolish song” (V.iii.38-39, 43-44). The fool either misses the song's whole point or is merely guilty of indulging in his characteristic contentiousness. In either case, his response serves to remind us that mere criticism, which has been the mode of both Touchstone and Jaques, has not been Shakespeare's full or only purpose in the play. Shakespeare has sought to undermine romanticizing pastoralism, and Touchstone and Jaques have helped in that goal, but he has wished to build a fuller vision of life in its place. There has been more going on in As You Like It than those who set themselves up as critics within the play's world would have us believe.

All the brief minor debates in As You Like It give way finally to a single major debate, one whose opposing sides are expressed in their fullest form in the whole approach toward life of Rosalind and Jaques, respectively. When Jaques decides to stay on in the forest at the end of the play and join the convertite Duke Frederick, he is repeating the act of a former suitor that Ganymede claimed to have “cured” of love: Ganymede drove that lover “from his mad humour of love to a living humour of madness, which was, to forswear the full stream of the world and live in a nook merely monastic” (III.ii.406-9). Rosalind, for her part, in seeking love and marriage is submitting herself completely to the full stream of the world. The central conflict the two characters embody is at bottom one between an active life and a life of retreat, between a life of love in a world ruled by time and a life of escapist detachment from the world and from other human beings. It is in the particular terms of this conflict that we can perceive Shakespeare's unfairness to the pastoralist position. For that conflict is not the legitimate Renaissance debate between the claims for the active and contemplative life that a work in the pastoral mode might well have prompted, and Shakespeare is no more open to the arguments on behalf of the contemplative life than was Sidney before him. Shakespeare could conceivably have made his extreme pastoralist in the play a Platonic poet or a visionary—after the manner, let us say, of Spenser's Colin Clout of Book VI of The Faerie Queene. But in choosing instead to have Jaques betray escapist desires to be free of time's onward movement and of the social world's normal responsibilities, rather than be a true contemplative, the playwright banks his argument so that the pastoralist position is denied full intellectual and moral respectability.

In a debate with terms or sides such as we do have in As You Like It, there can be little doubt that Shakespeare's own sympathies lie with Rosalind rather than with the Jaques whose views romantic critics were apt to identify as some version of Shakespeare's own. If we wished, we could easily place not only Shakespeare but all of the play's various characters along a scale between Rosalind's and Jaques's positions. Corin, Celia, and the educated and reformed Orlando, for instance, would in their different ways stand close to Rosalind; Silvius seeks love, but seeks it in a timeless poetic realm and hence would be placed near Jaques. The Duke's position both early and late in the play, though, proves especially important in revealing the play's full stand on conventional pastoralism of, let us say, Lodge's sort. For the Duke (along with his alter ego, Amiens) is, as we have seen, the character most fully identified with Lodge's fictive assumptions; and in a debate with the terms as just defined, a character who indulges in dreams of an Arcadian land free from the usual worldly cares and difficulties would necessarily find himself in Jaques's camp. There are in fact a number of minor details in the play that connect the Duke and Jaques. The metaphor of the world as a stage which Jaques elaborates upon so that it becomes an expression of his own alienation was suggested to him by the Duke (II.vii.137-39); and the Duke confesses early on that it irks him that he and his courtiers are forced to hunt the “native burghers of this desert city” for food (II.i.22-23), a sentiment which the melancholy Jaques elsewhere in the forest carries to his characteristic extreme when he invectively pierces not only the usurping courtiers but even the natural “fat and greasy citizens” of the forest, who in his view have adopted some of mankind's more unattractive qualities (II.i.45-63). Given these metaphoric connections, Jaques takes on the appearance of being, like Amiens, an extension of the Duke himself, and he thereby points up for us the deeper implications of, and dangers in, the Duke's own thinking.

It is to the Duke's credit that he moves at the play's conclusion from Jaques's camp to that of Rosalind. His pastoral dream proves by the end to have been that of a basically good man on vacation. He was, after all, as Amiens has told us, making the best of bad fortune, his enforced banishment (II.i.18-20), and his essential moral health is affirmed at the play's end by his unhesitating willingness to return to court and take up responsible active life in the political world again. This final act of the Duke's is in turn a direct reflection of the whole play's anti-pastoral argument. For the Duke and the play both, the forest is initially a place of possible ease, idleness, and escape from normal cares and responsibilities, but that initial view provides the stimulus for Shakespeare's eventual insistence upon a more active stance. As Shakespeare proceeds to show that the forest is a realm in which time passes, in which man must make a living, and in which nature can be red in tooth and claw, it becomes increasingly clear that the proper response to this pastoral world is to view it for what it is and assume that life within it is not essentially different from life anywhere else. To a character with the sensibility Shakespeare wishes to endorse, a sensibility like Rosalind's, Arden becomes simply a place like any other where one can commit oneself to a life of responsible action and sympathetic involvement with others in a world constantly in motion.


Time in The Winter's Tale is not something merely talked or sung about but actually appears on stage—to announce a gap of sixteen years in the play's action. This Time is, to all appearances, a thoroughly benevolent and polite chap, anxious to please and careful not to offend: he wishes that the audience may never spend its time less agreeably than it does while watching the play. He speaks in slightly archaic rhymed verse and himself admits to being old-fashioned; but even in the course of this admission, he warns that he is not one to be snickered at or ignored. His admission comes in lines which show that he sees himself not merely as a chorus—the role assigned to him by the Folio's stage direction—but as the author of the play in which he appears:

                                                                                Let me pass
The same I am, ere ancient'st order was,
Or what is now receiv'd. I witness to
The times that brought them in; so shall I do
To th' freshest things now reigning, and make stale
The glistering of this present, as my tale
Now seems to it.


He is Shakespeare's agent in calling attention to the deliberate departure from realistic technique in the play, to the ways in which the play is like an old tale or romance. But at the same time he also asserts the play's ultimate realistic bias. For he notes the similarity between the world of his play and the world outside the play; he claims not only that he controls the lives of his characters but that his power extends over the audience as well; he can and will make just as stale and old-fashioned as this play the “glistering present” in which the audience finds itself. Benevolent and good-natured as he might appear to be, then, he reminds the audience of his very real power, of his ability to please some but try all, to make and unfold error, and to “o'erthrow law, and in one self-born hour / To plant and o'erwhelm custom” (IV.i.8-9).

Most modern critics of The Winter's Tale have been unwilling to grant Time the amount of power in the play's world that he claims for himself. The “triumph of time”—to borrow the subtitle from Shakespeare's source for the play—is usually seen as one which amounts to a triumph over time. The play is most often read as a dramatic embodiment of a myth of renewal, perceived either in Christian terms of a fall and a redemption or in those of pagan fertility myths' cycle of death and rebirth.22 There are indeed resonances both of vegetation myths and of the Christian drama of redemption in the play, and I am not about to deny their presence. A lost child is found again and is reconciled to her father in a scene which onlookers witness as if they were hearing of “a world ransomed, or one destroyed” (V.ii.15). The play begins in winter and ends in late spring or early summer; Perdita refers to Proserpina when she is handing out flowers; and she and Florizel are as welcome in Sicily “As is the spring to th' earth” (V.i.151). Leontes early in the play sins against Hermione by doubting her chastity and fidelity and commits blasphemy against heaven by denying that there is any truth in Apollo's oracle, acts for which he is evidently punished by the loss of his son and the apparent loss of his daughter and wife; he goes through a period of “saint-like sorrow” under the confessional guidance of a figure named Paulina; and when he wakens his faith (V.iii.95), he is rewarded with the miraculous return of his “gracious” wife, Hermione.

Yet Shakespeare points out that the Hermione who is redeemed is sixteen years older than the woman Leontes accused of infidelity. And no matter how much of a miracle Hermione's resurrection appears to be when it is played on stage, Shakespeare is careful to present us with a more prosaic explanation of how and why she has survived all these years: a gentleman of the court notes that Paulina has visited her removed house two or three times a day since Hermione's apparent death (V.ii.104-7), and Hermione herself tells us that she has remained alive so as to see the daughter whom the Oracle gave her reason to believe had survived (V.ii.125-28). The recognition by Leontes himself that Hermione has more wrinkles now than she did sixteen years earlier brings us to the realization that Time has not been routed after all. In his speech of IV.i, Time notes that he is the same as he was “ere ancient'st order was”; he is, then, beyond the control of his own ravaging power. But he is the only figure in the play who is. The final scene, despite its emphasis on the marvelous and the miraculous, does not bring its characters back to the point at which they began, and a full reading of The Winter's Tale must take into account the contradictory conceptions within the play of time being triumphed over and of time still triumphing and having its inevitable eroding effect on human life.

It is Shakespeare's particular use of a pastoral landscape and of the pastoral romance form in The Winter's Tale that brings that latter perception of time, as a destroyer, to our attention most forcefully. The play is less self-consciously grounded in the literary pastoral tradition than is As You Like It and contains relatively little direct criticism of the pastoral convention merely for being a convention and departing from normal perceived reality. But the play has an anti-pastoral dimension nonetheless, since it takes issue with what Shakespeare evidently saw as lying behind the use of the pastoral convention and pastoral romance form in the Renaissance period. The Winter's Tale drives the anti-pastoral argument of As You Like It harder and a step further toward a mythic or archetypal conclusion: it gives evidence of Shakespeare taking renewed notice of the merging of pastoral Arcadia with the Golden Age and prelapsarian Eden and objecting strongly to the nostalgic sentimentalism that follows upon the union of those originally quite separate landscapes. The play's action includes a sojourn in a pastoral setting that proves psychologically educative and therapeutic for its court characters, and in this respect, at least, The Winter's Tale adheres in relatively orthodox manner to pastoral romance form. But Shakespeare complicates that structure by introducing not the usual one, but two pastoral landscapes: the picture of Polixenes' and Leontes' youth evoked in pastoral terms by Polixenes in I.ii and the Bohemia of Acts III and IV, epitomized in the sheepshearing scene of IV.iv. The two versions of pastoral are significantly different, and in their difference lies much that the play has to tell its major characters and us. For while the first of the pictures of pastoral life is conceived in idealized, Edenic terms and is remembered with fondness by Polixenes (and presumably by Leontes as well), the details of his particular description and the play's subsequent action bring us to see that there is something basically wrong, even diseased, with Polixenes' picture of his youth, with his present nostalgic attitude toward that period in his life, and, by extension, with his whole attitude toward life and the world of time around him. Pastoral Bohemia is then used not simply to provide contrast with the court but to correct the version of pastoral that the court projects out of its tensions: a trip to the real countryside for a view of the country's actual conditions becomes a crucial step in the education or cure of Polixenes, Leontes, and, to the extent that he resembles his elders, Florizel. Through the use of these two versions of pastoral the play opposes, more strongly than As You Like It before it, any attempt to return to Edenic conditions in the present world: the yearning for prelapsarian conditions which is part of the discredited pastoral stand in As You Like It, but which appears only fleetingly in Jaques's look back to a time before there was strife between man and animal, is here the starting point for the play's central dramatic action.

When in the second scene of the play Polixenes is asked by Hermione to describe his and Leontes' youth together, he draws upon imagery from the pastoral world to convey the particularly innocent quality of their experience:

We were as twinn'd lambs that did frisk i' th' sun,
And bleat the one at th' other: what we chang'd
Was innocence for innocence.


It is not just any pastoral scene he is evoking but a specifically Edenic one; for the picture he presents denies the effects of time and the fall on the two young princes. The denial of time occurs in lines describing how he and Leontes felt when they were still young:

                                                                                We were, fair queen,
Two lads that thought there was no more behind,
But such a day to-morrow as to-day,
And to be boy eternal.


Such an attitude is typical of youth, perhaps, and is by no means objectionable. More troublesome, though, is the way Polixenes now looks upon that past experience. For as he continues his description he betrays a wish to be a child again and to live in what he considers to have been an unfallen state:

                                                                                          we knew not
The doctrine of ill-doing, nor dream'd
That any did. Had we pursu'd that life,
And our weak spirits ne'er been higher rear'd
With stronger blood, we should have answer'd heaven
Boldly “not guilty,” the imposition clear'd
Hereditary ours.


These lines take us to the heart of Polixenes' version of pastoral and establish the initial grounds for a debate similar to that underlying As You Like It. In his rather futile and wishful “Had we pursu'd that life, / And our weak spirits ne'er been higher rear'd / With stronger blood,” Polixenes is giving vent to escapist sentiments, which he expresses in dreams of a misconstrued Eden. He is to find immediate opposition to those sentiments from Hermione, who wittily tries to argue him out of such nostalgia and toward a more realistic and healthy view of his and Leontes' past (and present) state; in this play's court world, one under the control of a mentally disturbed and tyrannical Leontes, her words on this subject, as on virtually all others, are not heeded by the men to whom they are directed.

One of the ways Shakespeare has of distancing us from Polixenes and the sentiments he expresses in this conversation is to have him wander into theological error. The “hereditary imposition” Polixenes refers to is original sin, and he is suggesting that had he and Leontes remained in their childhood state, they would have escaped that taint.23 With the reference to “stronger blood,” he is implying further that it was sexual passion which brought about their fall from grace, an implication Hermione is quick to seize upon. She humorously challenges Polixenes with “By this we gather / You have tripp'd since” (75-76), thus inviting him to be more explicit; and he complies:

                                                                                                              O my most sacred lady,
Temptations have since then been born to's: for
In those unfledg'd days was my wife a girl;
Your precious self had then not cross'd the eyes
Of my young play-fellow


But Polixenes is being slightly careless with his words and is still not completely aware of the theological implications of his own statements. In effect, he is accusing Hermione of being the cause of Leontes' fall from grace, while at the same time he uses courtly formulas and refers to her as “my most sacred lady.” Hermione, for her part, shows that she is more aware of those implications, and she takes Polixenes to task for them. Her initial outburst to this explanation of Polixenes is the cryptic “Grace to boot,” the spirit of which might best be expressed by a paraphrase like “Some thanks we get.” A more literal translation would read “Grace in addition to the bargain,” and by the remark Hermione could well be pointing to the discrepancy in being addressed as “sacred” while being called a Satanic or Eve-like temptress. But she does not stop here; apparently accepting for the moment Polixenes' definition of sexual love as sin, she announces that she is perfectly willing to assume responsibility for the “fall” Polixenes describes:

Of this make no conclusion, lest you say
Your queen and I are devils. Yet go on;
Th' offences we have made you do, we'll answer,
If you first sinn'd with us, and that with us
You did continue fault, and that you slipp'd not
With any but with us.


Throughout this gay and lighthearted interchange, Polixenes has been unconsciously betraying a disapproval or even a fear of sexual love. It is a fear that Hermione plainly does not share. For in telling Polixenes to go on, she even welcomes the charge of being a devil or temptress, if it is only her participation in sexual love which makes her an offender. With such a definition of sin as that of Polixenes being applied by a prosecutor, she is confident of her ability to account for her actions before her judge. Her own implication here then is that she does not consider sexual love between marriage partners as itself a sin. Just as a moment earlier she questioned Polixenes when he suggested that he and Leontes might have escaped the taint of original sin, so here she has a surer hold on Christian doctrine than he does.

Hermione's manner since she began talking with Polixenes has been that of one who is confidently and wittily, yet warmly, cutting through the veneer of complex and courtly expression to the real meaning to be found beneath. Her remark “By this we gather / You have tripp'd since,” for instance, reduces to a concise, explicit statement Polixenes' implication about his and Leontes' present moral state. At the end of the dialogue with Polixenes, she applies to her husband's words that same ability to examine speech closely. When she tells Leontes that Polixenes will stay on and is complimented with “Thou never spok'st / To better purpose” (88-89), she queries the remark, implying that it is overstated; she will not rest until she hears the full and explicit truth come from Leontes' mouth:

Hermione, my dearest, thou never spok'st
To better purpose.
                                                                                Never but once.
What! have I twice said well? when was't before?
I prithee tell me: cram 's with praise, and make 's
As fat as tame things: one good deed, dying tongueless,
Slaughters a thousand, waiting upon that.
Our praises are our wages. You may ride 's
With one soft kiss a thousand furlongs ere
With spur we heat an acre.


Such a speech as this last gives evidence not only of Hermione's wit but also of her essential health. She is apparently belittling women, and when she says “cram 's with praise, and make 's / As fat as tame things,” the primary level of her metaphor equates women with pets that one feeds. But she is eight months pregnant and plainly pleased with herself as she speaks these words, and the exuberance, bordering on harshness or even grossness, of the word “cram” here expresses the opposite of squeamishness. Unlike Polixenes, she is fully willing to accept the flesh and all that might, by some, be considered the gross part of human nature. Her demand to be made fat and her later suggestion of being ridden by a man are a far cry from the repressed mode of sexual innuendo: they are openly and enthusiastically sexual.

The fear of sexual love that Polixenes, on the other hand, reveals in this scene amounts to an inadvertent confession that he and Leontes simply could not deal with sexual passion without disastrous results. That confession is given immediate verification in the sudden outbreak of Leontes' perverted sexual passion, his jealousy. While there is no direct evidence from the text that Leontes overhears the interchange between Hermione and Polixenes, that interchange is in several ways closely connected with Leontes' sudden seizure. Leontes later objects to private conversations between Hermione and Polixenes, conversations which he claims involve paddling of palms, pinching of fingers, and practised smiles (I.ii.115-16), and this interchange between the two is the only one we see. And it is only after, and right after, this conversation between Hermione and Polixenes that we come upon the first definite sign of Leontes' jealousy—his aside of “Too hot, too hot!” (I.ii.108).24 It seems reasonable to conclude that it is the conversation between Hermione and Polixenes about the princes' Edenic youth, whether Leontes overhears it or not, which provides the immediate stimulus for the outburst of his sexual jealousy, and especially reasonable when we note that the attitude toward sexual love that Polixenes expresses in that conversation is a more distant but deeper cause of that outburst and of Leontes' disease. With the definitions of innocence, sin, and the fall which Polixenes gives in that interchange, it is not surprising—in fact, it is almost inevitable—that one or the other of the princes should be subject to an uncontrollable outburst of misplaced sexual feeling. The sufferer in this case happens to be Leontes, though it was Polixenes who expressed the distrust of sexual experience; but the two princes are in many ways similar, and there is every reason to believe that Polixenes' feelings about his youth and loss of innocence represent those of Leontes as well.

In the opening scene of the play, we are told that the two princes were “trained together in their childhoods, and there rooted betwixt them then such an affection which cannot choose but branch now” (I.i.22-24). Derek Traversi has pointed to the double and contradictory use of “branch” in this sentence, conveying the meaning both of “the unity of living growth” and “a spreading division within that growth.”25 But “affection” also has multiple meanings in this context, and throughout the play. Its principal use here is to indicate the strong emotional attachment the princes have for one another. Yet it can suggest also that the two princes have the same emotional makeup. A stronger suggestion of this similarity, and of their similar attitude toward their youth, is to be found later in I.ii, when Leontes himself brings up the subject of his childhood:

                                                                                Looking on the lines
Of my boy's face, methoughts I did recoil
Twenty-three years, and saw myself unbreech'd,
In my green velvet coat; my dagger muzzl'd
Lest it should bite its master, and so prove,
As ornaments oft do, too dangerous.


Leontes, like Polixenes, quite understandably looks back to his youth as a time of joy and safety, and he is quite consciously expressing a wish to be back in that happier period; he too wishes he could stop time's movement. But the lines betray something else as well. The reference to his muzzled dagger has sexual suggestions, and if we follow them out, we find the idea expressed that the male sexual organ was originally only an ornament, not designed to be used, but potentially very dangerous to its possessor. Leontes is no doubt largely or totally unaware of this meaning in his lines; he is, he thinks, talking about his dagger, although that in itself is evidence that at some level of his consciousness he is unwilling to confront the fact of his own sexuality. While he may not himself intend any comment on his early sexual experience or fear of it here, the lines, with their buried sexual meaning, do associate Leontes with the distrust of sexual love Polixenes voiced a moment earlier in his conversation with Hermione.

In addition, there is a general parallel in the actions of Polixenes and Leontes in the two halves of this sharply divided play. After a sixteen-year gap, Polixenes participates in much the same sequence of actions as Leontes did earlier. Polixenes' threat to scratch Perdita's beauty with briars (IV.iv.426) is, as Traversi has noted, the exact complement to Leontes' earlier violence against Hermione and Perdita. Outbursts of rage in both figures follow immediately upon the presentation of a picture of life in a pastoral setting, and the result of each outburst is that Perdita is put at the mercy of the sea.26 The effect of such structural parallelism and of the similarity in the actions, sentiments, and temperaments of Polixenes and Leontes is to make the two characters virtually interchangeable. It is this similarity between the two princes that makes it safe to assume that Polixenes speaks for Leontes as well when he yearns for an existence unaffected by time's movement and provides that definition of primal innocence which implies that sexual love could be no part of man's experience in his unfallen condition. And the emphasized similarity makes it possible to say also that Polixenes is Leontes' stand-in on a trip to a pastoral landscape that is designed to cure them both of those misguided attitudes. The interchangeability of the two characters thus accommodates another of Shakespeare's variations upon pastoral romance form in The Winter's Tale: it allows for the pastoral education and regeneration of a character, Leontes, who himself never leaves the court.

The actual countryside in The Winter's Tale bears little resemblance to the idealized, innocent pastoral realm Polixenes yearns for and thinks he remembers. Bohemia, in fact, with its storm-ridden seacoast and its man-eating bears, provides one of Shakespeare's harsher pastoral landscapes. And Shakespeare is careful to show in this play also that living close to nature does not automatically or necessarily make a person intelligent, sensitive, attractive, or chaste. Autolycus at his first entrance sings of tumbling in the hay with country beggar women (IV.iii.12); and though Perdita says that her friends “wear upon your virgin branches yet / Your maidenheads growing” (IV.iv.115-16), her foster brother has evidently tripped with several and still has not retired from the field (IV.iv.239ff.). The rustic shepherds are like sheep themselves, unthinking easy prey for that wolf Autolycus, who enjoys his own kind of sheep-shearing feast. After Perdita, the country figure who possesses the most dignity is the Old Shepherd, her reputed father. He is differentiated from the rest by being given poetry rather than prose to speak (in the sheep-shearing scene, at least), and that poetry shows him to be hospitable, warm, and genial, with a firm love of the land and of tradition. Unaware of the true identity of either Perdita or Florizel, he at first warmly approves of their match. But at the moment Polixenes unmasks, the old man is selfishly concerned only for his own neck. And after his meteoric rise in social status, he becomes just as comic a butt for laughter as his mindless son. Perhaps more damaging yet is the fact that he is used to caricature Polixenes' response to the onset of sexual passion in youth. His solution of how to deal with that passion has simplicity to recommend it, but that is about all to be said on its behalf; he would merely eliminate the years between ten and twenty-three from young people's lives:

I would there were no age between ten and three-and-twenty, or that youth would sleep out the rest; for there is nothing in the between but getting wenches with child, wronging the ancientry, stealing, fighting.


With rustics such as these, Shakespeare is plainly not offering up the country merely as an escape from, or a blissful alternative to, life at court.

It is however not the rustics but a figure born at court, Perdita, who is most responsible in the play for demonstrating what country people and country life are like. Probably because of her royal birth she is idealized (a reflection of Shakespeare's adherence to social decorum), while the other shepherds are not; but she is nonetheless the one who speaks on behalf of nature in the debate with Polixenes on nature and art and who fully articulates the conditions under which country people live. In doing so, she also reasserts the vision that Hermione put forward in the play's opening acts. Whereas Hermione's views were in effect stifled and ignored at court, they flourish in the play's country scenes, and it is from Perdita, as representative of the country, that we and the play's court figures encounter an insistence upon time's movement and an endorsement of sexual love that provide definitive repudiation of Polixenes' conceptions of innocence, sin, the fall, and hence of the ideal human existence—those conceptions which were so closely connected with, and even the ultimate cause of, Leontes' diseased outburst of sexual jealousy.

Just as Leontes has his complement in Polixenes, so then does Hermione have a complement in the second half of the play, in her daughter Perdita. The word “grace,” with its many meanings, appears frequently in the play, most often to denote a quality in Hermione; when Time reintroduces Perdita, sixteen years older than the newborn child we have just seen left on the coast of Bohemia, he uses the same term to describe the daughter: Perdita is “now grown in grace” (IV.i.24). Perdita has been raised in the country and is by no means as sophisticated as her mother: unlike Hermione, for instance, she is made uncomfortable by praise. But she shares her mother's distrust of courtly rhetoric and extravagant statement and possesses Hermione's ability to examine such expression critically. When Camillo very lamely flatters her with “I should leave grazing, were I of your flock / And only live by gazing” (IV.iv.109-10), she, after the manner of her mother, scolds him for his words by reducing them to their literal meaning, instead of accepting them merely as a vague compliment:

                                                                                                    Out, alas!
You'd be so lean that blasts of January
Would blow you through and through.


And when in the same scene Polixenes attempts to defend art (and gillyvors) by arguing that grafting is an art “Which doth mend nature—change it rather” (IV.iv.96), Perdita is clever enough to see why he has made his last-second change in wording and wittily calls him to account for his near error. In her response she posits a hypothetical case in which she suggests that the young man standing next to her (Florizel) might desire to breed by her only because she were painted and he not so (IV.iv.101-3). Had Polixenes stayed with “mend,” he would have been arguing that grafting is not simply a natural process but also an improvement upon what nature might produce on its own. Such logic, Perdita sees, would justify human couples' breeding merely because they happen to differ, a conclusion the class-conscious Polixenes would find distasteful on general principles—even if he had not come to this sheepshearing specifically to prevent a grafting or marriage between his son and what he assumes is a girl of low estate. Perdita has among other things, then, rather nicely reduced Polixenes' unstated belief in class distinctions to a mere matter of being painted or not, and far from being limited by a “peasant” mind she thus exercises her mother's critical sensibility even in the nature-and-art debate she is so often assumed to lose to the superior reasoning of Polixenes.27

The most important similarity between Perdita and Hermione, though, is in their attitude toward sexual love. Hermione's willingness to acknowledge being a devil in the definition of the fall that Polixenes provides in I.ii implies that she accepts sexual love as good and natural for man; Perdita brings back to the earth not only spring for Leontes but that attitude toward sexual love as well. While thoroughly chaste and modest, she is particularly frank and open about her sexual desires. And they are desires which exist not in a timeless world but in a time-governed one. It is the insistence on time passing and on the full acceptance of sexual love which most differentiates Perdita's pastoral vision from Polixenes' vision of his “Eden” earlier in the play. Whereas Polixenes sought to stop time and be free of sexual passion, Perdita fully accepts the first and rejoices in the second.

Her consciousness of time is shown to us initially in her words and actions as she distributes flowers to the various guests at the sheepshearing feast. She found herself engaged in the debate with Polixenes on nature and art as a result of her desire to find flowers appropriate to each recipient. She first gave Polixenes and Camillo the winter flowers of rosemary and rue, which were chosen, Polixenes assumes, as a gift suitable for aged men (IV.iv.78-79). Concluding from Polixenes' remark that he was insulted by this initial offering, Perdita goes on to explain why she gave them flowers betokening old age:

                                                                                Sir, the year growing ancient,
Not yet on summer's death nor on the birth
Of trembling winter, the fairest flowers o' th' season
Are our carnations and streak'd gillyvors,
Which some call nature's bastards: of that kind
Our rustic garden's barren; and I care not
To get slips of them.


These lines are frequently misread as a reference to the present time of the scene as being not yet on summer's death nor on the birth of winter.28 But the time of this scene is most likely late June, when sheepshearing feasts traditionally take place; and these lines instead are simply an explanation of why Perdita could not give Polixenes and Camillo the late summer flowers that would have been more appropriate for them: because the fairest late summer flowers suggest to her unchastity and work by an artist's hand, she does not have any of them in her garden. After the debate with Polixenes she proceeds to give Polixenes and Camillo midsummer flowers instead—hot lavender, mints, savory, marjoram, and marigolds—and in handing them over is consciously flattering her guests for a moment:

                                                                                these are flowers
Of middle summer, and I think they are given
To men of middle age. Y'are very welcome.


Then she turns to Florizel and her younger friends and expresses a desire to give them flowers of spring. In her choice of and reference to flowers, Perdita has been moving gradually backward in time—from winter to late summer to middle summer to spring. In this backward movement, she is reenacting or recapitulating in small the redemptive scheme of the play as a whole. But at the very moment that time is symbolically redeemed by Perdita's actions and words, Perdita herself reasserts the concept of time as constantly moving forward. For she has to admit that she does not have those spring flowers she would like to hand out, and she points to a way, then, in which she is unlike Proserpina:

                                                  Now, my fair'st friend, [To Florizel]
I would I had some flowers o' th' spring, that might
Become your time of day; and yours, and yours,
                                                  [To Mopsa and the other girls]
That wear upon your virgin branches yet
Your maidenheads growing: O Proserpina
For the flowers now that, frighted, thou let'st fall
From Dis's waggon!


There is a strong note of melancholy here and of regret that she cannot really bring spring back to the earth. In handing out her flowers, Perdita is very conscious of the limitations placed on human life by time's movement.

Perdita would appear, for the moment, to be like Polixenes in seeking a life in which one would not be limited by time's inevitable movement onward. But while Polixenes moved from a vision of a timeless world to a desire to retreat and avoid sexual involvement, Perdita quickly recovers from her melancholic mood and moves instead to a triumphant assertion of her dedication to active, living, sexual love:

                                                            O, these I lack,
To make you garlands of; and my sweet friend,
To strew him o'er and o'er!
                                                                                                    What, like a corpse?
No, like a bank, for love to lie and play on:
Not like a corpse; or if—not to be buried,
But quick, and in mine arms.


She pauses on “or if” most likely because she has in her mind struck upon the root meaning of “corpse”; she would very plainly, then, be thinking about love which makes full use of the body.

There is, no doubt, a smile on Florizel's face as he teases Perdita with his question “What, like a corpse?” But the question points to a way in which Florizel has not yet reached Perdita's level of appreciation of the type of love she advocates. He is generally, next to her, a rather unsure figure. Like his father, when he wants to give the highest possible praise to something, he places it beyond time's control; in expressing his love for Perdita, he in his own way tries to deny time and make her action eternal:

                                                                                What you do,
Still betters what is done. When you speak, sweet,
I'd have you do it ever: when you sing,
I'd have you buy and sell so, so give alms,
Pray so, and, for the ord'ring your affairs,
To sing them too: when you do dance, I wish you
A wave o' th' sea, that you might ever do
Nothing but that, move still, still so,
And own no other function. Each your doing,
So singular in each particular,
Crowns what you are doing, in the present deeds,
That all your acts are queens.


G. Wilson Knight has commended this speech as a praiseworthy “striving after eternity,” and F. David Hoeniger has called it “one of the most moving passages in the whole of Shakespeare.”30 But if Shakespeare had wanted us to accept these sentiments without qualification, he probably would not have had Perdita object to them. Perdita has earlier had to chide Florizel for his “extremes” in dressing her up as the goddess Flora for the feast (IV.iv.1-14), and here she finds his words too extravagant. His praise gives evidence of a verbal art which she distrusts and which disguises what she takes to be his true nature:

                                                                                O Doricles,
Your praises are too large: but that your youth,
And the true blood which peeps fairly through't,
Do plainly give you out an unstain'd shepherd,
With wisdom I might fear, my Doricles,
You woo'd me the false way.


Even in her mild rebuke, she retains her wit. For she knows very well that Doricles is a prince and not simply an unstained shepherd. But prince and representative of the court and its art that he may be, Florizel eventually justifies Perdita's confidence and trust in him. At the moment when he must choose between his succession and his love, he stands by Perdita; and in doing so he allies himself with all of nature as well:

                                                                                It cannot fail, but by
The violation of my faith; and then
Let nature crush the sides o' th' earth together,
And mar the seeds within! Lift up thy looks:
From my succession wipe me, father; I
Am heir to my affection.


It was Leontes' diseased “affection” (I.ii.138-46) which blinded him to the truth and caused him to commit the unnatural act of seeking the death of his own seed, Perdita. It is a mark of Florizel's health here that he can rely upon and dedicate himself fully to just those emotions which Polixenes and Leontes found so dangerous and disruptive. For Florizel not to follow the dictates of his “affection” would, in his view, be as bad as marring all the seeds germinating in the earth. He is speaking in overly exalted terms perhaps, but there is good reason to take his exclamation seriously. Perdita has by this time—as a result of her stand in favor of unadulterated nature in the nature-and-art debate, her distribution of flowers, and her identification with Flora—been fully associated with nature and natural life. On this level of association, Florizel in standing by her is helping to ensure nature's continuance from generation to generation. And in allying himself with nature and the country as opposed to the court, Florizel is assuming for his own the vision of human life in which time has a definite effect and in which sexual love plays a good and vital role.

The court's inhabitants can, and indeed do, learn from their country sojourn, then. One need not perhaps go to the country to find and develop a vision like that of Perdita; Hermione possessed that vision without ever having left the court. And the trip to the country is only one of two possible ways the play presents as a means of moving from the disease of Acts I-III to the health and happiness of the conclusion—the other way being the path of penance Leontes follows at court under the moral guidance of Paulina. But the action of the final scenes at court is thoroughly imbued with the specific lessons taught by the country and its representative, Perdita. The recognition that Hermione's statue has wrinkles which Hermione herself did not have sixteen years earlier reasserts the vision of time presented by Perdita when she confesses to her inability to bring back spring and to distribute spring flowers out of season. And the play ends with a rather stark insistence on time passing. When the statue first moves, Polixenes raises the question what exactly Hermione has been doing for these past sixteen years (V.iii.114-15). As Hermione begins to answer it and explain to her daughter why she kept herself alive, she is interrupted by Paulina with:

                                                                                There's time enough for that;
Lest they desire (upon this push) to trouble
Your joys with like relation.


Had the question been pursued further, it might have proved embarrassing for both Paulina and Shakespeare. But in having Paulina interrupt here, Shakespeare is not I think merely trying to hurry over a potential weakness in his play's construction. Rather, the effect of raising Polixenes' question and then cutting off its answer before a full explanation has been provided is to enforce upon our consciousness just how wide a gap of time sixteen years can be.

Finally, the concluding scene offers yet another of the instances in the play in which a character expresses a wish to halt time's and life's movement, only to be corrected or rebuked for that wish. Leontes and Perdita both, when they see Hermione's statue, desire simply to stand there and gaze at it for twenty years (V.iii.84-85). Polixenes proved to be misguided in desiring to return to a realm in which he could be “boy eternal,” and Florizel was gently chided for desiring a Perdita constantly repeating the same action, like a wave of the sea. Here, time moving onward brings Leontes and Perdita greater joy than the single moment made eternal. For in the place of a statue, a work of art set in a timeless dimension, Leontes and Perdita are presented with a Hermione warm with life. Polixenes, in his description of his youth, expressed a distrust of his own “blood,” by which he meant his passions and particularly sexual passion. In the sheepshearing scene, Perdita used the word “blood” to refer to a quality in Florizel that she could rely upon to express his true feelings when she could not trust his extravagant words (IV.iv.148); Florizel's “true blood,” then, was cause for confidence and trust. For Leontes in this final scene, the fact that Hermione's statue appears to have veins which bear blood (V.iii.65) becomes cause first for wonder and then, when verified, for rejoicing. “Blood” at this point of course means not simply the passions but one's lifeblood, that which makes one a living being. The use of that particular word here helps to point out that Polixenes, in his distrust of his own blood and in his wistful look back toward the past and childhood, was denying life. The final scene of the play is a celebration of life. It is, in fact, life itself which Paulina calls Hermione's redeemer when she bids the apparent statue descend from its pedestal:

I'll fill your grave up: stir, nay, come away:
Bequeath to death your numbness; for from him
Dear life redeems you.


“Life” in this final scene clearly means life as it exists in a moving world, a world governed by time. It is Shakespeare's considerable achievement in this play, no less than in As You Like It, that he can bring us to accept the view of time as constantly moving forward and hence eroding and destructive, and to accept it not merely with resignation but with equanimity and even enthusiasm. And it has been his picture of life in a realistically perceived pastoral setting, and the meeting with a pastoral figure whose approach toward life is the very opposite of the nostalgic, which has made us willing to grant that acceptance.


As You Like It and The Winter's Tale in their different ways share the pastoral romance's three-step pattern of an expulsion or retreat, sojourn in a pastoral setting, and return to the normal world. What is perhaps most notable in Shakespeare's use of that structure in these plays is the relative emphasis he gives to the third of those steps. That which provides the generative impulse for the pastoral romance form and which we therefore might expect to be its most distinctive element—the sojourn in a pastoral setting—seems to have held comparatively little appeal for him in itself. He did keep returning to the form and its setting, and, admittedly, some greater health and freedom are to be found in the plays' green worlds: lovers get together in the Forest of Arden and Bohemia, and Perdita brings proper attitudes toward time and sexual love to the older generation of her play. But in one sense, the pastoral sojourn was not strictly necessary for the characters, since the love of Rosalind and Orlando was well under way even at the troubled court, Rosalind possessed the essentials of her philosophy before fleeing that court, and Perdita's views were also held by Hermione, a court figure. In any case, the main thrust of the pastoral sojourn in both plays is not back toward some ideal existence in the past, or even toward what one can do in Arcadia that one cannot do elsewhere, but rather toward the vision that one must have or develop in order to return to and live properly in the normal world. In this respect, the earlier pastoral plays aspire to the condition of The Tempest, the last of Shakespeare's plays to use the structure of pastoral romance. It is a play that is entirely a return.

The island upon which the action of The Tempest takes place is this time a realm of special conditions, where a human being can fulfill many of his fondest dreams and, through magic, assume a godlike control over both the natural elements and his fellowmen. But the action of the whole play is nonetheless one in which the main character seeks to earn his passage home so that he can immerse himself once again in the full stream of the world. And Shakespeare's distrust of idealized pastoral realms finds its most absolute expression in this play, since this time it is not simply thoughts of a misconstrued Eden (as was the case with Polixenes) but a true one that must be abandoned. What The Tempest adds to the earlier pastoral plays' mere assertions that man ought not to indulge in escapist dreams of ideal landscapes is insight into why he cannot afford such indulgence. That insight is provided, with a dramatic efficiency that is typical of the play as a whole, in a single critical incident in the play's action, the point at which Prospero interrupts the revels celebrating the betrothal of Ferdinand and Miranda. We can look at that crucial incident alone for a vivid and succinct summary statement of the dangers involved in giving oneself over to any kind of pastoral dream of better times and better places.

The interruption of the masque is an act that draws particular attention to itself in the play, for, as has been noted frequently, Prospero's anger when he bids his performing spirits vanish is out of all proportion to the cause of his interruption, Caliban's conspiracy.31 Ferdinand observes that Prospero is “in some passion / That works him strongly” (IV.i.143-44), and Miranda remarks that she has never seen her father so distempered (144-45). The stage direction at the point Prospero begins speaking during the masque calls for a strange, hollow, and confused noise, which would, like Lear's storm on the heath, appear to be a representation of the protagonist's inner turmoil. Yet once Prospero directs his thoughts to Caliban's conspiracy again, he disposes of it with consummate ease. Given this disparity between Prospero's anger and the ostensible cause for it, what Frank Kermode has (I believe incorrectly) called the inadequate motivation for Prospero's anger, the scene in effect demands that we ask why Prospero is so angry.

The masque itself provides part of the answer. The masque is Prospero's gift to Ferdinand and Miranda and consists in part of various pagan deities in their turn blessing the lovers with the gifts at their disposal. Those blessings construct for the lovers a vision of an ideal pastoral realm even more rarefied than the island of the play's action. The lovers are presented with a foison or abundance similar to that which Gonzalo earlier claimed for the inhabitants of his Golden Age utopia (II.i.158-60); the only difference is that here it is Ceres, the goddess of agriculture, an art that would not have been necessary in Gonzalo's ideal realm, who bestows the blessings of

Earth's increase, foison plenty,
Barns and garners never empty;
Vines with clust'ring branches growing;
Plants with goodly burthen bowing.


As part of her gift, Ceres would have the lovers flourish in a realm in which there is no winter:

Spring come to you at the farthest
In the very end of harvest.


And such blessings are bestowed only after Ceres has been assured that Venus and Cupid, responsible with Pluto for the rape of Proserpina, are to be excluded from the celebration (IV.i.86-91). Venus and Cupid, in fact, having been unsuccessful in imposing some “wanton charm” on Ferdinand and Miranda, are already on their way back to Paphos, and the god of love has broken his arrows (91-101). The conditions of the visionary realm that Prospero's Juno and Ceres conjure up are, then, those of Spenser's Garden of Adonis, itself a source of fecundity and an ideal realm devoted to love, but love without the pain that ordinarily accompanies it in the rest of Book III of The Faerie Queene and in our world; in that garden, as here in Prospero's masque, Cupid has been deprived of his arrows and hence of his power both to raise unruly passions and to hurt.

The conditions of abundance, love, and innocence presented in the masque quite understandably make an onlooker think of Paradise, and Ferdinand, like Polixenes before him (and just as mistakenly), expresses the wish that such conditions might be made permanent:

                                                                                Let me live here ever;
So rare and wonder'd father and a wise
Makes this place Paradise.


It is not completely clear whether in voicing the desire to “live here ever” Ferdinand refers to the visionary realm of the masque or to the island from which he views the masque and which is only a partial reflection of the masque's paradisal realm. The masque world, in any case, is plainly one that man cannot remain in forever: Prospero has been insisting all along on the tenuousness of his pageant and hence of the vision it projects. He refers to the masque initially as a “vanity” of his art (IV.i.41) and then as the enactment of his “present fancies” (121-22); here, at the point of Ferdinand's comment, he asks for silence, “or else our spell is marr'd” (127). Prospero's disturbed and violent interruption of the masque shortly afterward merely makes definite and final those assertions of the pageant's insubstantiality.

But the main reason why one cannot remain in the realm of the masque or even indulge in thoughts of such a realm very long is, of course, Caliban. In determining why Caliban should be so upsetting to Prospero, we should not lose sight of that savage and deformed slave's essential humanity. He is not a subhuman monster, half man, half fish: Trinculo and the drunken Stephano are hardly to be accepted as authorities on such a matter. And while Caliban's may be a nature upon which “Nurture can never stick” (IV.i.189), he is by no means simply a representation of that nature itself. The temptation to consider him an allegorical representation of man's flesh, untouched by spirit, arises no doubt from the inclusion of an “airy spirit” among the play's characters. But the figure in the play with whom Caliban stands in most direct contrast is not so much the spirit Ariel as another human being, Miranda. Miranda and Caliban have both grown up on the island and been subject to much the same education at Prospero's hand, with Miranda evidently on occasion called upon to act as teacher's aid for her slower fellow student.32 Unfortunately, Caliban has not responded well to his lessons: with the language he has been taught, his profit is to know how to curse (I.ii.365-66), and Prospero's (and Miranda's) pains, humanely taken, have been in general “all, all lost, quite lost” on him (IV.i.190). Although Caliban is perhaps not as hopeless a case as Prospero would have us believe—he possesses several of the play's more beautiful lines, likes music, and can appreciate the island's beauty (see, for instance, III.ii.133-41)—he does epitomize all that is intractable and ineducable in human nature, and it is for those qualities that he serves in the play as a constant reminder of man's fallen state and is a threat to the particular vision that Prospero's masque presents.

In having Prospero break off the masque because of Caliban, then, Shakespeare is pointing to the incompatibility between the ideal Edenic world of the masque vision and the fact of man's fallen nature, as evidenced in Caliban. And Prospero's anger can be said to be in part attributable to his annoyance that man generally cannot be rid of the Caliban in himself, that human life refuses to correspond to man's dreams and aspirations, as projected in man's art and in this particular case by the masque and its vision of a paradisal realm. But we should note further how much Prospero, at the conclusion of his speech ending the revels, looks upon his mental disturbance as a personal weakness of his own rather than, let us say, a justified response to a sorry fact about the human condition generally:

                                                                                                    Sir, I am vex'd;
Bear with my weakness; my old brain is troubled:
Be not disturb'd with my infirmity.


This concentration on his own infirmity suggests that Prospero's distemper is directed as much toward himself as toward the recalcitrant and quite fallen slave who has been mounting a conspiracy against him.

This is a suggestion that gathers some force if we glance back at another instance of Prospero's vexation in the play—those repeated admonitions to Miranda in I.ii that she be more attentive to his account of past events. As with Prospero's anger when interrupting the masque, here too there appears to be little correlation between the immediate dramatic action before us and Prospero's response to it: there is no evidence that Miranda's attention is wavering and therefore that she needs to be reminded five times to listen more carefully to what Prospero says; on the contrary, Miranda herself observes that Prospero's account would cure deafness (I.ii.106). But there is good cause for Prospero's anger in the subject of his account, if not in its auditor. At the point in his narrative when he is most upset and when he bursts forth with the flurry of reminders to mark his words, Prospero is describing the treachery of his usurping brother:

My brother, and thy uncle, call'd Antonio,—
I pray thee, mark me, that a brother should
Be so perfidious!—he whom next thyself
Of all the world I lov'd, and to him put
The manage of my state …


The government I cast upon my brother,
And to my state grew stranger, being transported
And rapt in secret studies. Thy false uncle—
Dost thou attend me?


Although Prospero is willing to assume responsibility for having awakened the evil nature in his false brother (89-93), that willingness does not help him get past this particular point in his narrative any the quicker. Not only does he keep interrupting his account (ostensibly to make sure Miranda is listening), he is also given to repeating himself, to mulling over and again his own mistakes and the extent of his brother's falseness. Prospero's obvious distress here gives evidence of his still being unable to accept or comprehend his brother's action—“that a brother should / Be so perfidious!”; “Mark his condition, and th'event; then tell me / If this might be a brother”—and the admonitions he directs at Miranda would thus appear to be a means to focus himself as much as Miranda upon the full import of what he is saying. Since Prospero is delivering the whole account of past events as a preface to the acts he is to perform on the afternoon of the play's action, his reminders and repetition look very much like the efforts of someone forcing himself to concentrate upon his mistakes of twelve years back, lest he make the same mistake again.

And that is precisely what has happened during the betrothal masque of IV.i. Prospero's error in the past was to neglect worldly ends and dedicate himself solely to the liberal arts and to the bettering of his mind—in effect, to the contemplative life—at the expense of satisfying his assigned tasks in the political world (I.ii.89-93). Retired in his study, he lost cognizance of the true nature of the world around him and of the men in it (particularly of Antonio) and of the fact that men need to be ruled. Prospero designs the events of the present in The Tempest to rectify that mistake, to put himself back in the seat of power he held before he made only his library his dukedom. To achieve this end, he insists throughout the day's maneuvers upon the precision with which his instructions are to be followed by Ariel, how “exactly” and “to point” his orders are to be carried out (I.ii.194, 502; III.iii.83-86); and he has been showing, until the betrothal masque, a firm awareness of time passing and of the necessity of grasping “the very minute” to accomplish his goals (I.ii.37, 181-84, 240-41). The masque, as the creation of his art, with its picture of a life of pastoral bliss in a timeless Edenic setting, places the appeal of a retired, contemplative life before Prospero once again. It is an appeal to which he seems to have succumbed, despite his prior recognition of his pageant's insubstantiality; for in viewing the masque, Prospero momentarily loses his consciousness of the importance of each passing moment and forgets Caliban's conspiracy, the “minute” of which plot (IV.i.141) comes upon him unawares. And in losing that firm control over his own actions and the day's sequence of events, Prospero betrays that, as much as he might wish the contrary, he cannot after all separate himself from the Caliban he has so consistently berated in the course of the play. The ineducable Caliban is indeed, as Prospero is soon to acknowledge and only partly in a different sense, a thing of Prospero's own (V.i.275-76); Prospero himself reveals a failure to learn, an inability to profit from past mistakes.

It is this consciousness of having repeated a past error that can best account for the extent of Prospero's disturbance at the point when he interrupts the masque. His old fondness for a life of retirement and dedication to the liberal arts, of indulgence in timeless realms set off from life in the everyday political world, has once again made him vulnerable to men less controlled and worthy than himself. And the reason why one cannot afford to give one's imagination over to pastoral dreams of any sort of idealized realm is that so many such men, so much evidence of the fall, must be confronted and dealt with at all times. Prospero has of course been using his books during his twelve-year stay on the island; but as Leo Marx points out, he has not simply been living a life of retired contemplation there. He has brought the island from a savage state in which an Ariel is imprisoned and a Caliban allowed to run free to one in which the good spirit carries out an enlightened (if frequently angry) ruler's commands and a Caliban is controlled and put to work.33 He has, then, been ruling the island in that twelve-year period, just as he has on the day of The Tempest's action been carefully planning each event—until he is distracted by the betrothal masque and its offer of an ideal pastoral existence. Using his books and art for a social purpose, he has served his apprenticeship, in the limited sphere that a pastoral kingdom might provide, for the much more complex type of rule he will exercise in Milan.

And it is back toward Milan that the play's action takes us with increasing urgency, once the betrothal masque has been interrupted. One can no more stay forever on the island than in the Edenic realm of the masque. The disruption of the masque is merely one in a sequence of steps taking Prospero and everyone else in the play away from realms in which special conditions of any sort apply and back to life in the normal world as we all know it. Once the vision of an Edenic realm dissolves, Prospero announces his intention to abjure the rough magic that gave him control over the physical elements and to drown his book, thus relinquishing all his special magical powers over others. When his magic has brought all his enemies to the point at which they lie at his mercy, he decides not to exercise his avenging power, choosing instead a forgiveness based upon a recognition of his kinship with his enemies as fellow human beings (V.i.20-32). Miranda earlier referred to any figure able to control a storm such as the one opening The Tempest as a “god of power” (I.ii.10); later, the Folio's stage direction had Prospero during the performance of another of his theatrical shows, that of the vanishing banquet, assume a position “on the top (invisible)” (S.D., III.iii.17), and the figures fulfilling Prospero's wishes in that pageant claimed to be “ministers of Fate” (60-61). For Prospero, the movement in the last two acts is plainly one away from a status that gives him godlike attributes to one in which he fully embraces his humanity, acknowledging Caliban as his own and giving extended thought to his own death (V.i.311).

Such a move is not made without a struggle on Prospero's part and perhaps even on Shakespeare's. Prospero, like any artist, in the midst of his manipulating clearly enjoys the almost godlike power over others that his magic and art have given him; it is with a note of exultation that, immediately after the banquet vanishes, he can exclaim:

                                                                                                    My high charms work,
And these mine enemies are all knit up
In their distractions: they are now in my power.


And it is perhaps a reflection of the playwright's own pride in artistic achievement that the betrothal masque, that high point of Prospero's artistry, should be interrupted only in its second half, during the dance of the Nymphs and Reapers; the part of the masque most directly presenting the picture of a visionary realm of abundance and innocence, a paradise without winter or pain, is granted full expression and is played out intact.

But the movement back toward Milan and life in the everyday world is, nonetheless, reasserted strongly with Prospero's harsh interruption of his “insubstantial pageant.” And the very harshness of that interruption, accompanied and underscored by that “strange, hollow, and confused noise” (S.D., IV.i.139), is of some significance in itself. When the revels are abruptly terminated, a sojourn in a pastoral landscape, this time in the extreme form of a fully idealized paradisal realm, has once again served Shakespeare as an occasion for asserting a commitment to the active over the contemplative life. The strength of Prospero's passion when he interrupts the masque creates a severe break in the play's action; it is a break which places Shakespeare at odds with those Renaissance contemporaries (like Castiglione and his Ottaviano Fregoso) who viewed the active and contemplative lives as complementary and who could envision a smooth transition from a contemplative life of study to active life in the political world.34 For Shakespeare, the Renaissance debate between the active and contemplative lives remained exactly that, a debate, and his stand in it does not seem to have changed appreciably from the position implied in As You Like It when he rather unfairly chose to make a melancholy man the chief proponent of the contemplative life. The masque of The Tempest has Prospero moving off in a direction which the rest of the play denies, and the playwright's commitment to the active life is here revealed to be both a strong and a rather uncompromising one.

Given that commitment, made at the expense of not simply the pastoral setting of the island but the Edenic setting of the masque, it is only fitting that Shakespeare should turn next to a history play, Henry VIII—and that probably his last sole effort—and a history play presenting one of the playwright's harshest and most confusing political worlds. For it is toward just such a world of harsh, complex, day-to-day political fact that Shakespeare's anti-pastoral argument, extending through his most apparently carefree and unpolitical plays and culminating in The Tempest, had been propelling him all along.


  1. Northrop Frye, “The Argument of Comedy,” in English Institute Essays: 1948, ed. D. A. Robertson, Jr. (New York, 1949), pp. 67-68.

  2. Walter R. Davis, Idea and Act in Elizabethan Fiction (Princeton, 1969), p. 60; see also Davis's more extended discussion on the development of the pastoral romance form in Chap. 1 of A Map of Arcadia: Sidney's Romance in Its Tradition (New Haven, 1965), pp. 7-44.

  3. Shakespeare's use of this green-world comic structure extends from Two Gentlemen, perhaps his earliest comedy, to The Tempest, his last, and is to be found also in varying degrees of articulation in A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Merchant of Venice, As You Like It, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Cymbeline, and The Winter's Tale. It is reflected as well in King Lear's movement from the court to the heath and back to court.

  4. Northrop Frye, A Natural Perspective (New York, 1965), pp. 142-43. Pp. 132-59 of this later book present an extended elaboration upon Frye's brief comments on the green-world structure in “The Argument of Comedy,” and particularly upon the connection he sees between the green world and the Golden Age or Eden. Davis asserts the connection even more categorically: “The inner pastoral circle inherited from classical pastoral represented concretely a realization of more than the usual possibilities in life, or a life of conscious artifice. It always suggests the paradisiacal, whether explicitly—as when it is called ‘a second Elisium’ or ‘Nature's Eden’—or implicitly, when it is described, like the godhead, by negatives asserting a peculiar state of stasis without cold or heat, without either direct sunlight or complete shade, a place of eternal becoming. It is always presented as the place where the natural and the supernatural join, where heaven meets earth (often, concretely, as a place habitually visited by the pagan gods)” (Idea and Act, p. 57).

  5. Quotations from The Two Gentlemen of Verona are from the Arden edition, ed. Clifford Leech (London, 1969).

  6. For a fuller discussion of this education and a consideration of the play's virtues (and there are some), see my “Education in The Two Gentlemen of Verona,SEL [Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900], 15 (1975), 229-44.

  7. R. P. Draper (“Shakespeare's Pastoral Comedy,” Études Anglaises, 11 [1958], 1-17) and David P. Young (in his chapter on the play in The Heart's Forest: A Study of Shakespeare's Pastoral Plays [New Haven, 1972]) have written most extensively on the ways in which As You Like It is “a consideration … of pastoral itself” (Young, p. 70). Draper notes that Shakespeare used pastoral as “a means of exploring instead of escaping from life” (p. 17), and Young sees Shakespeare as writing As You Like It “out of a sympathetic interest in pastoral, which he undertook to explore more fully than Lodge had done,” and definitely not as “bent on demolishing or ridiculing his source” (p. 39). My own view is closer to that of Albert R. Cirillo, in “As You Like It: Pastoralism Gone Awry,” ELH, 38 (1971), 19-39: “by consistently undercutting the pastoral convention as a convention, he [Shakespeare] also suggests that the ideal of the pastoral is not an end in itself” (p. 39).

  8. See Harold Jenkins, “As You Like It,” in Shakespeare Survey 8, ed. Allardyce Nicoll (Cambridge, 1955), 40-51; Helen Gardner, “As You Like It,” in More Talking of Shakespeare, ed. John Garrett (London, 1959), pp. 17-32; and Anne Barton, “As You Like It and Twelfth Night: Shakespeare's Sense of an Ending,” in Shakespearian Comedy, ed. Malcolm Bradbury and David Palmer, Stratford-upon-Avon Studies 14 (London, 1972), pp. 160-80. This dramaturgical casualness by no means in itself denotes faulty craftmanship. But there is evidence of inattention to matters of basic dramatic technique, such as the handling of characters' exits and entrances. Characters enter, say their pieces, and then are often inelegantly hustled off stage again; see, for instance, the exits of Touchstone and Corin in III.ii and that of Silvius in IV.iii. What such evidence points to is that the mere unfolding of plot was not Shakespeare's primary concern in constructing the play; its main thrust or organizing principle is what we would probably call thematic.

  9. It is not necessary to assert this observation as forcefully as it might have been in the past, thanks to Cirillo's article “As You Like It: Pastoralism Gone Awry” and to Francis Berry, “No Exit from Arden,” MLR [Modern Language Review], 66 (1971), 11-20, later incorporated into his Shakespeare's Comedies (Princeton, 1972). In their opposition to the older view of Arden as an idealized Golden Age or Edenic landscape, both Berry and Jan Kott before him (“Shakespeare's Bitter Arcadia,” in Shakespeare Our Contemporary, trans. Boleslaw Taborski [Garden City, N. Y., 1966], pp. 314-42) overstress the amount of bitterness and struggle within the play's forest world and hence upset the play's balance in a new direction.

    Several more recent studies of As You Like It have also darkened the play, by emphasizing the conservative, patriarchal social structure that underlies its action and both inhibits the play's spirit of festivity and limits our sense of Rosalind's dominance of its world. See especially Peter Erickson's chapter “Sexual Politics and Social Structure in As You Like It,” in his Patriarchal Structures in Shakespeare's Drama (Berkeley, 1985), pp. 15-38. Erickson offers a modification upon C. L. Barber's seminal study of the play in the latter's Shakespeare's Festive Comedy (Princeton, 1959). While Erickson's approach is helpful in pointing out how socially conservative Shakespeare may have been, he betrays a measure of anger at the playwright for not being as liberated as he himself is. Louis Adrian Montrose, in “‘The Place of a Brother’ in As You Like It: Social Process and Comic Form,” SQ [Shakespeare Quarterly], 32 (1981) 28-54, strikes a slightly better balance with the statement that “if As You Like It is a vehicle for Rosalind's exuberance, it is also a structure for her containment” (p. 52). At risk of being accused (by Montrose) as being among those generations of critics who are quite infatuated with Rosalind, I still find the issue of patriarchal authority only an undercurrent in what is, after all, one of Shakespeare's most festive plays, the guiding central intelligence or sensibility of which is Rosalind's.

  10. Quotations from As You Like It are from the Arden edition, ed. Agnes Latham (London, 1975).

  11. See Draper, “Shakespeare's Pastoral Comedy,” p. 9: “Although the Duke has been banished to the Forest of Arden, he brings with him his old cultivated, polite, chivalric life and makes that a part of his environment.”

  12. Thomas Lodge, Rosalynde, in Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare, Vol. II, The Comedies, 1597-1603, ed. Geoffrey Bullough (London, 1958), pp. 188-89.

  13. Lodge does occasionally betray a city or court inhabitant's condescension toward country people: the Coridon who has been accepted earlier as an eloquent and intelligent proponent of country life appears at the marriage of Alinda and Saladyne overdressed in a holiday suit which is an incongruous mixture of elegant and extremely rustic articles of clothing and which makes its wearer look slightly ridiculous (Rosalynde, p. 247; for comment on the suit, see Roy Lamson and Hallett Smith, eds., The Golden Hind [New York, 1942], pp. 665-66n). Similarly, a moment later Coridon offers a mazer of cider to the exiled Duke Gerismond “with such a clownish salute, that he began to smile” (p. 248). But such instances of recognition of the gap between court and country, occurring primarily near the end of the work, stand primarily as lapses in tone and inconsistencies in the fictive assumptions of the work as a whole; there is little in the rest of the action to point to a realistic view of either court or country figures.

  14. See Lanham's comments on “homo rhetoricus” and the rhetorical view of life, in the first chapter of his The Motives of Eloquence (New Haven, 1976), pp. 1-35.

  15. James Smith, “As You Like It,Scrutiny, 9 (1940), 13-16.

  16. The Miscellaneous Works of Sir Thomas Overbury, ed. Edward F. Rimbault (London, 1890), p. 74; cited by Agnes Latham, p. xlvii, in her Introduction to the Arden As You Like It.

  17. See Alice Lotvin Birney, Satiric Catharsis in Shakespeare (Berkeley, 1973), pp. 87, 97; Enid Welsford, The Fool (1935; rpt. London, 1968), pp. 141, 218-19; and Robert Hillis Goldsmith, Wise Fools in Shakespeare (East Lansing, Mich., 1955), pp. 68-93.

  18. Peter G. Phialas, Shakespeare's Romantic Comedies (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1966), p. 235. Rosalie L. Colie (Shakespeare's Living Art [Princeton, 1974], p. 256) similarly refers to Jaques as “the superpastoralist of the play.”

  19. For a similar but brief treatment of Rosalind's and Orlando's attitude toward time, see Jay L. Halio, “‘No Clock in the Forest’: Time in As You Like It,SEL, 2 (1962), 203-7.

  20. These stanzas as rendered here and in modern editions of the play follow the stanzaic arrangement of the song as it appeared in Thomas Morley's First Book of Ayres (1600), rather than what is most likely the garbled version of the First Folio. In the Folio, the song's first stanza is followed immediately (and without a stanzaic break) by the final (fourth) stanza, with the second and third stanzas following thereafter. If one accepts the Folio's stanzaic order, the “therefore” of “Therefore take the present time” is deprived of its meaning, since that line would not follow upon “How that a life was but a flower,” and the song might thus well merit Touchstone's judgment upon it as foolish and a waste of time to hear. See Latham's note to V.iii. 15.

  21. Quotations are from the Arden edition of The Winter's Tale, ed. J. H. P. Pafford (London, 1963).

  22. For view of the play as reenacting the Christian drama of redemption, see S. L. Bethell, “The Winter's Tale”: A Study (London, 1947), pp. 71-104 et passim; J. A. Bryant, Jr., Hippolyta's View: Some Christian Aspects of Shakespeare's Plays (Lexington, Ky., 1961), pp. 207-25; and S. R. Maveety, “What Shakespeare Did with Pandosto: An Interpretation of The Winter's Tale,” in Pacific Coast Studies in Shakespeare, ed. Waldo F. McNeir and Thelma N. Greenfield (Eugene, Oreg., 1966), pp. 263-79. And for emphasis on parallels between the play and fertility myths, see F. C. Tinkler, “The Winter's Tale,Scrutiny, 5 (1937), 344-64, especially 357-59; E. M. W. Tillyard, Shakespeare's Last Plays (1938; rpt. London, 1958), p. 46; F. David Hoeniger, “The Meaning of The Winter's Tale,UTQ [University of Toronto Quarterly], 20 (1950), 11-26; and E. A. J. Honigmann, “Secondary Sources of The Winter's Tale,PQ [Philological Quarterly], 34 (1955), 27-38. G. Wilson Knight (The Crown of Life [1947; rpt. London, 1965], pp. 76-128) seems to combine the Christian and fertility myth readings. He states that “Nature rules our play” (p. 88) and while himself viewing it as “scarcely orthodox,” sees the play as expressing a “pantheism of such majesty that orthodox apologists may well be tempted to call it Christian” (p. 97).

  23. Pafford understands the phrase “the imposition clear'd / Hereditary ours” to mean that the boys would be able to plead themselves guiltless of all personally committed sin, that is, of all sin except original sin (note to I.ii.74-75). He thus takes “clear'd” to mean “excepted.” This does not seem to be the easiest or most reasonable reading of “clear'd” or of the phrase as a whole. It is much more likely that “clear'd” takes on its more common meaning of “removed,” a meaning the word has in legal contests (“to be cleared of the charges against one”); such a meaning is more consonant with the word's context here, which has Polixenes referring to filing a plea of “not guilty” before a judge, albeit an eternal one. Admittedly, my interpretation, which has the boys pleading “not guilty” to original sin, makes less immediate sense than Pafford's (since it is impossible to make such a plea), but it is, I believe, precisely because of the theological error in Polixenes' remark that Shakespeare has Hermione catch him up and query him further.

  24. Despite the attempts of J. Dover Wilson (in his notes to the New Cambridge edition of the play) and Nevill Coghill (“Six Points of Stage-Craft in The Winter's Tale,” in Shakespeare Survey 11, ed. Allardyce Nicoll [Cambridge, 1958], pp. 31-33) to explain away what critics before them saw as a flaw in the play's dramaturgy—the lack of psychological preparation for Leontes' initial outburst of sexual jealousy—it is difficult to find concrete evidence of Leontes' jealousy before the exchange between Hermione and Polixenes. Leontes has been rather unexpansive since his initial entrance, but the first possible indication of anything troubling him comes in his answer to Hermione's desire to be made as fat as a tame thing and be told when she first spoke to the purpose. In this speech Leontes, using his first notable or striking metaphor in the play, describes his own courtship of Hermione as taking “three crabbed months” which “sour'd themselves to death” (I.ii.102). And this rather discordant metaphor may only be his unsuccessful attempt to express a lover's impatience with waiting. Indeed, there may be an advantage in having Leontes' jealous outburst come upon us with dramatic suddenness at the “Too hot, too hot” of line 108, since the very suddenness of that outburst would help to emphasize and convey the violence and force of the insanity that has seized his mind.

  25. Derek Traversi, Shakespeare: The Last Phase (New York, 1955), p. 108.

  26. Ibid., p. 145. For further comment on the parallels between the two halves of the play, see Ernest Schanzer, “The Structural Pattern of The Winter's Tale,REL [Review of English Literature], 5, no. 2 (1964), 72-82. Tayler (Nature and Art, p. 133) notes that the two pastoral moments in the play balance each other structurally, the first preceding disruption and the second preceding integration.

  27. For the view of Perdita as unable to keep up with Polixenes' reasoning, see Pafford, p. lxxviii of the Arden ed., and his note to IV.iv.88-97.

  28. See, for instance, Pafford in his note to IV.iii.37. My own interpretation of these lines is in agreement with and indebted to the reading of William O. Scott, “Seasons and Flowers in The Winter's Tale,SQ, 14 (1963), 412-13.

  29. The Folio does not give any stage direction for lines 103-8. Pafford, in his note to line 103, assumes that the men of middle age are not Polixenes and Camillo, but rather some other guests. But since Camillo has the next speech and since no other guests speak up at this point, it is most reasonable to assume that Perdita has given the flowers of midsummer to Camillo and Polixenes.

  30. Knight, The Crown of Life, p. 120; Hoeniger, “The Meaning of The Winter's Tale,” p. 12. It ought perhaps be noted that Florizel's lines here are apparently indebted to a slightly mocking passage in the Arcadia in which Sidney cites Pyrocles' passion for Philoclea as evidence of the strange ways in which love enchains the lover's judgment; the passage is to be found in OA, 230, and in Feuillerat's edition of the 1593 text, II. 53-54.

  31. See, for instance, Frank Kermode's comments on Prospero's “apparently unnecessary perturbation” in the Introduction to the Arden edition of The Tempest, 6th ed. (Cambridge, Mass., 1958), pp. lxxii-lxxv, and his note to the stage direction at IV.i.138. Quotations from The Tempest will be from this edition.

  32. Given any textual warrant, I would prefer to follow Dryden and Theobald and assign Miranda's speech of I.ii.353-64, which tells of pains taken to teach Caliban to speak, to Prospero rather than to his daughter. The harsh tone of the speech is much more clearly in accord with Prospero's other lines in the play and quite out of character for Miranda. In any case, Caliban in the next, answering speech uses the plural form of “you” in cursing those who have taught him (I.ii.365-67). Despite the Folio's assignment of I.ii.353-64 to Miranda, then, Prospero clearly has had a role in educating Caliban, and undoubtedly (as Prospero's speech of IV.i.188-93 suggests) the major role.

    For the observation that the true foil to Caliban in the play is Miranda rather than Ariel, see Stephen Kitay Orgel, “New Uses of Adversity: Tragic Experience in The Tempest,” in In Defense of Reading, ed. Reuben A. Brower and Richard Poirier (New York, 1962), pp. 121-22. I am greatly indebted as well to Orgel's comments on the betrothal masque.

  33. Leo Marx, The Machine in the Garden: Technology and the Pastoral Ideal in America (New York, 1964), pp. 52-57.

  34. I disagree, then, with Kermode, who views Prospero's stay on the island as contemplative preparation for a return to the active life and who thus considers the active and contemplative lives to be thoroughly complementary in the play; see his Arden edition Introduction, p. li.

Paul Alpers (essay date 1996)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 16884

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 representative shepherd is inherently capable of fresh interpretation and application. Its possibilities provide one way of accounting for both the importance and the variety of pastoral poetry in the sixteenth century. Even when conventional pastoral genres seem to lose their vitality (roughly, around the turn of the seventeenth century) pastoral retains its capacity for fresh realization and for extending its range. The effect of Shakespearean pastoral—historically in England and “typologically” in our account—was to unsettle and diversify the Virgilian formula, “The poet represents (himself as) a shepherd or shepherds.” When pastoral values and usages are located in a variety of figures and are no longer closely identified with the literary shepherd—and this, in effect, is the shift from Spenser to Shakespeare—the poet need not represent himself as a shepherd in order to sustain the pastoral mode. The characteristic figure then becomes what we will call a pastoral speaker. A pastoral speaker is one whose mode of utterance and strength relative to the world derive from the literary shepherd, but who is not represented as a herdsman or similar humble figure. In the same way, Shakespearean drama produces what we will call shepherd-equivalents—socially humble figures who may not be identified with the country and its occupations, but whose function and presence are like those of the herdsmen of traditional pastoral.

The emergence of the pastoral speaker from representative shepherds is played out in the pastoral episode (cantos 9 and 10) of Book 6 of The Faerie Queene. Sir Calidore, pursuing the Blatant Beast of slander, comes upon a world of shepherds, falls in love with the fairest shepherdess, and as a sort of reward or confirmation of his decision to cast his lot with them, happens upon Mount Acidale, said to be Venus's earthly retreat, where he sees the Graces dancing to the music of a shepherd. In the context of The Faerie Queene, the leading question about this long episode has been the hero's so-called truancy: whether or not he is to be blamed for choosing a pastoral life and forsaking the quest imposed upon him. However, coming to the cantos as we do, what is most notable is that each is centered on the figure of a representative shepherd. In canto 9, the old shepherd Melibee speaks for the values of the “lowly, quiet life” of shepherds which Calidore desires to share; in canto 10, the shepherd who pipes to the Graces and then instructs Calidore about them is Colin Clout, a figure of the poet himself.

Melibee and Colin Clout play out the two versions of pastoral, agrestis and silvestris, in Virgil's first Eclogue. Melibee inhabits and speaks for the ordinary life of the fields, which are repeatedly identified as his local (9.4,14,20); Colin Clout is placed in a mythical landscape, a wooded hill inhabited by the deities of love, that is explicitly off bounds to “wylde beastes” and “the ruder clowne” (10.7). Melibee speaks with the forthrightness, the cultivated simplicity that we have seen as the hallmark of one kind of literary shepherd. Colin Clout not only makes the woods resound with his beloved (10.10), but his music has the power to prompt her appearance (whether as apparition or real presence) and that of the local nymphs and the Graces themselves. Most important, the confrontation of these figures with a hero from the court world brings out the pastoral character of their modes of representation. When Calidore sees the Graces dancing and steps forward, resolved to know what they are, the vision disappears, leaving only the shepherd, who “for fell despight of that displeasure” (10.18) breaks his bagpipe. This might seem to “break off the pastoral song,” but it is in fact its occasion and beginning. However bitterly Colin Clout reacts to Calidore's interruption of the vision, the Knight of Courtesy's expression of regret prompts the shepherd not to “learne these woods, to wayle my woe,” as would an isolated lover, but to explain to this new shepherd (for so he takes Calidore to be) the nature of what he has just seen. The ensuing speech is as long as the poet's own representation of the vision; in recapitulating myths and motifs and expanding the moral explication initiated by the poet, it is clearly meant to be a substitute for it. As the two shepherds come together, Colin Clout turns from piping to speech, and we are given a definitive instance of the way pastoral utterance can be thought to restore the loss that occasioned it. In the final stanzas of Colin's speech, the fervent listing of the beloved's moral attributes seems to restore her to his presence—what else can be suggested by “She made me often pipe and now to pipe apace”?—and in the concluding address to Gloriana, the voice of the poet merges with that of his persona in the plea to “pardon thy shepheard” for exalting a “poore handmayd” (10.27-28).

The encounter with Melibee also concerns the motives and scope of pastoral utterance. After supper in the old shepherd's cottage, Sir Calidore thanks his host and self-consciously initiates a pastoral discourse:

And drawing thence his speach another way,
Gan highly to commend the happie life,
Which Shepheards lead, without debate or bitter strife.
How much (sayd he) more happie is the state,
In which ye father here doe dwell at ease,
Leading a life so free and fortunate,
From all the tempests of these worldly seas,
Which tosse the rest in daungerous disease;
Where warres, and wreckes, and wicked enmitie
Doe them afflict, which no man can appease,
That certes I your happinesse enuie,
And wish my lot were plast in such felicitie.

(9.18-19, my emphasis)

Calidore, like many modern readers, takes the point of the pastoral life to be escape from worldliness and its discontents. His speech encapsulates these motives in the key word, “happie,” which, as the courtier may well know, has plenty of pastoral authority. Both its meanings are registered in this speech. Like Virgil's Meliboeus, Calidore calls the shepherd he addresses “fortunate,” while “felicity” looks to its root, felix, the word which initiates Virgil's praise of country life in a famous passage in the Georgics (2.490ff.). “Happy” is the epithet Shakespeare's Amiens bestows on the Duke in his pastoral guise. But Melibee denies both the suggestion of unalloyed pleasure and the implication (explicitly reproved in their next exchange) that it depends on luck:

Surely my sonne (then answer'd he againe)
If happie, then it is in this intent,
That hauing small, yet doe I not complaine
Of want, ne wish for more it to augment,
But doe my self, with that I haue, content.


Pastoral contentment may sometimes be due to innocence, but for Melibee it is a knowing virtue. He speaks with more self-awareness and nuance than other moralizing old shepherds, because he corrects his younger antagonist by revising his implied account of desire and choice. His speech ends with the story of the false choice he himself made “when pride of youth forth pricked my desire” and, disdaining “shepheards base attire” he sought his fortune at court (9.24). Dismayed by the “vainnesse” and “idle hopes” he found there,

After I had ten yeares my selfe excluded
From natiue home, and spent my youth in vaine,
I gan my follies to my selfe to plaine,
And this sweet peace, whose lacke did then appeare.


The last line exactly replicates Calidore's ostensible motive for praising Melibee's life, and shows the connection between the knight and the shepherd. At the same time, Calidore's eager desire is checked by the double force of Melibee's verb “plaine” (i.e. complain): because, with “follies” as its object, it first registers self-reproach, it expresses a just appreciation, not mere regretful longing, for its second object, the “sweet peace” of his “natiue home.” The final words of this stanza and of the whole speech speak of desire not only chastened by but transformed into moral choice:

Tho [then] backe returning to my sheepe againe,
I from thenceforth haue learn'd to loue more deare
This lowly quiet life, which I inherite here.


Melibee's espousal of contentment is neither austerely stoical nor hard-bitten and defiant, in the manner of Mantuan's shepherds. On the contrary, his speech has a rather idyllic character—which is what prompts his critical antagonists to speak of his “laziness,” his “dream world,” and the “soft pastoralism” of the canto.1 Remarks like these replicate Calidore's misunderstanding, for the idyllic touches in Melibee's speech are grounded in chosen tasks and satisfactions. He defines pastoral content by topoi of golden age poems—the land's self-sufficiency and freedom from foreign trade—but scales them down to a life of conscious simplicity:

So taught of nature, which doth litle need
Of forreine helpes to lifes due nourishment:
The fields my food, my flocke my rayment bred;
No better doe I weare, no better doe I feed.


His statement that “all the night in siluer sleepe I spend” is not advanced as a leading claim (though it is a familiar point in poems praising the country), but appears on the heels, as if the result and reward, of his criticism of ambition and his consequent confidence in “my minds vnmoued quiet” (9.22). Melibee's pastoral rhetoric similarly modifies another golden age topos, the spontaneous growth of crops:

They that haue much, feare much to loose thereby,
And store of cares doth follow riches store.
The little that I haue, growes dayly more
Without my care, but onely to attend it.


Until the final half-line, this distinction between worldly care and pastoral carelessness, may seem conventionally innocent. But the last phrase denies the absolute meaning of “without my care” and thus revises our sense of what is at issue in pastoral security (se-curus = without care). The suggestion of freedom is maintained, but scaled down to the claim that one is without care if one knows what truly to care about—in this case the flocks mentioned in the next lines or the rural tasks detailed two stanzas later.

As if recapitulating the way pastoral was historically inscribed within the heroic, the romance context brings Melibee and Colin Clout face to face with a courtier who is responsive to their discourses. Their encounters therefore make unusually clear what is involved in the representative status of the literary shepherd. Melibee represents a way of life that Calidore values and desires; he can even be said to represent the knight himself, in that his rejection of the court and return to the country offer a challenging version of the choice Calidore claims to want to make. Colin Clout has a similar relation to the knight, in that his life is devoted to celebrating a “countrey lasse” (10.25) who seems a “miracle of heauenly hew,” as Pastorella did when Calidore first saw her “enuiron'd with a girland, goodly graced, / Of louely lasses” and piping shepherds (9.8). Moreover, the vision of the Graces is first mentioned by way of explaining why Calidore would be justified in remaining in the country (10.4), and the effect of Colin Clout's “discourses,” as of Melibee's, is that the knight “wisht, that with that shepheard he mote dwelling share” (10.30). Both Melibee and Colin Clout hold out, to the hero and implicitly to the reader, alternatives of attitude and role.

But how, in fact, can the courtier-hero take these alternatives seriously? It is one thing for the poet to present considerations for and against renouncing the “shadowes vaine / Of courtly fauour” and seeking “the happy peace” and “perfect pleasures” which one finds “amongst poore hyndes, in hils, in woods, in dales” (10.1-4). It is another to translate the awareness of pastoral values into the choice of a life so completely defined by a single place and a single round of activities as Melibee's and Colin Clout's. Pastoral envisages this possibility, and many fine poems—from “His golden locks time hath to silver turned” to Upon Appleton House—examine and praise it. But the value of pastoral is not confined to such situations. Rather, it is equally represented by the Shakespearean pattern, in which time spent in a pastoral locale restores courtiers to their homes and to themselves. Since the country is not Calidore's “native home,” the question is what in his case can be the equivalent of Melibee's choice.

Spenser's handling of the episode shows his awareness of the problem. Calidore reacts to Melibee's praise of the shepherds' life with what the poet calls “double rauishment” (9.26): he is enraptured with the speech itself and with the country maiden with whom he has fallen in love. These pastoral erotics underlie the sentimental vehemence of his response. After a stanza in which he tries to “insinuate his harts desire” by aping his host's praises of the country,2 he says:

That euen I which daily doe behold
The glorie of the great, mongst whom I won,
And now haue prou'd, what happinesse ye hold
In this small plot of your dominion,
Now loath great Lordship and ambition.


The insistence still on “happinesse,” the grand word “dominion” (which represents “small plot” precisely as a form of “Lordship”), and the use of “loath” to express moral recognition show that the knight has not yet taken in what he has heard. The very structure of the sentence, a sustained period quite unusual in The Faerie Queene, suggests that he has still not adopted the style he professes to admire. What Melibee reproves, however, is not this rhetoric itself, but the wish it prompts:

And wish the heauens so much had graced mee,
As graunt me liue in like condition;
Or that my fortunes might transposed bee
From pitch of higher place, vnto this low degree.


Melibee replies that it is vain to accuse the heavens of “fortunes fault” and says: “fittest is, that all contented rest / With that they hold: each hath his fortune in his brest” (9.29). This is a pastoral moral, but so generalized as to be detached from particularities of place or social role. Melibee then goes on to state a moral—“It is the mynd, that maketh good or ill” (9.30)—that is certainly not confined to pastoral. But its corrective point is what enables Calidore to find a mode adequate to his situation:

Since then in each mans self (said Calidore)
It is, to fashion his owne lyfes estate,
Giue leaue awhyle, good father, in this shore
To rest my barcke, which hath bene beaten late
With stormes of fortune and tempestuous fate,
In seas of troubles and of toylesome paine,
That whether quite from them for to retrate
I shall resolue, or backe to turne againe,
I may here with your selfe some small repose obtaine.


In Melibee's speech, the truth that each man fashions his life takes the form of apothegms, a rhetorical form conventional with the old shepherds of pastoral and expressive of the notion that all humans have the same simple needs. Calidore's courtly metaphor (and his deployment of it in what would have been called an “allegory”) might thus seem once more to miss the point. In fact it shows, unlike his previous mimicry and literalism, that he now understands Melibee's pastoral moral—that knowledge of self is inseparable from knowing and accepting one's circumstances. The image of the ship in the port suggests genuine rest, but does not deny that the courtier spends his life on the high seas. Its justness is confirmed by the moral poise of the final lines. As he suspends the choice he knows he will have to make, the knight's understanding takes the form of the “small repose” of this stanza itself. Calidore here has achieved his own version of pastoral. Like the poets of “The Garden” and “L'Allegro,” he does not represent himself as a shepherd, but the mode in which he speaks has been determined by the literary shepherd(s) whom he has encountered.

Calidore eventually does become a shepherd. When the erotics that underlie his rhetoric take the form of wooing, Pastorella will have nothing to do with his knightly manner. In a passage that repeats the pattern of having his courtliness corrected, he learns to accommodate himself to what Melibee calls “our rudenesse” (9.33) and dons “shepheards weed” (9.36) in order to be with his beloved. This leads to a stanza (9.37) in which we see him guarding and folding Pastorella's sheep and humbling himself to learn to milk (“loue so much could”), but after this it is difficult to keep his pastoral guise in view or mind. Though nominally a shepherd, he is repeatedly referred to as “the knight,” for it is his behavior in that role that concerns the poet—e.g., “Thus did the gentle knight himselfe abeare / Amongst that rusticke rout in all his deeds” (9.45). Hence his most memorable appearance as a shepherd is not in the putative reality of the story, but in a simile that represents his accommodation to Pastorella:

Which Calidore perceiuing, thought it best
To chaunge the manner of his loftie looke;
And doffing his bright armes, himselfe addrest
In shepheards weed, and in his hand he tooke,
In stead of steelehead speare, a shepheards hooke,
That who had seene him then, would haue bethought
On Phrygian Paris by Plexippus brooke,
When he the loue of fayre Oenone sought,
What time the golden apple was vnto him brought.


We are made to imagine Paris in a state of innocence, merely loving his fair shepherdess, even though the stanza closes by reminding us of the fierce war that will result from his forsaking her. These fatal intimations, which might be thought to disrupt the idyll, are balanced by fixing the moment just before Paris's choice and by the golden apple itself, with its physical appeal and its evocation of a glamorous scene that is not unlike what we will see on Mount Acidale—the appearance of three goddesses to a shepherd in love.3 As in Calidore's speech about the “small repose” he may obtain in the shepherds' world, the effect here is to suspend events and issues that will take the protagonist into the world of heroic action. The simile thus creates for the reader a pastoral encounter of his own. We have to recognize both the appeal of idyllic simplicities and the dilemmas that attend the courtly figure in pastoral guise. This is genuinely pastoral writing, but it is discontinuous with the narration that is unfolding in this canto.4 Unlike the world of Lodge's Rosalynde, where Paris and many of his mythological brothers and sisters are very much at home,5 neither the world of Melibee nor of Colin Clout can accommodate the Phrygian shepherd. He can only appear to us in a simile, one part of the poet's rather piecemeal representation of his hero in these cantos. But the stanza is one of the great moments in the episode. Brief though it is, it shows that the resources of pastoral representation and the claims of representativeness are not confined to the shepherds of the eclogue tradition.

Finally, this episode reveals not only the nature and resources of pastoral representation, but a limitation of some of its forms. One of the striking things about Calidore's sojourn among the shepherds is that none of them, besides Melibee, utters a word. Their speech (though not very much of it) is reported indirectly; we are told of their pipings and carolings; we are shown Coridon, Calidore's rival in love, bringing Pastorella gifts and biting his lip for jealousy; but Melibee is the only shepherd whose speech is directly quoted.6 The canto as a whole thus brings out the fact that Melibee represents a way of life in the specific sense that he can speak for it. The presence of the knight and the context of heroic romance make explicit what in eclogues is assumed but unstated: that what makes a shepherd representative is his ability to represent. To put the matter most pointedly, the shepherd Melibee is able to be a pastoral figure because he has been at court. This detail in the story comes from its source in Gerusalemme Liberata (7.12-13), but it is impossible to ignore its connection with Melibee's powers and privilege of speech. The poem itself is clear about this connection, insofar as it concerns pastoral thematics and poetics. Melibee's having crossed the boundary within which he now dwells makes him conscious of it and the choice it represents. He is even a figure of the poet, in that his ability to represent himself (which is necessarily to represent himself as a shepherd) enables him to represent the lives of shepherds. He thus suggests that pastoral is essentially a mode of courtly and humanist self-representation.

One need not view this with indignation: it is no secret that pastoral is of the country, but by and for the city. But its insufficiencies become clear in Spenser's treatment of Coridon. Unlike his confrontation with Melibee and his learning to woo Pastorella, Calidore's dealings with Coridon do not count as a pastoral encounter, because they do not make him imagine himself as a shepherd and hence reconsider what he is and what he values. On the contrary, in this context Spenser praises his hero as if he had arrived fresh from court and had never put on shepherd's weeds:

Thus did the gentle knight himselfe abeare
Amongst that rusticke rout in all his deeds.
.....For courtesie amongst the rudest breeds
Good will and fauour.


In his own person, the Knight of Courtesy can only condescend to the rustic. He pats Coridon on the head for his country gifts to Pastorella (9.40)—gifts which can have real charm and erotic expressiveness when represented by the passionate shepherds of eclogue and lyric—and commends his prowess in wrestling when he has in fact just humiliated him (9.43-44). When we go on to canto 10, we find that the poet's own treatment of the rustic is worse than the knight's condescension. After staging a scene in which Calidore rescues Pastorella from a tiger, while Coridon runs away in fear, the narrator says:

From that day forth she gan him [Calidore] to affect,
And daily more her fauour to augment;
But Coridon for cowherdize reiect,
Fit to keepe sheepe, vnfit for loues content.


These lines reject not only cowardice but the herdsman's condition punningly linked to it. The last line in effect renounces pastoral, whose claim on us is precisely the acknowledgment that our condition in love, as in other fundamental human situations, can be represented by keepers of sheep. Coridon fails to be a pastoral figure (and Spenserian pastoral fails the rustic), because the courtly poet is unable or unwilling to represent him in the full sense: in depicting him, he does not speak in his stead or on his behalf. Hence Coridon cannot be imagined to speak for himself and therefore cannot be met in a pastoral encounter.


Not surprisingly, it is in the drama that rustic figures speak for themselves in ways that extend the repertory of the representative shepherd and enlarge the possibilities of pastoral. Shakespeare's interest in representative rustics is made evident early in his career, in the first scene of Love's Labor's Lost. After the King and his fellows reaffirm their vows to study for three years and make their court “a little academe,” Berowne, already restive under the disavowal of love, asks whether they shall have no “quick recreation.” The King replies that Don Armado, the fanciful, rhetoric-mongering Spaniard, will serve “for my minstrelsy,” and Longaville concludes:

Costard the swain and he shall be our sport;
And so to study three years is but short.


This sounds as if country entertainment will be as neatly separated and contained as the eclogues which the natives of Sidney's Arcadia stage for King Basileus in his rural retreat. At this very moment entertainment arrives, but not in the anticipated form. Costard is brought in by Dull, the constable:

Which is the Duke's own person?
This, fellow. What wouldst?
I myself reprehend his own person, for I am his Grace's farborough [petty constable]; but I would see his own person in flesh and blood.


Any malapropism suggests the capacity of language to go haywire, and a malapropism on “represent” calls attention (in modern lingo) to the arbitrariness of signs and hence the inherent capacity of words to be substituted for one another. But the potentially dizzying effect is balanced here by the obviousness of the meaning: “reprehend” not only can be mistaken for but can adequately represent “represent.” By transforming our own verbal consciousness into simplicity of apprehension and the release of laughter, the rustic's malapropism becomes a piece of pastoral representation.

The pastoralism of this moment initiates a more far-reaching pastoral encounter in the scene. Costard has been “taken with a wench,” thus violating an edict that represents, in the ordinary world of constables and actionable offenses, the King's high-minded vow to avoid all commerce with women. The letter from Don Armado, which Dull bears to the King and which makes known Costard's offense, puts on display the substitutability of words to which Dull's malapropism called attention. The scene then concludes with a pastoral encounter on this theme:

Did you hear the proclamation?
I do confess much of the hearing it, but little of the marking of it.
It was proclaim'd a year's imprisonment to be taken with a wench.
I was taken with none, sir, I was taken with a damsel.
Well, it was proclaim'd damsel.
This was no damsel neither, sir, she was a virgin.
It is so varied too, for it was proclaim'd virgin.
If it were, I deny her virginity; I was taken with a maid.
This maid will not serve your turn, sir.
This maid will serve my turn, sir.


This joke has some of the decisiveness of farce, but it translates physical need into verbal force, and its mode is pastoral. Not only does “Costard the swain” represent what he himself ruefully calls “the simplicity of man to hearken after the flesh” (217); he takes on this role by speaking up for, i.e., representing himself to the King. Whether his devastating reply is naive or consciously witty—and it is pastoral precisely in that one cannot tell—its effect, true to the word of his rustic companion, is to “reprehend the Duke's own person.” The swain's behavior and self-representation enact both the literal meaning and the pun in “reprehend”: by representing human needs and nature, he criticizes the King's outlawing of love. In hearkening after the flesh—a locution set off against much talk of hearing verbal displays—Costard has already enacted the protest Berowne couches in sophistry: “Com' on then, I will swear to study so, To know the thing I am forbid to know” (1.1.59-60).

In terms of literary genealogy Costard is not a pastoral figure like Spenser's Melibee, who derives from the moralizing old shepherds of Renaissance eclogues. Costard comes from the world of festive comedy, and as a literary type is a clown or fool (the two other epithets, besides “swain,” used of him in the play). Empson might argue, as he certainly suggests, that all these figures in Shakespeare are “versions of pastoral.” Leo Salingar's description of Shakespeare's fools could similarly have had Empson in mind: “They may be simpletons or jesters, or a mixture of both, so that it becomes difficult to distinguish their unconscious humour from their wry wit; but in general, they stand for instinctive human nature as contrasted with culture, for the naïve man or the physical man as against the man of sentiment.”7 But in Costard, Shakespeare assimilates the clown to a pastoral context—an aristocratic retreat to the country to pursue a life of contemplation—and a pastoral problematic, the transformation of erotic energies into play and utterance. In this context, it might appear that Costard's pastoral representativeness is subject to the same limiting observation we made about Spenser's Melibee—that the pastoral figure is ultimately a piece of courtly self-representation. But the conditions of drama, and particularly the drama of the Shakespearean theater, give the country figures a certain independence. Melibee speaks Calidore's language, for there is no other in The Faerie Queene. Costard speaks his own language, which turns out, at times, to have a representative authority of its own.

One sometimes feels that Costard's verbal bumbling and naive attitudes are simply stock representations of the comic rustic. To the extent that this is true, he is speaking the courtier's language, in the sense that his verbal powers are limited to the way courtly writing (as in the Miso, Mopsa, and Dametas of Sidney's Arcadia) mocks country folk. The difficulty of saying when this is true of Costard and when not is a sign of the limitations of Love's Labor's Lost. But As You Like It makes clear what is already at work in the earlier play. The difference between the figure of Corin and his prototype in Rosalynde shows how Shakespeare, as many critics have recognized, strikes a new note in pastoral writing. Lodge's Alinda and Rosalynde first see the old shepherd Corydon in his “pleasant eclogue” with Montanus, just as Celia and Rosalind first see Corin discussing Silvius's love with him. When the eclogue is finished, Alinda steps forward, identifies herself as “a distressed Gentlewoman” wandering in the forest, and requests “some place of rest”:

… May you appoint us anie place of quiet harbour, (be it never so meane) I shall be thankfull to you, contented in my selfe, and gratefull to whosoever shall bee mine hoste.

Coridon hearing the Gentlewoman speak so courteously returned her mildly and reverentlie this aunswere:

Fair Mistres, we returne you as heartie a welcome, as you gave us a courteous salute.8

This little exchange perfectly exemplifies what Empson calls “the essential trick of the old pastoral, which was felt to imply a beautiful relation between rich and poor” (SVP, 11). Here the “trick” takes the form of Alinda making her request in exactly the terms that are to be attributed to the shepherd: quiet harbor, acceptance of meanness, thankfulness, content. Hence there cannot fail to be a perfect harmony between courtier and rustic. The conventionality, in all senses, of the passage makes one appreciate the way Spenser tests the courtier's representation of pastoral ideals, the way he uses the shepherd to hold the courtier to his terms. On the other hand, Lodge's far simpler version of the encounter is not without its charms. Here is the end of the speech in which Corydon represents “the shepherd's life”:

Envie stirres not us, wee covet not to climbe, our desires mount not above our degrees, nor our thoughts above our fortunes. Care cannot harbour in our cottages, nor doo our homely couches know broken slumbers: as we exceede not in diet, so we have inough to satisfie; and Mistres I have so much Latin, Satis est quod sufficit.


This is a quite entrancing bit of self-reflexiveness. Corydon's motto reiterates “we have enough to satisfy” and thus enacts its own sufficiency: “the Latin I have tells me I need no more.” The shepherd is thus saved from the pretentiousness of Holofernes the schoolmaster, who misquotes this apothegm in Love's Labor's Lost (5.1.1). But in addition, the gesture acknowledges the self-reflexiveness of this pastoral—the fact that the shepherd represents the gentleman's values because he speaks the gentleman's tongue. The writer's pleasure in the piece of wit is also a willingness to stand by this motto, and he thus makes good the ritual diffidence of his prefatory address “to the Gentlemen Readers”:

Gentlemen, look not here to find anie sprigs of Pallas bay tree, nor to heare the humour of any amorous Lawreate, nor the pleasing veine of anie eloquent Orator: Nolo altum sapere, they be matters above my capacitie.


Shakespeare's characters do not take for granted “the beautiful relation between rich and poor,” and therefore, as Judy Z. Kronenfeld points out in an excellent article,9 Shakespeare's pastoralism does not presume upon it. Far from presenting herself as having already made pastoral virtues of her necessities, the exhausted Celia urges her companions to ask Corin “if he for gold will give us any food” (2.4.65). It is in such terms that Rosalind makes their request:

I prithee, shepherd, if that love or gold
Can in this desert place buy entertainment,
Bring us where we may rest ourselves and feed.
Here's a young maid with travel much oppressed,
And faints for succor.


If Melibee refused Calidore's gold, it would certainly be possible for the figure addressed here to reject the idea of payment for the help he gives. Instead, economic necessities are brought to the fore:

                                                                                                    Fair sir, I pity her
And wish, for her sake more than for mine own,
My fortunes were more able to relieve her;
But I am shepherd to another man,
And do not shear the fleeces that I graze.
My master is of churlish disposition,
And little reaks to find the way to heaven
By doing deeds of hospitality.
Besides, his cote, his flocks, and bounds of feed
Are now on sale, and at our sheep-cote now
By reason of his absence there is nothing
That you will feed on; but what is, come see,
And in my voice most welcome shall you be.(10)


One's first thought is that this speech undermines pastoral values. It first suggests that charity and succor are dependent on one's means and then that the citizen of Arden who has the means is charitable neither to his servants nor to strangers. But as a number of critics have observed and as Kronenfeld says most precisely, “Shakespeare first defines the situation as unconventional, then finds within it the conventional virtues, thus revitalizing the idea of pastoral charity.”11

The question is how Shakespeare manages to restore pastoral values here; or rather, how he manages to do it without falling back on the fact (as much a trick of the old pastoral as any) that “good owners” come along just when their money and decency are needed. The answer is in Corin's rhetoric and presence, which are very much those—or better, Shakespearean developments of those—of other representative shepherds. The astringent precision of “And do not shear the fleeces that I graze” is pastoral not only because it states the simple fact, as Empson puts it (SVP, 11) in “learned and fashionable language.” Though more self-conscious than apothegms (mainly because it doubles the literal and metonymic use of “fleeces”) it is in touch with their mode. Furthermore, the way in which it represents the shepherd's economic status itself expresses pastoral values, for the meanings and associations of “graze” (feeding, protective supervision, ease of pasture) suggest that not being able to shear the fleeces of one's flock is to have a natural sequence blocked and even a natural right denied. The assertion of pastoral values is direct and explicit in the portrait of the “churlish” master, and it enacts, both in this epithet and its criticism, the traditional pastoral paradox that the humble person reproves his social superior by representing the virtues he should exemplify. Finally, the speech ends with a remarkable pastoral gesture. “In my voice most welcome shall you be” says in Corin's dignified plain style what the younger Shakespeare conveyed by rustic malapropism. For it is tantamount to saying “I myself reprehend my master's own person”: that is, I give the welcome in his stead (represent him) and implicitly rebuke him for being unwilling to give it himself. Moreover, the line is a self-fulfilling moment: coming at the end of Corin's speech, it does not project its welcome into the future but enacts it on the spot. The somewhat odd locution, “in my voice,” draws attention to the self-reflexiveness, and it completes the revitalization of pastoral values by representing human solicitude as responsive speech.12

Indeed, so clear is the pastoralism of Corin's speech that one may well ask what was the point of the realistic “swerve” with which he began. For it cannot be claimed that Corin makes us cognizant of a permanent element in the world he represents. In the speech most often quoted as an example of his homespun dignity, he says:

Sir, I am a true laborer: I earn that I eat, get that I wear, owe no man hate, envy no man's happiness, glad of other men's good, content with my harm, and the greatest of my pride is to see my ewes graze and my lambs suck.


The first phrases may indicate the status of a hired hand, but the speech as a whole suggests the independent proprietor—especially the final detail, which is reminiscent of the way Spenser's Melibee and Lodge's Corydon speak of their flocks as their only care. (What is critically searching in this line is that what makes “pride” pastoral—its conversion into pure satisfaction—is its representation in terms of maternal feeding.)13 One understands why commentators with politics more radical than Kronenfeld's feel irritated at the way the play lapses into conventional pastoralism. Without endorsing the dismissiveness of some of these critics,14 we can take the questions they raise seriously and ask what purpose is served by Corin's moment of social realism. Is the speech any more than an on-the-spot display by Shakespeare that, as always, he is too smart to be taken in by a convention? After all, the very title of this play can call to mind the opportunism or cynicism of its leading wits, Touchstone and Jaques.

The questions the speech raises about pastoral values and relationships serve to ground them in situations and relationships more dramatic than in earlier pastorals, including pastoral dramas. Instead of the pretty speechifying of Lodge's Alinda, we have Rosalind asking for help in circumstances of distress. Even if Rosalind's courtesy to Corin suggests a conventional sense of noblesse oblige, Corin's reply reveals that gentle values depend on the individual gentleperson. But beyond the relation between the characters, Corin's words about his master introduce a broader idea—that the kind of thing we have seen happening at court can happen anywhere, even in Arden. Arden may prove to be the “better world” in which the courtier LeBeau, bidding farewell to Orlando, imagines he would “desire more love and knowledge” of the disgraced man whom he cannot befriend (1.2.285). It may even prove to be the golden world of carelessness imagined by the wrestler Charles. But if so, it is because it allows room for decency as knowing as LeBeau's. There is no presumption of any virtue inherent in the place (commentators have often noted the absence of magic in these woods), just as Corin's speech makes it clear that there are no virtues inherent in the social ranks that, ideally, express them. The economic and social realism specific to Corin's speech is simply one manifestation of the broader and more conservative human realism of the play.

But if this is so, if virtues are not inherent in locale, then there is no reason why so-called pastoral values should be represented by shepherds. This is precisely what is conveyed by the scene preceding the courtiers' entrance into Arden and their encounter with Corin. When Orlando returns home from the wrestling match, he is met by the old family servant Adam, who warns him that his brother intends to kill him; when Orlando says he will take his chances at home, rather than beg or rob, Adam offers him his life's savings,

Which I did store to be my foster-nurse,
When service should in my old limbs lie lame,
And unregarded age in corners thrown.
Take that, and He that doth the ravens feed,
Yea, providently caters for the sparrow,
Be comfort to my age!


The pathos that makes these lines celebrated is mitigated by the play. Adam is spared the fate of being “unregarded”—not by acts of providence or the magic that does duty for them on the stage, but because his generosity insures an answering care and generosity in his young master. Similarly, when Orlando, seeking food for Adam, breaks violently in upon the Duke and his men, his act of desperate loyalty is met with civil generosity. If the play makes us feel that such responsiveness and solicitude are not conventional in the invidious sense, it is because we are persuaded that either of these episodes could have developed differently. A young master like the Bertram of All's Well (not to mention the Oliver of this play) might have accepted Adam's gold in a different spirit, Jaques would have dealt differently, as he is at pains to show, with the desperate Orlando. If the virtues and values are pastoral, it is because of the characters (in all senses) of the individuals who espouse and exemplify them. When Adam offers his gold and his service, Orlando exclaims:

O good old man, how well in thee appears
The constant service of the antique world,
When service sweat for duty, not for meed!


These words present Adam as, in Kronenfeld's phrase, “a model of pastoral virtue.”15 Precisely because they call to mind pastoral ideas, they detach Adam and the virtues he represents from pastoral representation in the narrow, literal sense. By dividing the figure of the virtuous old shepherd between Corin and Adam, Shakespeare reveals the possibility of “shepherd-equivalents”—humble figures who are not shepherds but who have their literary characteristics and representative presence.

The equivalence between Adam and Corin may seem so conscious, even programmatic (making a deliberate point about conventional pastoral) as to be of merely local interest in As You Like It. But Shakespeare's dramaturgy can produce shepherd-equivalents in unexpected contexts. The grave-digger in Hamlet is simply a “clown,” as the stage direction calls him, when he expounds the law and quizzes his fellow at the beginning of the scene. But he becomes a pastoral figure in the presence of courtiers. When Hamlet and Horatio enter, they find him singing in the grave and tossing skulls about him as he does his job. The hero's presence makes us aware of the pastoral value of his earlier “clownish” speeches. His talk about Adam as the first gentleman is simple not only in its manner but in its secure knowledge of what we must all come to. The self-reflexiveness of his clinching point, that Adam “bore arms” because he was a digger, reveals the confidence in his own representativeness, already suggested when he says, “There is no ancient gentlemen but gard'ners, ditchers, and grave-makers; they hold up Adam's profession” (5.1.29-30). This claim anticipates all the elements of Hamlet's meditations as he watches him—on the jawbone of Cain, the social inversions of death and their suggestion of “fine revolution,” and the lawyer's attempt to contract out of death—and it also reveals the hero's painful, performative self-consciousness.

When Hamlet finally addresses him, the grave-digger is as good as his word: “Whose grave's this, sirrah?” “Mine, sir” (5.1.119). He, if no other man, could be associated with the birds and the low-roofed tortoises who reveal, to the pastoralizing speaker of Upon Appleton House, the folly of man who, “superfluously spread / Demands more room alive than dead” (st. 3). (Marvell's poem can be regarded as a reprise of this scene, Theocritus to its Homer. The narrator coolly encompasses both the prince whose “imagination trace[s] the noble dust of Alexander” [5.1.202-3] and the grave-digger, whose riddle to his companion, to which he himself is the answer, is “What is he that builds stronger than either the mason, the shipwright, or the carpenter?” [5.1.41-2]) There is no sentimentality here, perhaps not even any pathos in the ordinary sense. The grave-digger's sense of the whole tragedy comes down to clownish tautologies:

How came he mad?
Very strangely, they say.
How strangely?
Faith, e'en with losing his wits.
Upon what ground?
Why, here in Denmark.


Tired jests, we have heard them before, but the grave-digger knows the grounds on which he stands. His pragmatic answers to Hamlet's morbid question about ground—“How long will a man lie i'th'earth ere he rot?”—take on their full human value in the subsequent exchange about Yorick's skull. Hamlet's improvisation on it shows, in parvo, the intellectual and existential range of the first modern hero. It has all his performative energy, charm, and finesse, and at the same time reveals his mordant wit, his revulsion at the flesh, his self-disgust and despair. For the grave-digger, exclaiming “A pestilence on him for a mad rogue!” Yorick is the same fellow, “alive as dead.” Unlike the melancholy prince, he is at home with death.


The final Shakespearean transformation of the representative shepherd occurs in Act 4 of The Winter's Tale. It is no secret that the pastoralism of this act turns the tragic beginnings of the play to its comic end. But when we look for the figures we expect to find, the representative shepherds of eclogues and of pastoral drama and romance, they seem to be reduced and marginal. Hence Greg's astonishing statement that “the shepherd scenes of [the] play … owe nothing of their treatment to pastoral tradition, nothing to convention, nothing to aught save life as it mirrored itself in the magic glass of the poet's imagination.”16 Critics tend to poach these scenes for what can be absorbed into accounts of the whole play: the exchange on art and nature; the Old Shepherd's statement, “thou met'st with things dying, I with things new-born” (3.3.113-14); and Perdita's phrase, “great creating Nature” (4.4.88), which is assumed to state the quintessence of pastoral. The motivic and symbolic weight of these moments is consonant with the solemnities of the rest of the play, but is often felt to be at odds with the conditions of their utterance. The Arden editor wants to cut the Old Shepherd's statement down to size, as a piece of rustic wit, and critics regularly find it awkward that Polixenes, who is up to no good, takes the “right” side in the debate about art and nature. Autolycus presents similar difficulties—is he a life-enhancing figure or a corrupt scoundrel?—and even Perdita goes in and out of focus as we try to understand the relation between her innocence and her authority. All these figures count as pastoral speakers. Their variety—less obvious, because less programmatic, than in As You Like It—has obscured what they have in common. Those who are not inhabitants of the countryside are court figures who represent themselves as country folk, and the sheep-shearing festival convenes them all.

The most obvious courtly pastoralist is Florizel, who when we meet him has already undergone the change of guise that Spenser's Calidore learns to accept for the sake of love. The test of his “swain's wearing” (4.9) is the character of his speech:

Nothing but jollity. The gods themselves
(Humbling their deities to love) have taken
The shapes of beasts upon them. Jupiter
Became a bull and bellow'd; the green Neptune
A ram and bleated; and the fire-rob'd god,
Golden Apollo, a poor humble swain,
As I seem now. Their transformations
Were never for a piece of beauty rarer,
Nor in a way so chaste, since my desires
Run not before mine honor, nor my lusts
Burn hotter than my faith.


In other contexts, like the tapestries of Spenser's House of Busyrane, Ovidian transformations involve humiliation, the god within laid low by his need. Florizel's is a pastoral transformation. His initial locution—“The gods themselves … have taken / The shapes of beasts upon them”—conveys the swain's humility, for it represents what one suffers as a willing choice. The loving prince seems as good as his word, which is to say as good as his costume. But the purity of avowal here—the “way so chaste” Florizel claims for himself—involves an additional element of pastoral costuming, the festivity which has Perdita “most goddess-like prank'd up” (10) and which allows the lover to say, “Apprehend nothing but jollity.” Because of the occasion, there is an element of sheer play in the young prince's self-representation, and he therefore, like other pastoral lovers but without their frustration, can distill his desire into lovely utterance. Indeed the playwright himself can be said, like his young hero, to be playing with pastoral in this long scene.17 Not in the sense (which it is a main purpose of this book to discourage) that something must be done to pastoral to make it interesting, but in the strong and specific sense that he brings out the possibilities in pastoral of playing and of making a play.

After the anguish of Leontes' Sicily, where fantasies of bestial sex and the wearing of horns poison the imagination, this speech has the liberating effect promised by its opening line. If “Leontes' state of mind is a parody of the imagination of lover and poet,” as Northrop Frye says,18 Florizel gives new and saving qualities to the lover's avowals. He provides an alternative to the courtly habit of hyperbole that is implicated in the tragedy of the first three acts. We first see it in the convoluted courtesies of the opening scene, then in the playful extravagancies (e.g. “Your queen and I are devils,” 1.2.82) that help fire Leontes' imagination, and finally in the state of desperation that embraces Paulina's indignation and Antigonus's willingness to stake his wife's and daughters' virtue on Hermione's (2.1.133-57). Florizel's pastoralism acts as a protection against courtly hyperbole. The delicate absurdities of Jupiter's bellowing and Neptune's bleating treat erotic utterance with affectionate irony and thus register a saving difference from the courtly representation of innocence, which sex invades like a catastrophe: “We were as twinn'd lambs that did frisk i' th' sun, / And bleat the one at th' other” (1.2.67-68). The speech guarantees the claims implicit in its central lines:

                                                            the fire-rob'd god,
Golden Apollo, a poor humble swain,
As I seem now.

“The fire-robed god,” his epithet suggestive of erotic urgency, is renamed first as the god of poetry and then as the pastoral speaker who is his equal in love and who wields, as these very lines suggest, equivalent powers of rhetorical transformation. Well may Florizel assure Perdita that youthful lovers can escape the rages of their fathers.

Yet one may wonder whether Florizel's purity of avowal is not subject to all the limitations of fragile innocence usually attributed to pastoral. Is this young sir, breathing forth his chaste desires, any more than the male equivalent of those floral virgins Perdita imagines dying “ere they can behold / Bright Phoebus in his strength” (4.4.123-24)? Is this the son whose erotic insistence (“Or I'll be thine, my fair, / Or not my father's,” 4.4.42-43) can redeem the devastation wrought by the adult male imagination? Why do this speech and this scene not seem to us, in the context of this play, as the madness of Ophelia—Perdita's predecessor in bestowing flowers on her elders—seems to Laertes: “Thought and afflictions, passion, hell itself / She turns to favor and to prettiness” (Hamlet, 4.5.188-89)?

The answer lies in the way Shakespeare makes pastoral usages answerable to a dramatic situation and dramatic relations productive of pastoral values. Though his source, Robert Greene's Pandosto, provided scenes in the country, it was Shakespeare who made these scenes a pastoral occasion. He developed the sheep-shearing festival from a single sentence in Pandosto19 and did more than make it a site of convening—though that motif is itself made prominent by scenes which show Polixenes and Camillo setting off for the country (4.2) and then Autolycus and the Clown (Perdita's “brother”) heading for the festival (4.3). By turning Greene's country episodes into a single gathering, Shakespeare brings together what Greene keeps separate—ordinary country life and the prince's pastoral wooing—and to them adds the disguised Polixenes and Camillo, whose analogues in Pandosto do not cross the border that separates court and country. These changes are both pastoral—in that the festive convening makes all the characters “shepherds,” rural celebrants, for the nonce—and dramatic, in that the various elements of the situation are brought into contact (and therefore potential conflict) with each other.

The full dramatic potential, as one might expect of a pastoral, is suspended. True conflict does not occur until Polixenes throws off his disguise; the fact that he thus breaks off a mock marriage—which, like those of Rosalynde and As You Like It, seems as good as the real thing—makes it explicit that this is a disruption of pastoral.20 At the same time, the festive pastoral is, from its opening lines, deeply attentive to dramatic realities:

These your unusual weeds to each part of you
Does give a life; no shepherdess, but Flora
Peering in April's front.


This is a double pastoral: the princess who is represented as a shepherdess (knowingly within the play, though not by herself) is here recostumed as a rural goddess. At the same time, these lines are made dramatic by the way the circumstances of their utterance engage their most striking detail. “Peering in April's front” is usually taken to mean “peeping out in early April.” This takes the subject to be flowers, not their goddess,21 but Florizel's loving praise and Perdita's presence make it impossible not to think of the goddess herself. Imagining Flora “in person” brings out the personification in “April's front” (i.e. brow or face, a much more likely meaning, in any case, than “first days”).22 These personifications make the phrase mean either “Flora looking out through or appearing in the face of April” or “Flora looking in(to) April's face.” In a direct authorial description of the costumed Perdita, the first reading might come into play, but the words are spoken by her lover, who is presumably looking at her as he speaks and she at him. Though not literally “proud-pied,” like the April of Sonnet 98,23 both his youth and the spirit of the occasion allow us to imagine him as the month who “dressed in all his trim / Hath put a spirit of youth in everything.” When Perdita replies to his playful aggrandizing, she draws out the motif implicit in the lovers' mutual gaze:

                                        But that our feasts
In every mess have folly, and the feeders
Digest 't with a custom, I should blush
To see you so attir'd—swoon, I think
To show myself a glass.


To look at him is both to see someone disconcertingly different and at the same time to see herself reflected (as, indeed, the flower-prince Florizel can be thought to reflect Flora).

The pastoral development of lovers' mutual reflection is immensely liberating for the play. For the tragedy that seems to have befallen Sicily is generated by a powerful misconstruction of erotic mirroring. Leontes imagines Hermione and Polixenes “paddling palms and pinching fingers” and then “making practic'd smiles / As in a looking-glass” (1.2.115-17). As this fantasy leads him to the verge of distraction, he turns for relief to Mamillius and initiates a more painful and grotesque fantasy of mirroring. “Art thou my boy?” he asks his son. He tries out on himself the cuckold's familiar torment, and resists (but in fact reinstates) it by gazing on the boy's face and seeing himself there. “What? hast smutch'd thy nose? / They say it is a copy out of mine” (1.2.121-22) Whether the lad's nose is running or dirty, Leontes' thought leads to a contorted play on “neat,” with its double sense of “cleanly” and of cattle, horned beasts. This prompts a metaphorical statement of the first question: “How now, you wanton calf, / Art thou my calf?” “Yes, if you will, my lord,” comes the reply, and indeed he will:

Thou want'st a rough pash and the shoots that I have,
To be full like me; yet they say we are
Almost as like as eggs.


These lines, in which Leontes simply equates his adult sexuality with wearing the cuckold's horns, begin the speech which will explode in the distracted soliloquy, “Affection, thy intention stabs the center!” The lines that bring him to that point are an insistent claiming that Mamillius is his likeness. We see here the habit of desperate asseveration that both reflects and helps create Sicily's frame of mind:

                    Women say so [that we are like as eggs]
That will say anything. But were they false
As o'er-dy'd blacks, as wind, as waters, false
As dice are to be wish'd by one that fixes
No bourn 'twixt his and mine, yet were it true
To say this boy were like me.


Leontes imagines the dicer in terms that cannot help but bring Polixenes to his mind, but they also bring out, for us, the terrible burden he imposes on his son by not recognizing a “bourn 'twixt his and mine.” It is this psychological imposition, Leontes' use of Mamillius as a narcissistic reflector,25 that makes credible the strong suggestion, in the romance plot, that he kills him.

Leontes' self-mirroring gradually extends to the whole world around him, until the only retreat from his diseased mind—the only place “Sicily” the country can be different from “Sicily” the monarch—is the prison, that other locale of doomed enclosure, to which the women of the play withdraw or are confined. The pastoralism of Bohemia frees the play and, eventually, Sicily from these segregations and self-enclosures. Dramatized in Florizel's and Perdita's wooing, pastoral masking makes erotic mirroring at once delighted and self-conscious. The underlying notion might be put as follows: “If I, dressed up for festivity and loving, am not myself, then you in whom I see myself, are also not myself.” Perdita's imagined swooning at her own image is itself differentially reflected, a dozen lines later, when Florizel's phrase—“Golden Apollo, a poor humble swain, / As I seem now”—raises the question of how he mirrors the god.

Perdita registers the sense of others' otherness when she speaks of the disparity in rank between herself and her prince: “To me the difference forges dread” (4.4.17). Her fear derives from differences seen dramatically—that is, as fixed and ineluctable, leading to conflict and consequences. But so long as Polixenes remains in pastoral guise, dread is suspended and difference emerges in the checks and balances of the dialogue—always dramatically plausible, but conceived in and sustaining a pastoral mode. Many of the speeches are set pieces, manifestly related to what we might find in eclogues. When the Old Shepherd enters on the festival scene with his rustic companions, he speaks, like many of his literary ancestors, as laudator temporis acti. (His first appearance, in 3.3, was in a familiar role in eclogues and romances—the herdsman searching for his lost sheep.) He reproaches Perdita for shirking her duties as a hostess by portraying the behavior of his “old wife” on such days. This is a pastoral register different from the play of Florizel and Perdita, but related to it by innocent utterance and the motifs of festivity and country bearing. It has a similar effect in and on the play. The old man's wholehearted insistence that his virgin daughter “quench [her] blushes” (4.4.67) and put herself forth to entertain her guests has the effect of undoing the confusions of insistent entertainment and sexual boldness with which Leontes' tragedy began. The Old Shepherd's speech is immediately followed by the most famous set piece in the play, the exchange on art and nature between Perdita and Polixenes. In the pleasure given by its rivaling responsiveness, it is related to exchanges in eclogues, and it is the dramatic device of the festival, to which all come in the character of shepherds, that enables it to occur. Polixenes' speech gives critics pause because it seems out of character: there is a disparity between his defense of mingling base and gentle and his actual purpose in coming to the countryside. But it is precisely that he is out of character here. The liberating quality of the feast, suspending for a while the dramatic realities that will reassert themselves, allows him to speak as if he belonged to Perdita's world and to register his differences in the role of sympathetic elder.

The benign registration of differences between genders and generations sustains a major development in the play. In a brief but important essay, C. L. Barber drew attention to the centrality of what seems to be Leontes' homosexual attraction to Polixenes. He points to the “twinn'd lambs” speech, of course, but also to the way Leontes' paranoid jealousy conforms to the Freudian account and to “the remarkable insistence on identification of the two kings with their sons.”26 He then makes the following structural argument about the whole play:

The primary motive that must be transformed before Hermione can be recovered in The Winter's Tale, as the father-daughter motive is transformed in Pericles, is the affection of Leontes for Polixenes, whatever name one gives it. The resolution becomes possible because the affection is consummated, as it could not otherwise be, through Perdita and Florizel.

I think our analysis enables us to state more clearly what Barber somewhat elides here. He draws attention, in the opening acts, to a homoerotic hall of mirrors: Leontes sees himself in Polixenes, and the power of this bond is manifested by the way the two monarchs mirror each other in seeing themselves in their sons. For the children to fulfill the fathers' love for each other, one son must be killed off and a daughter substituted for him. The pastoral scene turns this stern necessity into a far stronger version of “favor and prettiness” than could be represented by Ophelia and the Oedipal drama that claims her as victim. Nor is the movement from homoerotic bonds to heterosexual love in itself uncommon in Shakespearean comedy.27 What is distinctive in The Winter's Tale is that the children's love frees both them and their elders, who return at the end of the play not simply as authority figures but as lovers. This realignment of eros requires that the fathers as well as the children take part in the pastoral transformations of Act 4. We may feel that Polixenes's behavior after unmasking deprives him of any personal right, so to speak, to the cultivated dignity of his speech on art and nature. But his masking has caught him up in the play's work of freeing erotic devotion; his words to Perdita, as pastoral raisonneur, can therefore serve as a motto for the great final scene, in which he is one of the wondering observers as Hermione's statue takes flesh.

The ancillary characters of Bohemia extend the way pastoral disguising plays out erotic and social differentiation. After the “eclogue” which begins the feasting—with Perdita's flower speech, the last set piece, as its apogee—the celebration gives way to “a dance of Shepherds and Shepherdesses.” This introduces a scene of rural merriment, at the heart of which is Autolycus, selling his knacks and singing his ballads. The question for critics—and for those staging the play as well—is whether this adds anything of importance to what Derek Traversi calls the “rarified idealism” of the verse pastoral that has preceded. Traversi is typical in his uneasiness about Autolycus: he likes the “note of wayward humanity” and the “direct evocation of the flesh” but he does not want to attribute too much importance, in the central conceptions of the play, to the rogue's “vivacious spontaneity.”28 This interpretive uncertainty comes, in the first instance, from failing to see Autolycus's connection with other aspects of the play's pastoralism. He is one more Shakespearean variation on the literary shepherd: a fugitive from the court who has attired himself in country garb, he achieves his ends by means of entrancing songs. The scene over which he presides makes its pastoral conception evident when it concludes with a dance of “three carters, three shepherds, three neatherds, [and] three swineherds,” who are costumed as satyrs. One expects to find herdsmen and satyrs in pastoral drama and romance, and there is no pointed disparity with Autolycus, as there is between Silvius and Touchstone in As You Like It. For the satyr dance, turning sexual energy into musical pleasure, stages the significance of Autolycus's ballads, which occasion innocent bawdry and which themselves are sold as love-gifts.

The importance of Autolycus's pleasures becomes apparent when Polixenes decides to make his move. He asks Florizel why he purchased no love-gifts from the pedlar:

                                                                                How now, fair shepherd?
Your heart is full of something that does take
Your mind from feasting. Sooth, when I was young,
And handed love as you do, I was wont
To load my she with knacks.


These lines beautifully illustrate the doubleness of pastoral masking. Polixenes challenged Perdita in this same tone of elderly solicitude, which we can take as honest (to use one of the play's key words) insofar as the speaker accepts his country guise. An old shepherd speaking these lines would suggest a tolerant awareness of the folly he once played out himself: this is the tone Corin takes, in the first words Rosalind hears in the Forest of Arden, as he counsels the enamored Silvius (2.4.22ff.). But Polixenes, preparing to throw off his disguise, is “angling” here, in the manner of his brother-king (1.2.180). His dramatic purpose gives a disparaging inflection to “handed” and “load my she with knacks”: it brings into the countryside a whiff of Leontes' physical loathing (“paddling palms and pinching fingers”) and contemptuous locutions (“My wife's a hobby-horse, deserves a name / As rank as any flax-wench” 1.2.275-76). Florizel replies that his gifts are those of the heart, and he shows what he means by redeeming his beloved's hand:

                                                  I take thy hand, this hand,
As soft as dove's down and as white as it,
Or Ethiopian's tooth, or the fann'd snow that's bolted
By th' northern blasts twice o'er.


Polixenes professes to admire this protestation, but his admiration is compromised by an undertone of mockery (“How prettily th' young swain seems to wash / The hand was fair before!”). We must be able to resist such mockery ourselves, if these extravagant speeches are to redeem the hyperboles of love that Leontes corrupted and that underlie the wonders of the statue scene.

Our admiration of Florizel can be more wholehearted, it can admit wonder, because of the comic erotics of the preceding scene. There Autolycus and his companions play out the words with which the Old Shepherd's servant announces his arrival:

He hath songs for man or woman, of all sizes; no milliner can so fit his customers with gloves. He has the prettiest love-songs for maids, so without bawdry, which is strange; with such delicate burthens of dildos and fadings, “jump her and thump her.”


Here, as in the rest of the scene, gloves and ballads are interchangeable love-gifts, each felt to express the lover's desires and to pay suitable tribute to the mistress's powers. Florizel's verbal decking of his beloved's hand does not feel excessively rarefied, because it is seen to be of a piece with these more common exchanges. It is Polixenes's spirit, not his son's, that will scorn such commerce and the erotic extravagance it too expresses. The young lover deifying the mistress he has “most goddess-like prank'd up” is reinscribed in the balladeer who is said to “sing over” ribbons, smocks, and cuffs “as they were gods and goddesses” (207-8). When Autolycus enters singing “Lawn as white as driven snow” he is as good as his herald's word. Even the innocent obscenity of “dildos” is not left as a mere joke against the rustics, as Polixenes might view it. The malapropism, taking the name of the phallus as a ballad refrain, is one more instance of pastoral transformation—a “delicate burthen” indeed.

To redeem the play from Leontes, Sicily, the world of the fathers, there was needed—so the dramaturgy of Act 4 argues—both the innocent extravagance of the princely lover and a figure who has a more ironic and earthbound sense not only of human desires but of poetizing as a form of pleasure, self-expression, and advantage-seeking. This diversifying of pastoral roles engages a promise of innocence first stated in Act 1, as the Sicilian tragedy unfolds. When Hermione and Polixenes, having seen his exchange with Mamillius, ask Leontes what troubles him, he dismisses their concern by saying he was carried away by seeing himself in “the lines of my boy's face” (1.2.153-54). What he sees there—himself as a boy “unbreech'd,” with his “dagger muzzled”—shows how he reads his own sexual disturbance into Mamillius. As if to turn everyone's attention, including his own, from these suggestions, he asks: “Are you so fond of your young prince as we /Do seem to be of ours?” Polixenes replies:

                                                                                                    If at home, sir,
He's all my exercise, my mirth, my matter;
Now my sworn friend, and then mine enemy;
My parasite, my soldier, statesman, all.
He makes a July's day short as December,
And with his varying childness cures in me
Thoughts that would thick my blood.


This representation of innocence is as important to the play as the more frequently cited lines about the boyhood of the two kings. Both terms in the phrase “varying childness” bring out the difference from Polixenes's earlier portrayal of “twinn'd lambs,” who “bleat the one at th' other” as if absolutely identical. Here innocence is not only seen in human form but is manifested by the human capacity to play a variety of roles.

It is precisely this power of our nature that Leontes corrupts the moment Polixenes and Hermione leave:

                                                                                                                        Gone already!
Inch-thick, knee-deep, o'er head and ears a fork'd one!
Go play, boy, play. Thy mother plays, and I
Play too, but so disgrac'd a part, whose issue
Will hiss me to my grave: contempt and clamor
Will be my knell. Go play, boy, play.


What first strikes us, of course, is the ugly twist Leontes gives to the innocent word. But this moment initiates a more fearsome corruption of playing. Leontes' paranoid fantasy—imagining himself onstage in his own part, the object of all eyes—is augmented by an additional need to play out the parts of those who betray and mock him. It is this that provides the finishing touch, the sting at the end, of the scene of loathing with which his speech continues:

                                                                                                    There have been
(Or I am much deceived) cuckolds ere now,
And many a man there is (even at this present,
Now, while I speak this) holds his wife by th' arm,
That little thinks she has been sluic'd in 's absence,
And his pond fish'd by his next neighbor—by
Sir Smile, his neighbor.


Leontes' capacity to take on all the parts in his drama appears in his vehement imaginings of the love-play of Hermione and Polixenes—a vein he regularly draws on, as if playing Iago to his own Othello. Nowhere is this playing of parts more evident than in his carryings on after he invades the scene in the nursery (2.1), where Mamillius, in his “varying childness,” is about to tell his winter's tale. As he pulls the boy from his mother, she asks, “What is this? Sport?” and soon sees the games her husband plays:

                                                                                                    You, my lords,
Look on her, mark her well; be but about
To say she is a goodly lady, and
The justice of your hearts will thereto add
'Tis pity she's not honest—honorable.
Praise her but for this her without-door form
(Which on my faith deserves high speech) and straight
The shrug, the hum or ha (these petty brands
That calumny doth use. …)


The solipsism of Leontes' Sicily is evident. Everywhere he turns he sees his suspicions confirmed—in Camillo's dismay (cf. 1.2.384-87), in Polixenes' flight, and in Mamillius's pining away. But bound up with self-mirroring and its misinterpretations is the active self-projection by which the monarch populates his realm with fantasy figures of his own enactment.

Perhaps it is this ludic twist that enables The Winter's Tale to be a tragicomedy. In any case, one of the most important functions of the pastoralism of Act 4 is to redeem the capacity to play—to restore “varying childness” to the world, under the aspect of festivity. Autolycus's centrality is clear here. Not only does he diversify, in respect to Florizel, the role of pastoral singer, he is himself a notorious player of parts. This is the way he represents himself to the Clown as he pretends, as if in parody of Leontes, to be his own victim:

I know this man well [says Autolycus]; he hath been since an ape-bearer, then a process-server, a bailiff, then he compass'd a motion of the Prodigal Son, and married a tinker's wife within a mile where my land and living lies; and, having flown over many knavish professions, he settled only in rogue. Some call him Autolycus.


The rogue's role-playing is assimilated to pastoral in the sheep-shearing scene. Of all Autolycus's songs, the one that most achieves his ends is neither “Lawn as white as driven snow” nor “Will you buy any tape,” both of which hawk his wares, nor one of the fantastical ballads he summarizes, which themselves parody the tragic events in Sicily (4.4.262-81). Rather it is the trio ballad, in which he joins the country folk, of “Two maids wooing a man.” He has scarcely begun his pitch to sell this song, when Mopsa and Dorcas inform him they have known it a month since and invite him to join them in singing it. “I can bear my part,” says Autolycus; “you must know 'tis my occupation” (4.4.295-96). It is this song which entrances the Clown: “He would not stir his pettitoes [Autolycus tells us later] till he had both tune and words, which so drew the rest of the herd to me that all their other senses stuck in ears” (4.4.606-9). It is this moment that makes Northrop Frye speak of Autolycus as “a kind of rascally Orpheus”29—with perfect truth to pastoral tradition, since it recalls the beginning of Virgil's eighth Eclogue, when the herds leave off grazing, in wonder at the songs of two shepherds. Shakespeare seems to have remembered this passage (whether or not through intermediaries) when Camillo praises Perdita: “I should leaving grazing, were I of your flock, / And only live by gazing” (4.4.109-10). The fullness of pastoral conception here perhaps justifies a fussy correction of Frye's remark: it is the Clown, the rustic, whose singing of this song has such Orphic effect, while Autolycus, the original singer, goes about picking pockets.

In Perdita's flower speech, pastoral playing lies at the heart of pastoral speaking. Perdita is a pastoral speaker here, because in her dramatic character she takes on the function of the literary shepherd. In a double act of convening, she welcomes her lover and her companions by imaginatively gathering the flowers of springtime:

                                                                                Now, my fair'st friend,
I would I had some flow'rs o' th' spring that might
Become your time of day—and yours, and yours,
That wear upon your virgin branches yet
Your maidenheads growing. O Proserpina,
For the flow'rs now, that, frighted, thou let'st fall
From Dis's wagon!


The invocation of Proserpina brings out the conventional function of pastoral song—to bring the singer and her fellows together in the face of separation or loss. But if the speech has the underpinnings of pastoral elegy, it does not have the tone: Perdita does not feel Proserpina's fate as a loss to herself, nor does she, like the ordinary literary shepherd, feel in a diminished situation. On the contrary, her poetizing, like her character, seems to restore the maiden-goddess and the season that is associated with her. Hence the grandeur critics attribute to her innocence in this speech. She is “more truly representative of the age of innocence than Milton's Eve.” “Like Hermione's, unlike Autolycus's, [hers] is an achieved innocence.”30 She is said to be like “great creating Nature” herself: “She so excels nature—or, at least, nature's norm—that her imagination can dispense with the objects [i.e. the flowers] themselves.”31 If the pastoral singer's invoking of an absent companion or predecessor has the effect of convening him, Perdita has been so successful that some critics mistakenly think that this scene takes place in springtime.32

Nevertheless, however understandable the critics' rhetoric and however much this speech thematizes natural recovery and the finding of that which is lost, Perdita cannot bring about the resolution which depends on that recovery. It is of the essence of the play's mode that no single character has that power—even Leontes, to Sicily's great good fortune, does not have the tragic hero's strength relative to his world—and Perdita most assuredly does not. She can lay claim to being Flora in this scene, but not Astraea.33 But the playing that enables her to “be” Flora explains both the character of her innocence in this speech and the compatibility of its power with its pastoralism. The speech begins in play—Perdita's merry rebuke of Camillo's extravagant praise (quoted above)—and it leads to the self-conscious avowal, “Methinks I play as I have seen them do / In Whitsun pastorals.” However we imagine her accompanying gestures or behavior, variable role-playing is implicit in the rhetoric of her catalogue of flowers. We can see this most readily by comparing Ovid's account of Perdita's prototype:

Haud procul Hennaeis lacus est a moenibus altae,
nomine Pergus, aquae: non illo plura Caystros
carmina cycnorum labentibus audit in undis.
silva coronat aquas cingens latus omne suisque
frondibus ut velo Phoebeos submovet ictus,
frigora dant rami, Tyrios humus umida flores:
perpetuum ver est. quo dum Proserpina luco
ludit et aut violas aut candida lilia carpit,
dumque puellari studio calathosque sinumque
inplet et aequales certat superare legendo,
paene simul visa est dilectaque raptaque Diti:
usque adeo est properatus amor. dea territa maesto
et matrem et comites, sed matrem saepius, ore
clamat, et ut summa vestem laniarat ab ora,
collecti flores tunicis cecidere remissis,
tantaque simplicitas puerilibus adfuit annis,
haec quoque virgineum movit iactura dolorem.


Not far from Henna's walls there is a deep pool of water, Pergus by name. Not Caÿster on its gliding waters hears more songs of swans than does this pool. A wood crowns the heights around its waters on every side, and with its foliage as with an awning keeps off Phoebus's rays. The branches afford a pleasing coolness, and the well-watered ground bears bright-coloured flowers. There spring is everlasting. Within this grove Proserpina was playing, and gathering violets or white lilies. And while with girlish eagerness she was filling her basket and her bosom, and striving to surpass her mates in gathering, almost in one act did Pluto see and love and carry her away: so precipitate was his love. The terrified girl called plaintively on her mother and her companions, but more often upon her mother. And since she had torn her garment at its upper edge, the flowers which she had gathered fell out of her loosened tunic; and such was the innocence of her girlish years, the loss of her flowers even at such a time aroused new grief.34

I quote the whole passage to bring out the many thematic connections—playing itself, protection from Phoebus's strength, the profusion of flowers and some specific flowers (lilies and violets), the motif of spring outlasting its time. Moreover, Ovid's passage, though not a pastoral, is conscious of song at its beginning—where it enhances and identifies the special character of this spot—and of its distortion in the virgin's cries of distress at the end. But what is particularly revealing for us is the way Ovid characterizes Proserpina: his whole emphasis is on her simplicitas.35 This passage, like the entire narration, sharply differentiates innocence and experience, children and parents. Innocence has its pathos, but it is seen from the outside and as itself a simple thing. The experience of pathos belongs to Ceres, who has moments of rage that come close to those of the rapist Dis. The cooler complexity of the poet's supervising intelligence, registered here by usque adeo est properatus amor (396), is matched in the story by Jove, who takes on the poet's tone when Ceres tells him of their daughter's fate:

                                                            commune est pignus onusque
nata mihi tecum, sed si modo nomina rebus
addere vera placet, non hoc iniuria factum,
verum amor est.


She is, indeed, our daughter, yours and mine, our common pledge and care. But if only we are willing to give right names to things, this is no harm that has been done, but only love.

Ovid tells the story of Proserpina as it would be seen by Polixenes. What is astonishing about Perdita, as critics in various ways have tried to say, is her knowingness in innocence. In the flower speech, this characteristic—which elsewhere manifests itself in frank playfulness—appears in a fluent assumption of identities and roles. What shall we say is the character of the speaker who evokes “daffodils, / That come before the swallow dares, and take / The winds of March with beauty” (4.4.118-20)? Does the idea of coming before the swallow dares reveal the maiden's fearfulness? Or does the virgin feel an identity with the spring flower, the daffodil, and its imputed boldness? This would be consistent with her imagined gathering of the flowers her frightened prototype let fall—the frankness of the country maid coming in to surpass the goddess in virginal presence. The range of her identifications is extended in the next detail, which evokes the erotic appeal of the flower's bold fragility and puts the speaker, momentarily, in the role of the forceful lover. “Take,” which here means “charm” or “seize the affections” (OED), retains a suggestion of vehemence; the word is not a pun, but it has a range that could include everything in Ovid's one-line narration of the rape of Proserpina. Paene simul visa est dilectaque raptaque Diti is the way a self-conscious poet rolls up items into a single moment; Perdita's “take” is pastoral in its simplicity, its resistance to being discomposed. At the same time, one would not say of this speaker, tantaque simplicitas puerilibus adfuit annis. Rather her speech displays “the pastoral process of putting the complex into the simple,” and it here depends on a flexibility of identification that sublimates, makes grand and exquisite, the power of “varying childness”—a phrase, we recall, used of the very Florizel who now stands before us in his youth.

There is a similar effect in

                                                                                pale primroses,
That die unmarried, ere they can behold
Bright Phoebus in his strength (a malady
Most incident to maids).


Traversi, an ideologue of maturity, says, “The beauty of these lines is devoid of strength, even clings pathetically to its own lack of vigor.”36 This is the accent of Polixenes. But how can we dispute the assumption that the maiden speaker is identical with the maidens represented? She surely feels some sense of identification with them—not only because of her virginity, but because she herself justly fears she may die unmarried. Her locution for sexual experience recalls, by its similar structure, the social fears she expressed earlier: “Or how / Should I, in these my borrowed flaunts, behold / The sternness of his [Polixenes's] presence?” (4.4.22-24) Nevertheless, the suggestions of maidenly pathos do not determine Perdita's character as speaker here. For one thing, she could not speak as she does without some implicit experience, denied to the primroses, of “bright Phoebus in his strength.” That her grasp of the virgins' situation goes beyond the simplicitas belonging to girlish years is confirmed by the element of wit in her final phrase. The Arden editor explains that the reference is to chlorosis, “the green sickness,” and refers us to Herrick's “How Primroses came green,” which records the legend that virgins, “troubled with Green-sicknesses,” were transformed into the flower which retains their hue. There is no doubt about the actuality of chlorosis, but neither grammar nor rhetoric allows us to refer “a malady most incident to maids” to the adjective “pale.” It can only refer to the preceding line and a half, which concerns the condition of being unmarried. Perdita wittily distances herself from maidenhood and suggests that to live beyond it—as she very much wants to—is a condition of health. (This suggestion is also consistent with the seasonal doubling—recuperating the values of spring for life in the summer, when the sun is in his strength.) Moreover, the phrase, rightly understood, borders on tautology: being unmarried is, of course, “most incident to maids,” for it defines them. The virgin speaker thus absorbs her desires and self-awareness into a phrase that, on the one hand, looks like a piece of comic primness, and on the other like its sophisticated partner, Marvellian wit.

One final consideration shows how this speech turns the workings of ordinary pastoral to the uses of drama. For whom do we imagine Perdita to be “singing” here? She speaks to her companions and her shepherd-lover, as she would in an eclogue. But when we ask in whose stead or on whose behalf she speaks, we are aware of another figure than those present. When she calls on Proserpina to bring the flowers of spring, Perdita—conscious of presenting “flow'rs of middle summer” to “men of middle age” (4.4.106-8)—intuits the role of the maiden's mother, the absent Ceres. Perdita thus speaks not only for herself but for Hermione, and it is in this way—deeply consistent with the pastoralism of both situation and character—that her presence in this scene, as many critics have felt, adumbrates the play's resolution. The final flowers of her catalogue, “bold oxlips” and “the crown imperial,” and the wonder of her presence, which has Florizel saying “all your acts are queens” (4.4.146) and Camillo calling her “the queen of curds and cream” (161), prepare us to be believers of the greater wonder when her royal mother comes to life and is told that “our Perdita is found.”

The main figures in Shakespeare's Bohemia are all conceived in terms provided by traditional pastoral. Florizel, Perdita, Autolycus, and Polixenes map out the possible ways in which court personages assume pastoral guise, and each speaks importantly in the character of a shepherd. But in their range and presence they quite dwarf the “real” shepherds who are their hosts, those whom one would expect—thinking of works like Sannazaro's Arcadia, Il Pastor Fido, Diana, and Rosalynde—to populate and determine the character of the pastoral world. We can locate the diminishment of the representative shepherd by the way The Winter's Tale deals with pastoral encounters. Immediately after Polixenes storms off, uttering his dire threats, Perdita says:

                                                            Even here undone!
I was not much afeard; for once or twice
I was about to speak, and tell him plainly
The self-same sun that shines upon his court
Hides not his visage from our cottage, but
Looks on alike.


The plain talk she imagines here is precisely what courtly interlocutors have heard from Spenser's Melibee and Shakespeare's Corin. Why does this pastoral encounter not occur face-to-face? Surely because the dramatic tensions are too strong for pastoral exchange. Perdita, in fact, did stand up to Polixenes in the art-nature “debate,” but the conditions there are explicitly those of eclogue, where the courtier accepts his role as shepherd. Shakespeare's dramaturgy, in other words, is conscious of the fact which Spenser's could not fully acknowledge—that the shepherd encountered by the sophisticated speaker is really a self-representation. Hence the pastoral encounters of The Winter's Tale occur between like characters, or, to put it another way, pastoral encounters are seen to be versions of pastoral exchange.

The dramaturgy of Act 4 is thus expressive and cognizant of the limitations of pastoral. Nevertheless, the power of the act as a whole is not in spite of but due to its commitment to pastoral usages. The possibility of exchange—which is to say, the possibility of action and utterance that establish connections between separate persons, the recognition of likeness in apparent difference (Perdita's imagined rebuke to Polixenes), the possibility represented by the grafting Polixenes defends when it is understood in the spirit of Perdita (i.e. when we understand the art-nature dialogue as responsive song, not debate)—these pastoral usages and thematics are the means by which the play transforms the disasters with which it began. Moreover, the fact that the tragic beginnings are identified with the court of Sicily means that the play as a whole engages the way in which pastoral figures are self-representations: we come to see the courtly pastoralists of Act 4, in themselves and in their relations, as alternatives to the courtiers of Acts 1-3. The pastoralism of Act 4 thus recovers the uses of pastoral encounter; but the encounter takes place not so much between the characters as within the mind of the audience.37 This is clearest in the episodes between Autolycus and the rustics, the last of which, concluding Act 4, parodies pastoral encounters, as Autolycus acts the role of the courtier to intimidate the Old Shepherd and his son. Our interest in these episodes is expressed less by what is going on between the characters on stage than by what goes on between us and the scenes as comic and pastoral wholes. What is crucial is that we not view any of the figures, either the rustics or Autolycus, in the spirit of Polixenes. It is because we feel the generosity and freedom Autolycus brings into the play—in the liberating sexual playfulness of his first song (“When daffodils begin to peer”) and then in the scene about love gifts—that we feel the alternatives, eventually to be realized in Hermione and the repentant Leontes, to Polixenes' disparaging of erotic devotion. We thus feel a pastoral alternative for ourselves, but it is no longer represented by a putatively real shepherd like Spenser's Melibee.


  1. “Laziness”: Harry Berger, Jr., “A Secret Discipline: The Faerie Queene, Book VI,” in Form and Convention in the Poetry of Edmund Spenser, ed. William Nelson (New York: Columbia University Press, 1961), 61; reprinted in Berger's Revisionary Play: Studies in the Spenserian Dynamics (Berkeley & Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1988), 233. “Dream world”: Humphrey Tonkin, Spenser's Courteous Pastoral (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972), 292. “Soft pastoralism”: Isabel G. MacCaffrey, Spenser's Allegory: The Anatomy of Imagination (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1976), 364. In her discussion of Melibee (365-70), MacCaffrey rightly resists the implications of this phrase, but the result is that she has difficulty making his moral authority consistent with the nature of his life.

  2. 9.27. Calidore's first words are a Meliboean pastiche. His opening phrase, “this worlds gay showes,” is picked up from Melibee (9.22), while key words in the next two lines, “vaine” and “lowlinesse,” echo the alexandrines of the last two stanzas of Melibee's speech (9.24, 25).

  3. The convention, in Elizabethan poems and pageants, of presenting the golden apple to the Queen may even be thought to give a benign cast to its introduction here, where Paris is compared to a knight of Gloriana. Examples of this device in Tudor court entertainments are cited in R. Mark Benbow's introduction to his edition of Peele's Araygnement of Paris, in The Life and Works of George Peele (New Haven: Yale University Press), vol. 3 (The Dramatic Works of George Peele, 1970), 20.

  4. For fuller discussion of this point and of what this episode implies for The Faerie Queene, see Paul Alpers, “Spenser's Late Pastorals,” ELH 56 (1989): 797-817.

  5. For example, when Rosalynd and Aliena first come to Arden, they come upon Montanus and Coridon singing “a pleasant eglog” in the following setting:

    The ground where they sat was diapred with Floras riches, as if she ment to wrap Tellus in the glorie of her vestments: round about in the forme of an Amphitheater were most curiouslie planted Pine trees, interseamed with Limons and Citrons, which with the thicknesse of their boughes so shadowed the place, that Phoebus could not prie into the secret of that Arbour; so united were the tops with so thicke a closure, that Venus might there in her jollitie have dallied unseene with her deerest paramour. Fast by (to make the place more gorgeous), was there a Fount so Christalline and cleere, that it seemed Diana with her Driades and Hemadriades had that spring, as the secret of all their bathings.

    Thomas Lodge, Rosalynde (1590), in Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare, ed. Geoffrey Bullough, vol. 2 (1963), 183. The amorous shepherd Paris is a point of reference throughout Rosalynde (cf. 206, 247, 248, 252, 253).

  6. Coridon finally speaks in 11.30-32. But this is after the brigands have wiped out the shepherds' world. It is as if this devastation gives him a voice: what he recounts is the brigands' slaughter of the shepherds, including Melibee and, he thinks, Pastorella.

  7. Leo Salingar, Shakespeare and the Traditions of Comedy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1974), 16.

  8. In Geoffrey Bullough, ed., Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare, 8 vols. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1961-75), 2: 187-88. Subsequent references will be parenthetical in the text.

  9. Judy Z. Kronenfeld, “Social Rank and the Pastoral Ideals of As You Like It,Shakespeare Quarterly 29 (1978): 333-48.

  10. The only detail Shakespeare adds is the master's churlish disposition, for Lodge's shepherd also serves a “landlord” who means to sell his farm and flock. But this information appears after Alinda has declared her intention “to buy some farme, and a flocke of sheepe, and so become a shepheardesse, meaning to live low, and content me with a countrey life” (188).

  11. Kronenfeld, “Social Rank,” 344.

  12. All editors gloss “voice” as “vote,” following Dr. Johnson's explanation: “As far as I have voice or vote, as far as I have power to bid you welcome.” But surely “vote” is not a possible meaning here. Rather we should look to two extended meanings of “voice” (7c, 10c), under which OED gives only quotations from Shakespeare. None of these examples is difficult to understand, but they apparently strike a lexicographer as unusual. What they have in common is the literal idea of “voice,” speaking up for something. E.g. Measure for Measure 1.2.179-81: “Acquaint her with the danger of my state; / Implore her, in my voice, that she make friends / To the strict deputy.” Also Merry Wives 1.4.156; Cymbeline 3.5.115. In two examples, the phrase “father's voice” is used for parental authority over a daughter's marriage (MSND 1.1.54, All's Well, 2.3.54). Corin's “in my voice” includes both ideas contained in these other examples—social authority and speaking on behalf of someone or for some purpose. Johnson's gloss indicates both these ideas, but they are not usefully codified in the gloss “voice = vote.”

  13. Touchstone immediately seizes this point and rags the old shepherd for getting his living by “the copulation of cattle” and betraying “a she-lamb of a twelve-month to a crookèd-pated old cuckoldly ram.” The clown's coarseness here irritates some critics and certainly seems “anti-pastoral,” but in fact his responsive wit restores to this topos the male presence it has with Spenser's Melibee:

    The little that I haue, growes dayly more
    Without my care, but onely to attend it;
    My lambes doe euery yeare increase their score,
    And my flockes father daily doth amend it.


    It is hardly “realism” to say this: Lodge's Corydon knows as much when, saying that shepherds only experience “meane misfortunes, as the losse of a few sheepe” he says, “The next yeare may mend al with a fresh increase” (188-89). Touchstone simply steps in and performs his version of this knowledge. To the extent that Shakespeare makes pastoral new by dramatizing its situations, attitudes, conventions, and characters, its truths and values will emerge dramatically—here, mainly by sharpening the characterization of responsive speakers. To adapt the cryptic remark of Holofernes the schoolmaster, the pastoral allusion holds in the exchange (LLL 4.2.45).

  14. E.g. John Barrell and John Bull, eds., The Penguin Book of English Pastoral Verse (London: Allen Lane, 1974), 108.

  15. Kronenfeld, 339.

  16. Walter W. Greg, Pastoral Poetry and Pastoral Drama (London: A. H. Bullen, 1906), 411.

  17. I owe this suggestion to Janet Adelman, who made many helpful comments about this chapter.

  18. “Recognition in The Winter's Tale,” in Fables of Identity (New York: Harcourt, Brace, & World, 1963), 115.

  19. In the Arden Edition of The Winter's Tale, ed. J. H. P. Pafford (London: Methuen, 1963), 204.

  20. Cf. Florizel's words to Perdita at 4.4.49-51, which directly associate pastoral feasting with effective mock-marriage: “Lift up your countenance, as it were the day / Of celebration of that nuptial, which / We two have sworn shall come.”

  21. Hence the note in Frank Kermode, ed., The Winter's Tale (New York: New American Library, 1963): “i.e. Flora in April, when the flowers peep out rather than boldly appear.” The gloss quoted above is the Riverside Shakespeare's.

  22. Cf. OED: “front” in the meaning required by Riverside and Kermode is largely a military term, which is wholly inappropriate, nor does “front of an object” (e.g. table or building) really do here. Other Shakespearean uses of “front” support “front = brow or face” (Ham 3.4.56, Lear 2.2.108, A&C 1.1.6, Mac 4.3.232, 5.9.13), though the one valid counterexample in OED is Shakespearean: “As Philomel in summer's front doth sing” (Sonnet 102).

  23. It is probable, however, that he is quite dressed up for a swain. At the end of scene 4, he exchanges his garb with Autolycus, who is then able to pass himself off, admittedly to the rustics, as a courtier.

  24. Like J. H. P. Pafford, the Arden editor, and Stephen Orgel, in his forthcoming edition in the Oxford Shakespeare series, I accept Theobald's emendation “swoon” for the Folio reading “sworn,” which Riverside adopts.

  25. The phrase is that of Peter Erickson, “Patriarchal Structures in The Winter's Tale,PMLA 97 (1982): 821.

  26. “‘Thou that Beget'st Him That Did Thee Beget’: Transformation in Pericles and The Winter's Tale,Shakespeare Survey 22 (1969): 59-67. In revised form, this essay has been incorporated into C. L. Barber and Richard P. Wheeler, The Whole Journey: Shakespeare's Power of Development (Berkeley & Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1986). Both the phrase just quoted and the next quotation are on p. 330.

    In using Barber for the purposes of practical criticism, I do not mean to prefer his interpretation to the more deeply elaborated psychoanalytic accounts of Murray Schwartz, “Leontes' Jealousy in The Winter's Tale,American Imago 30 (1973): 250-73, and “The Winter's Tale: Loss and Transformation,” American Imago 32 (1975): 145-99, and of Janet Adelman, Suffocating Mothers (New York: Routledge, 1992), 220-38. Perhaps this is the place to say that my thinking about issues of identity and difference in Shakespeare owes much to the work of Stanley Cavell, though my account of The Winter's Tale is along quite different lines from his, in Disowning Knowledge (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 193-221.

  27. Cf. Janet Adelman, “Male Bonding in Shakespeare's Comedies,” in Shakespeare's Rough Magic: Renaissance Essays in Honor of C. L. Barber, ed. Peter Erickson and Coppélia Kahn (Newark, Del.: University of Delaware Press, 1985), 73-103.

  28. Shakespeare: The Last Phase, 155, 138.

  29. Fables of Identity, 117.

  30. S. L. Bethel and A. D. Nuttall, as quoted by Michael Taylor, “Innocence in The Winter's Tale,Shakespeare Studies 15 (1982): 236.

  31. Rosalie L. Colie, Shakespeare's Living Art (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1974), 278.

  32. E.g. F. C. Tinkler, “The Winter's Tale,Scrutiny 5 (1936-37): 358. Students who use the Riverside Shakespeare are told that the Bohemian scenes “celebrate … the awakening of spring” (p. 1565), but are not informed that sheep-shearing takes place in late June or that 4.4.79-81 indicates that the feast in this play is later (see Arden note at 4.3.37).

  33. She has a clear relation to the Flora of Peele's The Arraignment of Paris.

  34. Text and translation (slightly modified) from Ovid, Metamorphoses, ed. Frank Justus Miller, 3d ed. (rev. G. P. Goold), 2 vols. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, Loeb Classical Library).

  35. This emphasis recurs in the brief scene of her eating the pomegranate in the underworld, cultis dum simplex errat in hortis (5.535).

  36. Traversi, 149.

  37. One way Shakespeare achieves this effect is by juxtaposing scenes: Antigonus's soliloquy, recounting his vision of the sorrowing Hermione, and his exit pursued by a bear are followed by the appearance of the Old Shepherd and his son (3.3); the scene in which Polixenes and Camillo set off for the country (4.2) is followed by the entrance of Autolycus and his encounter with the Clown (4.3).

Frequently Cited Works

References to the following will be made parenthetically in the text.

William Empson, Some Versions of Pastoral (Norfolk, Conn.: New Directions paperback, 1960) (Cited in text as SVP)

Andrew Marvell, The Complete Poems, ed. Elizabeth Story Donno (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1972)

John Milton, Poems, ed. John Carey and Alastair Fowler (London: Longmans, 1968)

The Riverside Shakespeare, ed. G. Blakemore Evans et al. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1974)

Edmund Spenser, Poetical Works, ed. J. C. Smith and E. de Selincourt (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1912)

Theocritus, ed. A. S. F. Gow, 2 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1952)

Theocritus, Idylls, trans. R. C. Trevelyan (New York: Albert and Charles Boni, 1925)

Virgil, Eclogues, Latin text and translation from Paul Alpers, The Singer of the Eclogues (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1979)

Alastair Fowler (essay date 1984)

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Last Updated on February 4, 2016, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 5923

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 pastoral-romantic by genre. The plot, what there is of it, conforms to ‘the standard dramatic pastoral pattern … of extrusion or exile, recreative sojourn in a natural setting, with ultimate return “homeward” … a return in moral strength reinforced by the country experience’.1 The action actually introduces the keeping of sheep; which is more than pastoral dramas always do. And life has a natural simplicity in Arden, which from a distance at least seems like life in the Golden Age: there the banished Duke Senior's followers ‘fleet the time carelessly as they did in the golden world’. Then, many minor pastoral romance motifs are worked in, such as the carving of names on trees;2 and many regular pastoral themes are developed such as the contrast of court and country—not only in the conversation of Touchstone and Corin, but implicitly in the alternation of scenes between civil Arden and the cruel court.3 After the usual manner of pastoral romance, court figures appear; but they lose their status through exile or voluntary rustication, or renounce their power (like Frederick), or (like Celia) hide their identity under disguise—‘under the veil’, in Puttenham's phrase, ‘of homely persons’.4 Such is Shakespeare's generic tact that one critic has spoken of the play as bearing ‘brilliant witness to its author's capacious comprehension of the whole pastoral tradition’.5 Steeply as that is put, I have no wish to disagree. Nevertheless, there are some problematic features of As You Like It, which have been called antipastoral.6 And it is some of these that I want to consider now.

What I have in mind is not merely the satiric element—a common enough ingredient of pastoral romance.7 Satire was even an acceptable admixture in pastoral eclogue itself. Mantuan and Spenser offered Shakespeare the most authoritative models for the the type of pastoral with moral satire. Within this tradition, for example, Jacques's biography can be located quite precisely. His melancholy satiric attitude is partly motivated by his experience as a traveller—just as Diggon's satire is, in The Shepheardes Calender.8 By a convention that went back to Petrarch's Eclogue X, the returning traveller brings news of corruption outside the pastoral world.9 Ecclesiastical satire, in particular, was a regular ingredient of medieval and Mantuanian pastoral; as Shakespeare surely knew when he introduced his village parson Sir Oliver Martext. Moral pastoral was so well established, in fact, that Puttenham could regard it as the distinctive modern form: ‘The Eglogues came after to containe and enforme morall discipline, for the amendment of mans behaviour, as be those of Mantuan and other moderne Poets.’10 But this is not the only way in which pastoral was susceptible to generic blending. Pastoral drama was very often combined with other kinds—romantic, comic, tragic; so that it became a key topic in Renaissance discussions of the theory of genera mista.

The Spenserian parallel is a good one, in that The Shepheardes Calender itself has problematic, unpastoral features. Developing Hesiodic elements in the pastoral of Mantuan, it portrays dialect-speaking rustics involved in actual work, as if in a georgic poem. Whether he learnt it from Spenser or from the old pastoral play Sir Clyomon and Clamydes, Shakespeare obviously took up this mode of impure or georgic pastoral, and in some ways carried its mixture of values further still. His Arden—as Dame Helen Gardner and other critics have noticed—is conspicuously unidealized. It threatens hunger, thirst and ‘the seasons' difference’; while its fauna include the lion and snake of the romantic forest. It may be enchanting; but it is also an exhausting ‘desert’ in which Orlando expects to meet with ‘savagery’. And the staffage of this desert landscape offers corresponding realism in an unexpected mixture of pastoral with its opposites. We have a touching sketch of the conventional shepherd in Silvius. But Audrey is a filthy goatherd, and Corin's master churlish and absentee. Old Corin himself, the chief embodiment of pastoral values of simplicity and stoicism, we may regard as one of nature's gentlemen—but of a type foreign to ordinary pastoral. For he is a real shepherd, and knows the practicalities of his occupation—the greasiness of fells—in a distinctly georgic way. And the very putting of virtue on the side of the old, of Corin and Adam, sticks out as extraneous to pastoral.11 I need not say that in all this Shakespeare by no means flouts or satirizes pastoral convention, but merely selects a particular shade of mixed, realistic pastoral, in the interests of a particular strategy. Ordinary pastoral would have contrasted the best in nature with the worst at court. In Shakespeare's heightened contrast, even the worst in the wilderness of Arden makes an effective foil: when Duke Senior shrinks with cold he consoles himself that ‘This is no flattery. These are counsellors / That feelingly persuade me what I am.’ The outside world, it seems, is even worse than pastoral writers have made it.

A similarly complex departure from pastoral is made by the prominent introduction of hunting, not only in the scene introducing Jaques, but also in the short scene with the song ‘What shall he have that killed the deer?’. From Theocritus on, pastoralists had regarded hunting as an alien activity.12 After the introduction of foresters in Queen Elizabeth's alfresco entertainment however, hunting scenes became a popular if anomalous component in pastoral plays.13 But now Shakespeare strikingly reactivates pure pastoral objections, and puts the decorum of hunting again in question. To raise the issue was not an eccentric thing. As Claus Uhlig has shown, Jaques's sentiment relates to a persistent humanistic tradition that represented hunting as mere slaughter—as the pastime of tyrants, an outrage against the original harmony of men and animals.14 Shakespeare himself, however, can hardly be said to agree altogether with Jaques. For one thing, Duke Senior is somewhat exonerated, in that he feels compunction about hunting. It makes him uncomfortable that ‘the poor dappled fools, / Being native burghers of this desert city’—notice the aristocratic anthropomorphism—‘Should in their own confines with forked heads / Have their round haunches gored.’ True, exculpation is badly needed; for Shakespeare has made it comically evident that the duke still has the eagerness for hunting typical of his rank. When Amiens compliments him on his resignation, on translating ‘the stubbornness of fortune / Into so quiet and so sweet a style’, his brisk response will not strike everyone as exactly sweet; ‘Come, shall we go and kill us venison?’ Still, Duke Senior's hunting will surely seem an innocent response to fortune, if it is compared with, say, Duke Frederick's usurping? Not on Jaques's view. According to First Lord, he grieved at the duke's hunting, and swore ‘you do more usurp / Than doth your brother that hath banished you’. Here Jaques may be said to take up a rigorist pastoral stance. His position is undercut (as all are, in this subtle comedy); since he ignores the fact that the duke's followers hunt to eat—something that even John of Salisbury and Sir Thomas More and the other authorities countenanced. But does the humour of his extremity quite cancel out the pastoral view? Even outside Arden, after all, some men managed to survive without game forests. Shakespeare has readjusted the generic balance in such a way as to disallow the usual pastoral romance mixture, in which romantic aristocrats in their forest easily coexist with pastoral shepherds.

A fundamental characteristic of pastoral was its apparent artlessness: pastoralists went to great lengths to avoid the implication of knowledge in their shepherds.15 Shakespeare uses this convention to amusing effect when he makes the ultrapastoralist Jaques pretend that he is innocent of even the most ordinary technical terms of poetry (‘Call you 'em stanzos?’). In the mixed pastoral romance, a very limited instructional element entered, in that the temporary shepherds were initiated into the value of stoicism (and the faults of the court), and heard idealistic speeches about love. But in As You Like It the educational element bulks so large as to become the main activity. Many critics have commented on the play's lack of action, which to some has seemed a fault.16 But once we think of the action as instruction, we see that there is a great deal of it. Indeed, the play's very style suggests the classroom. Its frequent logical debates, catechisms and enumerative schemes belong to that milieu; and Jaques even goes through the form of construing, in his intimidation of William.

Most of the main characters are shown learning. With Duke Senior, the chief instructor is nature. Nature in Arden teaches hard facts; but the duke finds edification in affliction nontheless. ‘Sweet are the uses of adversity’, he tells Amiens:

And this our life, exempt from public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in everything.

Besides his not caring about power and security, it is this contemplativeness that sets Duke Senior off from his usurping brother. (The pattern will be repeated in Prospero and Antonio.) But Duke Senior also learns through disputation, particularly with Jaques: ‘I love to cope him in these sullen fits, / For then he's full of matter.’ Jaques, for his part, professes to avoid Duke Senior; telling Amiens ‘He is too disputable [disputacious] for my company. I think of as many matters as he, but I give heaven thanks and make no boast of them.’ But if Jaques prefers teaching to learning, he nevertheless likes to hear the ‘deep-contemplative’ fool Touchstone moralizing ‘in good terms, / In good set terms’, and laughs to ‘hear / The motley fool thus moral on the time.’ He may well learn from Touchstone, for Touchstone is Shakespeare's most erudite and Latinate fool—one who has in his brain ‘strange places crammed / With observation’. Ever restless for novelty, Jaques is determined to become a fool. And at the end he is still seeking new instruction: he goes to join the reformed Duke Frederick, who has ‘put on a religious life’. ‘Out of these convertites,’ says Jaques, ‘there is much matter to be heard and learned’. Jaques's extremist enthusiasms are a source of comedy throughout. But when he finally stops railing and expresses approbation of Duke Senior, we are encouraged to hope that he may have entered on some deeper process of learning. It is never too late, it seems. Duke Frederick learns about the good life so belatedly that he only just arrives in time to give the political story its hurried flimsy denouement. Critics sometimes say that he is converted supernaturally, by the mere action of entering the forest's magic circle.17 Certainly Shakespeare makes full use of romantic convention at this point. But Frederick's conversion is in fact explained. On the way to make his state secure by fratricide, he so sooner comes ‘to the skirts of this wild wood’ than he receives instruction. Not until ‘after some question [ie disputation]’ with ‘an old religious man’ is he converted. Others too engage in the georgic but unpastoral activity of teaching and learning. Silvius and Phebe learn about love; Touchstone is instructed about marriage by Jaques; and even Celia, when she pretends to forget the marriage service, is taken through the words by Rosalind-Ganymede.

I have not yet mentioned Orlando; but his instruction may be the most significant of all. The opening scene's very first words are his complaint that Oliver broke faith and deprived him of the formal education promised in Sir Roland's will. And the play's most prominent educational process of all, forming one of the main main connecting strands, is Orlando's instruction by Ganymede—a plot Shakespeare did not find in Lodge's Rosalynde. If Orlando will woo her every day, Ganymede undertakes to cure him of the ‘madness’ of love. (The well-named Orlando has comically demonstrated this madness earlier in the scene, in a brief furioso appearance.) She will pretend to be his mistress—‘proud, fantastical, apish, shallow, inconstant, full of tears, full of smiles … as boys and women are for the most part cattle of this colour’. This drove a previous patient ‘from his mad humor of love to a living humour of madness … to live in a nook merely monastic’. She promises to daunt Orlando's love: to test its seriousness. Unlike the usual pastoral ‘instruction’ in love—a business of sentimental disquisitions—this is to be practical learning and discipline. Elizabethan audiences would have recognized it as a class in the School of Love: the same school attended by that unruly pupil Astrophil.18 Ganymede's curriculum seems very little different from what Roslind herself might have taught in her own person. Indeed, she herself attends school too; suffering when Orlando seems light in love, learning patience when he fails to keep appointments. We can choose to regard this as a trivial story. But then we stay with the superficial symbols, instead of moving to the deeper allegory that Shakespeare makes it shadow forth.

What does Ganymede, the mysterious androgyne, actually teach? The topic appears in her very first speech to Orlando in the forest—‘What is't o'clock?’ Much of her instruction, similarly, seems to concern time rather than love. Indeed, the main vicissitudes in the story arise from Orlando's failure to keep the appointments that test his constancy. When he is late, Rosalind weeps, and feels Orlando to be as false as Judas. When he turns up ‘within an hour of [his] promise’, she lectures him on punctuality, as Ganymede, in a way that she might only have longed to, in her own person. He cannot be in love if he is not punctual. ‘Nay, and you be so tardy, come no more in my sight. I had as lief be wooed of a snail.’ The denouement of their story comes with another broken appointment—this time, however, occasioned by wounds incurred during the compassionate rescue of Oliver. Now Orlando can leave school, for he has disciplined his irresponsibility. He has been tested and found acceptable—a ‘gentleman of good conceit’ as Ganymede now calls him.

And the subject of time comes up elsewhere. Ganymede's first lesson is in the form of a catechism about it. Orlando asks in turn who Time trots, ambles, gallops and stays still withal; and Ganymede makes witty answers proving that ‘Time travels in diverse paces with divers persons.’ On Jaques's first meeting with Rosalind's companion Touchstone, the moralizing similarly concerns Time's pace. Touchstone draws out a pocket sundial, and

Says, very wisely, ‘It is ten o'clock …
And after one hour more 'twill be eleven;
And so from hour to hour, we ripe, and ripe,
And then from hour to hour, we rot, and rot …’

At these bawdy puns Jaques, always immoderate, laughs for an hour's measure of his own rotting. But Shakespeare's audience may also have noticed that time and clocks were being made much of.—Or, indeed, that they were mentioned at all. Did not pastoral normally unfold its green thought within a timeless stasis? Here, again, the parallel with The Shepheardes Calender may help; for Spenser's most remarkable innovation was to add the seasonal structure that gives his work its name. Drawing attention to this, Alexander Pope wrote ‘The addition he has made of a Calendar to his Eclogues is very beautiful.’19 But that is a little too bland; making the timeless pastoral world seasonal was no mere addition, but a profound departure from classical values.20 Spenser's audacious innovation not only put pastoral into confrontation with the opposing georgic mode and its contrasting topics of seasons and their labours, but also implied the Christian calendar with its consequent associations.21 Shakespeare, I believe, saw the dramatic possibilities of a similar generic mixture.

There is no need to argue that Shakespeare introduces time into his pastoral world, for several critics have already done so—Rosalie Colie, for example: ‘we are endlessly made aware, both in earnest and in jest, of the passage of time: in the confrontation of generations (Silvius and Corin, dukes and daughters, Sir Rowland's sons and his aged servant Adam)’;22 in Orlando's unpunctuality and Jaques's oration about the ages of man. She concludes: ‘In other words, this forest is at once ideal and real.’ It is less widely recognized, however, that besides the idea of time Shakespeare introduces time's various measures. Moreover, he does so far more often than he need have, merely to establish Arden's reality. It is not just that the mentions of time indicate a georgic admixture, but that time pertains to the substance of the georgic instruction.

Besides the subjective paces of time, As You Like It contains many references to its objective measures. The numerous mentions of hours and times of day arise naturally from the action, but are remarkable for their frequency in a pastoral play. More striking are the references to Ages of the World. Charles speaks of Duke Senior's followers' fleeting the time ‘as they did in the golden world’; and Duke Senior himself refers to the Christian version of this golden age, and to the age of Adam, when he mentions ‘The penalty of Adam, / The seasons' difference.’ A later age, the age of the Giants, is implied when Celia says ‘You must borrow me Gargantua's mouth first. ‘'Tis a word too great for any mouth of this age's size.’ Then, Jaques likens the lovers' pairing off to that of the animals ‘coming to the ark’—in the age, that is, of the Flood. And Rosalind thinks along the same lines when she says ‘The poor world is almost six thousand years old.’ It was commonly believed that the six Augustinian Ages of the World would be completed in no more than six thousand years (less, if human sin was sufficiently outrageous); so that Rosalind's speech has an apocalyptic overtone.23 Together, these references to Ages of the World work to establish the scale of existence and the world-scheme of redemptive history. They are anti-pastoral, but not specially calculated to evoke a realistic world.

Shakespeare's intention in assembling the measures of time comes out clearly in Jaques's famous oration on the ages of man—yet another measure of time—

                                                                      All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players.
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.

The last line gave a great deal of trouble to Warburton and Malone, who actually conducted a search for plays with seven acts. But by now we can see that Jaques is merely being pastoral again, and pretending to be simple about technical terms. Just as he was not sure about ‘stanzos’, so now he does not know about acts and scenes. (‘His scenes being seven ages’ would have lost a pun, but would otherwise have fitted in well—not least with the number of the scene Jaques is speaking in.) His oration gains effectiveness from its visible context: the entrance of Orlando bowed under the weight of Old Adam. Here Orlando enacts an emblem of the physical decline that Jaques describes; but in his Aeneas-like pietas he also compassionately takes up the burden of the first Adam's penalty of mortal nature, in a way that transforms it.24 Jaques's speech may not exactly be refuted.25 Nevertheless, the contrast is forcible: Jaques rails at man's frailty; Orlando cares for it. The full dramatic context of the speech only emerges, however, when its ‘painted cloth’ commonplace is examined more closely.

Jaques begins by following the Ptolemaic variant of the Ages of Man scheme, with each age showing the expected planetary influence, except that his cynical emphasis has the moistly Lunar infant ‘mewling and puking’, while his ‘schoolboy’, engaged as a child of Mercury in education, creeps ‘like snail / Unwillingly to school’, imperfectly influenced by the fastest of the planets.26 (The audience may recall this when Orlando is late for the school of love, and Rosalind compares him to a snail.) In age three, Jaques's lover duly expresses the influence of Venus, next in Ptolemaic order. But what is this? Where is the fourth, Solar age, the prime of life, the best of all the seven ages? Jaques omits it altogether; replacing it, at the end, by a second Saturnian age of ultimate decrepitude, ‘sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything’. This dark view of life is obviously distorted. But we can scarcely see how distorted Shakespeare means it to be, until we reflect that, out of all the deities, Jaques has chosen to omit the declarator temporum, the indicator of time, the centre and heart of the planetary cosmos, Sol himself. Melancholy was endemic in British pastoral.27 But in Shakespeare the melancholy of Jaques meets with decisive rejection. ‘Monsieur Melancholy’ is shown to play false when he exaggerates the domain of the melancholy god. At the centre of his life Jaques has enthroned, instead of the sun, Mars and enthusiasm and anger. His conception of life is hollow and disorientated: no wonder he is a restless figure who ‘in his time plays many parts’. Lacking a centre, and lacking the Solar gift of steadfastness,28 he moves on changeably from libertine to outlaw, outlaw to recluse, recluse to fool—and from fool, perhaps, to religious. In As You Like It, it seems, attitudes to time may offer a useful index to character.

Other measures of time are also prominent. The theme of the ‘seasons' difference’ is developed both by Duke Senior and in the play's many songs. These not only serve practically to mark the passage of time, but also interiorize its measure. By a very ancient tradition (and one followed in the popular non-fictional Kalender of Shepherdes), seasons were correlated with Ages of Man—this time the Four Ages.29 Thus, in ‘Under the greenwood tree’ the enemy is winter, the season that feeds Jaques's humour: ‘It will make you melancholy’, Amiens warns. ‘Blow, blow, thou winter wind’ links the same season with man's ingratitude. And the pages' song is of ‘spring-time, the only pretty ring-time’. Lovers naturally ‘love the spring’, because it correlates with Age I, youth and the sanguine humour.

Why should Shakespeare have assembled so many measures of time in As You Like It? Doubtless he partly means to offset the pastoral elements. The play's finest critic, Harold Jenkins, has seen in it a pervasive effort to bring characters and positions into encounter with their opposites, leaving none unadjusted.30 No doubt the generic contradictions are in part instances of this. Unpastoral features function as ironic comment on the pastoral; just as unromantic features—Rosalind's matter-of-factness or impatience to marry—provide a counterstatement to the romantic. But the georgic admixture, the temporal element, is too elaborate and coherent to be accounted for as a balancing adjustment, still less as realistic shading. It seems rather to amount to thematic content. This content is of course mediated dramatically—and sometimes heavily disguised, as in Jaques's Ages of Man oration. Yet its implications are not wholly undercut or counterpointed. Shakespeare himself, in fact, seems to imply the view that life is comprehensively subject to mutability, yet divinely ordered. Orlando's bad poem implies a similar view: ‘how brief the life of man / Runs his erring pilgrimage’. And so do various passages introducing the idea of measure in the ordering of experience—particularly the enumerative schemes based on the mutable seven, such as Touchstone's set piece on the protocol of quarrelling. Shakespeare makes it clear enough that this mutability and mortality should not lead to Jaques's melancholy. Indeed, Jaques is in a way answered as well as replaced by his studious namesake Jaques de Boys, when the latter brings news about mankind as good as Jaques's was bad.

Even Touchstone's view is wiser, in its foolishness, than Jaques's. For Touchstone, time measures, hour by hour, human ripening and rotting—a view neatly confirmed by the application elsewhere of the epithet ‘ripe’ to Ganymede and William, and ‘rotten’ to Touchstone himself. To this mortality Touchstone makes the base but not life-denying response of lechery. He ‘speak'st wiser than [he] is ware of’ and can tell that ‘as all is mortal in nature, so is all nature in love mortal in folly’. On the scale of human life, it behoves us to remember ‘that a life [is] but a flower’—whether this leads us to seize the ring-time, or to prepare like Duke Frederick for eternity.

One normal response to human mortality was supposed to lie in generation; so that the main denouement of the play aptly takes the form of a masque of Hymen, a piece of romantic magic that resolves the emotional tangles by transcending them. The masque, like the immediately preceding compact, has a highly formalized pattern of repeated speeches in the Lylyan rhetorical manner. Here, at last, the measure is not a temporal one. As Hymen draws to our notice—‘Here's eight that must take hands’—it is based on the number of eternity, the number that goes beyond the seven of mutability, and symbolizes repentance, harmony and justice.31 In this as in every way the masque makes an almost shocking contrast with Touchstone's preceding exposition of the literature of quarrelling. The seven stages of giving the lie, and the eight plighting their troth; the masque's magic liturgy of reconciliation, and the books that set out civil arrangements for murder.

The number eight was apt not only because it signified the eternal. It also carried an ancient symbolism, often alluded to in Elizabethan wedding masques, whereby the mystery of Juno, the goddess of marriage, was unfolded into eight subordinate powers, one of them Hymen.32 Moreover, Juno herself was associated with the dyad or first even number; so that the marriage union (unio) under her auspices could foreshadow the Christian idea of marriage as a mustery of two in one flesh. Thus, in As You Like It, Hymen sings ‘Then is there mirth in heaven, / When earthly things made even / Atone together.’ Rosalind herself, who arranges the masque, thereby assumes the role of Juno. Of this mythological involvement we have had anticipatory hints in her earlier invocations of Jupiter, in her assumed name Ganymede (‘no worse a name than Jove's own page’) and in her connection of Orlando with Jupiter (when Celia reports finding him under an oak, Rosalind says ‘It may well be called Jove's tree, when it drops such fruit.’). Yet the emancipated Rosalind also plays the part of a priest of Jupiter, Providence the giver of all good things,33 when she distributes destinies:

I have promised to make all this matter even.
Keep you your word, O Duke, to give your daughter,
You yours, Orlando, to receive his daughter;
Keep you your word Phebe, that you'll marry me,
Or else refusing me to wed this shepherd …
                                                                                                              from hence I go
To make these doubts all even.

Notice how the reiterated promise of an even (just) outcome is made to depend on other promises: specifically, on the keeping of faith. If promises are kept, hopes will be fulfilled—if in rather unexpected ways. That, in a sense, is the theme of As You Like It.

And this is where time comes in. One might have looked to the pastoral stasis for a symbol of time transcended and hopes fulfilled. And indeed Orlando raises a suggestion that time in Arden is somehow clockless and different. But the possibility is broached only to be summarily dismissed. When Orlando says ‘there's no clock in the forest,’ Rosalind firmly replies ‘Then there is no true lover in the forest, else sighing every minute and groaning every hour would detect the lazy foot of Time.’ Time here is not so much a mutability, to be escaped if possible, as an opportunity for faithfulness and love, to be seized by the forelock. When Orlando arrives late for an appointment and rather casually says he comes ‘within an hour of [his] promise’, Rosalind tells him that no one can be in love if he ‘divide a minute into a thousand parts, and break but a part of the thousand part of a minute [of his promise] in the affairs of love.’ A far cry, this, from the heedlessness of pastoralists, who ‘Lose and neglect the creeping hours of time.’—Or from the lawyers, insensitive to time's scale, who ‘sleep between term and term, and … perceive not how Time moves.’ Rosalind comes a good deal closer, in fact, to the Christian view of time as something to be redeemed by zealous activity, than to ancient pastoral's ideal of a static otium. She teaches, in a word, the urgency of love. Time, for her, is a brief opportunity to keep faith.

Even by comparison with the other non-naturalistic comedies, As You Like It stands out as a consistently moral play; although its morality is treated with conspicuous lightness. Again and again it teaches, in its mocking way, that time moves on; that opportunities to keep faith should be grasped; that only the faithful truly love. In short, it enjoins zealous faith. Now, this is so simple a Christian message that some may call it none at all. That is as you like it.

Certainly the play would not be Christian, if that meant division of its characters into elect and reprobate. Shakespeare is remorseless in exempting no one from criticism. Even Rosalind may not preach without the suggestion that her sense of urgency is partly inspired by the foolishness of love—a maid's sense that Time's pace is hard. But then, all are foolish in one way or another. And Shakespeare never allows us to doubt that it is better to be foolish in love like Rosalind, or to be called a fool for faithfulness, as Celia is by Frederick. Ultimately, such as they seem foolish only to undiscerning Greeks—‘the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him’. The presence of this spiritual content, simple as it is, has a complex bearing on much of the play, articulating and informing its details. It validates, for example, the belated conversions of Frederick and Oliver. These crises are not convincingly realized in such a way as to encourage us to take them seriously for their own sake. But on the view I have tried to advance, the play has a persistent allegory concerned with keeping faith; and allegorically it makes quite good sense to have a Frederick or an Oliver receive a heavenly reward he does not deserve—and that he has not striven for through convincing emotional ordeals.

In such symbolic terms, As You Like It makes a coherent appeal for a society based, both privately and publicly, on love. We have only to be faithful to our professions and love our enemies, it seems to say, for society to be restored. But alas, that ‘only’! It has not often happened in six thousand years, and is not likely to happen in the years to come. Part of the play's poignancy comes from this: from the very sketchiness of its optimistic conclusion. How sadly improbable the ending seems.


  1. Rosalie L. Colie Shakespeare's ‘Living Art’ (Princeton 1974) 245.

  2. See Rensselaer W. Lee Names on Trees: Ariosto into Art (Princeton 1977) 5-7 et pass.

  3. See Harold Jenkins ‘As You Like It’ in Shakespeare: Modern Essays in Criticism ed. Leonard F. Dean (New York 1957) 111.

  4. George Puttenham The Art of English Poesie ed. Gladys D. Willcock and Alice Walker (Cambridge 1936) 38.

  5. Eamon Grennan ‘Telling the Trees from the Wood: Some Details of As You Like It Reexamined’, ELR [English Literary Renaissance] vii.2 (1977) 206.

  6. See, e.g., Colie 261, 266; Grennan 197. For a good attempt to treat the the play as more or less pure pastoral romance, see Charles W. Hieatt ‘The Quality of Pastoral in As You Like It’, Genre vii.2 (1974) 164-82.

  7. See Eugene M. Waith The Pattern of Tragicomedy in Beaumont and Fletcher (New Haven 1952) 85.

  8. See Grennan 200.

  9. In Virgil Ecl. i and Mantuan Ecl. ix, the traveller is told about the city by a better informed local shepherd.

  10. Puttenham 38-9.

  11. See Thomas G. Rosenmeyer The Green Cabinet: Theocritus and the European Pastoral Lyric (Berkeley and Los Angeles 1969) 58; also Index s.v. Hesiodic Tradition.

  12. Ibid. 135-6

  13. As You Like It ed. Agnes Latham (1975) 102n.

  14. ‘“The Sobbing Deer”: As You Like It, II.i.21-66 and the Historical Context’, Ren. Drama [Renaissance Drama] n.s. iii (1970) 79-109.

  15. See Rosenmeyer 54-5.

  16. See Jenkins 109, Latham lxxx.

  17. See Latham lxx.

  18. See Astrophil and Stella Sonnets xix, xlii, xlvi, lvi, lxxiii, lxxix, etc. On discipline for purification of love as a Renaissance mystery, see Edgar Wind Pagan Mysteries in the Renaissance (rev. edn. 1958) 145-7.

  19. The Prose Works of Alexander Pope … 1711-1720 ed. Norman Ault (Oxford 1936) 301.

  20. It was not without partial anticipation in the vernacular, however: on the Kalendrier des Bergeres tradition, see Helen Cooper Pastoral: Medieval into Renaissance (Ipswich and Totowa, N.J. 1977) 78.

  21. See Robert Allen Durr ‘Spenser's Calendar of Christian Time’, xxiv (1957) 269-95 and Maren-Sofie Røstvig ‘The Shepheardes Calender—a Structural Analysis’, Ren. and Mod. Studies [Renaissance and Modern Studies] xiii (1969) 49-75.

  22. Colie 258; cf. Jay L. Halio ‘“No Clock in the Forest”: Time in As You Like It’, SEL [Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900] ii (1962) 197-207; Frederick Turner Shakespeare and the Nature of Time (Oxford 1971) 28-44.

  23. See C. A. Patrides Milton and the Christian Tradition (Oxford 1966) 271 and chs. viii and ix pass.

  24. For the pietas emblem, see Nancy R. Lindheim, cit. Colie 258; for the theological allegory, see Alastair Fowler ‘The Image of Mortality: Faerie Queene II.i-ii’ in Essential Articles for the Study of Edmund Spenser ed. A.C. Hamilton (Hamden, Conn. 1972), esp. 147.

  25. See Jenkins 124: ‘Shakespeare seeks no cheap antithesis’.

  26. On the scheme associating planetary deities and ages of man, see F. Boll ‘Die Lebensalter’, in Neue Jahrbücher für das klassische Altertum xvi (1913) 117ff. and Raymond Klibansky, Erwin Panofsky and Fritz Saxl Saturn and Melancholy (1964) 149n. Boll loses his way in the Shakespearean passage; Klibansky et al. detect Jaques's omission of Sol but fail to grasp its reason, suggesting implausibly that ‘the age corresponding to the sun is omitted as too similar to the “jovial”’.

  27. See Rosenmeyer 227.

  28. On fortitude as the central gift of the Holy Spirit, see Rosemond Tuve Allegorical Imagery: Some Medieval Books and their Posterity (Princeton 1966) 96 and Index s.v. Fortitude; on the correlation of planets and gifts, see Klibansky et al. 166n.

  29. See Cooper 78; Klibansky et al. 291-6 et pass.

  30. Jenkins 124-5; cf. Latham lxxxiv.

  31. On these meanings, see Alastair Fowler Spenser and the Numbers of Time (1964) 35n., 53f., 285. All were standard: they occurred in authorities such as Macrobius and St Augustine, as well as in handbooks such as Pietro Bongo Mysticae numerorum significationis liber (Bergamo 1585).

  32. Sometimes, too, the dancers were made to number eight. See D. J. Gordon ‘Hymenaei: Ben Jonson's Masque of Union’ in The Renaissance Imagination ed. Stephen Orgel (Berkeley etc. 1975) 157-84; Alastair Fowler Triumphal Forms (Cambridge 1970) 151-4.

  33. For Jupiter as Providence and dator omnium bonorum, see Natale Conti Mythologiae I.viii and II.i.

Camille Wells Slights (essay date March 1985)

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Last Updated on February 4, 2016, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 6161

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, tries to arrange Master Slender's marriage to Anne Page and in the process offends another of Anne's suitors, Doctor Caius, who challenges him to a duel. Act three finds Parson Evans waiting, with considerable trepidation, to answer the challenge:

Pless my soul, how full of chollors I am, and trempling of mind: I shall be glad if he have deceived me. How melancholies I am! I will knog his urinals about his knave's costard when I have good opportunities for the 'ork. Pless my soul!


Suddenly, in the course of expressing his malevolence and apprehension, he breaks into song:

To shallow rivers, to whose falls
Melodious birds sings madrigals;
There will we make our peds of roses,
And a thousand fragrant posies.
To shallow—

(ll. 16-20)

The delivery of a familiar text in Evans's comic Welsh accent compounds the incongruities inherent in the situation of a clergyman preparing to fight a duel of honour over his role as go-between in a romantic intrigue. Moreover, as Ronald Huebert has pointed out, the Marlowe quotation not only reminds us of Evans's incongruous position but also parodies the conventions of the pastoral love song that were becoming literary clichés by the late 1590s.2 In the robustly middle-class world of Shakespeare's Windsor, the delicate beauty of Marlowe's poem seems absurdly out of place.

Nevertheless, while the singer and his song may appear ridiculous, Evans's choice of musical texts is less incongruous than critics have allowed. Indeed, the lines he quotes are apt and illuminating both for his immediate situation and for the comic world he inhabits. In a time of anxiety and anticipated danger Evans recalls Marlowe's pastoral lyric not because his thoughts have turned to love but because he longs for the world of peace and safety Marlowe evokes. To Evans, this pastoral ideal of human and natural harmony seems poignantly inaccessible, and he breaks off, exclaiming that he feels as much like crying as singing. When he resumes his song, he interpolates a more melancholy line of pastoral poetry:

Mercy on me! I have a great dispositions to cry.—
                              Melodious birds sing madrigals—
                              Whenas I sat in Pabylon—
                              And a thousand vagram posies.
                              To shallow, etc.

(ll. 21-25)

He interjects into Marlowe's love poem a line from Psalm 137, which in a similar metrical version begins:

When as we sate in Babilon,
          the riuers round about,
and in remembraunce of Sion,
          the teares for griefe burst out:
We hangd our harpes and instruments,
          the willow trees vpon:
for in that place men for their vse,
          had planted many one.(3)

Clearly, Psalm 137 intrudes into Evans's memory because it combines the pastoral imagery of river, trees, and music with the direct expression of grief and with elegaic longing for an idealized harmonious community.4 Like most people, Parson Evans turns to pastoralism when the stress and complexity of the world are too much with him and he yearns for the peace and innocence of a better world.

The most delightful irony implicit in Evans's evocation of the pastoral tradition is the fact that he is in the midst of that harmonious world without knowing it. Specifically, he is in no danger from Doctor Caius's sword. The genial host of the Garter, who has no intention of losing either his doctor or his priest, has misdirected the would-be adversaries to opposite sides of town in order to avoid bloodshed. More generally, the Windsor of Shakespeare's comedy is a community of human and natural harmony where rural virtue triumphs over courtly sophistication. Sir Hugh's quotations signal that the pastoral, along with Plautine comedy, medieval farce, and Italian novelle, is among the generic antecedents of the play's comic form.

The Windsor of The Merry Wives is admittedly an unlikely locus amoenus. Sir John Falstaff attempts to seduce Mistress Page and Mistress Ford in a busy village, not the fields of Arcady or the forest of Arden. The fat knight and those respectable matrons and their families, not lovesick shepherds and innocent nymphs, are at the centre of the dramatic action. Still, while Windsor does not provide a wholly natural contrast to urban artificiality, the green world is all around and easily accessible. The basic staples of pastoral landscape are ready to hand: fields with birds, woods with deer, a flowing river, and even an ancient oak all play notable parts in the action and serve the traditional function of bringing sophistication, ambition, and greed to terms with natural simplicity.

For all of Falstaff's natural exuberance, his designs on the deer and the women of Windsor constitute an attack by the civilized vices of greed and pride on bucolic contentment. In scene one, when he is accused by Shallow of beating his men and killing his deer, Falstaff arrogantly admits the charges, brags that he has also kissed the keeper's daughter and broken Slender's head, and taunts Shallow that he would make a laughingstock of himself by his threatened complaint to the Council. Falstaff's attempt to seduce Mistress Page and Mistress Ford originates in greed and is nurtured by vanity. He plans to solve his financial problems by making love to the women, whom he believes to control their husbands' ample purses. His social rank and his personal vanity make him confident of success. Mistress Page, he brags, “examined my parts with most judicious oeillades: sometimes the beam of her view gilded my foot, sometimes my portly belly” (I.iii.56-58), and she understands his proposal as a temptation to ambition, confiding to her friend that “if it were not for one trifling respect, I could come to such honour! … If I would but go to hell for an eternal moment or so, I could be knighted” (II.i.43-48). Falstaff woos Ford's wife by flattering her that nature intended her for a more exalted social sphere: “thou wouldst make an absolute courtier, and the firm fixture of thy foot would give an excellent motion to thy gait in a semi-circled farthingale” (III.iii.55-58), and he has no doubts that he can “predominate over the peasant” her husband (II.ii.270-71).

While Sir John and his followers clearly exhibit the vices of civilization, the denizens of Windsor may seem too concerned with economic advantage and social status and too busy with schemes of matchmaking and revenge to illustrate the contrasting pastoral virtues of humility and contentment. For example, the play opens with Shallow's indignant assertions of the dignity of his social rank and family lineage. Economic considerations, moreover, determine both Master and Mistress Page's choice of husband for their daughter, Mistress Page supporting Doctor Caius, who has money and powerful friends at court, and Master Page favouring Slender, who has land and 300 pounds a year. Even Fenton, Anne's own choice, admits that he was first attracted to her by her father's wealth. In addition, Falstaff's aggression against the gamekeeper is echoed in Shallow's repeated boasting of the combative prowess of his youth, in Doctor Caius's challenge to Evans, and in the beating Ford administers to the supposed old woman of Brainford. The citizens of Windsor have even been accused of sharing Falstaff's gluttony, exhibiting inordinate appetites for food and drink.

In short, acquisitiveness, pride, and pugnacity are as natural to the inhabitants of Windsor as to Falstaff and his followers. And that similarity, I think, is just the point. Desires for food, drink, sex, money and prestige are as basic to life in Windsor as to life in the most worldly and self-indulgent urban or courtly society, but in the simple rural community they are held in check. The citizens of Windsor are conscious of distinctions of social rank but are fundamentally unimpressed by them. The merry wives are immune to the temptation of a knightly lover. Justice Shallow is asserting his right to respect in spite of Falstaff's superior rank when he blusters, “If he were twenty Sir John Falstaffs, he shall not abuse Robert Shallow, Esquire” (I.i.2-4). Although Anne's parents prudently want to secure their daughter's social and economic position through her marriage, they are not socially ambitious and do not want an aristocratic son-in-law who would marry her “but as a property” (III.iv.10) to repair his own depleted fortune. Essentially, economic and social status function in Windsor as means of establishing membership within the community, not as means of asserting individual superiority.

The sense of community, moreover, controls the appetitive and aggressive impulses of the citizens. It is true, as Barbara Freedman comments, that “eating seems to be the major preoccupation of Windsor society; everyone is always coming from or going to a dinner,”5 but it is equally notable that no one eats alone: the references to dining are almost always in the form of invitations offered and accepted. While Falstaff poaches another man's deer, Shallow gives deer to Page, who invites everyone to share his venison pasty and wine. By the same token, the men of Windsor are naturally combative, as Shallow boasts:

Bodykins, Master Page, though I now be old, and of the Peace, if I see a sword out, my finger itches to make one. Though we are justices, and doctors, and churchmen, Master Page, we have some salt of our youth in us; we are the sons of women, Master Page.


But for all their irascibility and nostalgia for youthful exploits, they accept transformation into pillars of the community. Shallow remembers that he is a sworn Justice of the Peace come to pacify Caius not to “make one” in his quarrel. Reminded of their responsible roles in the community as “a curer of souls” and “a curer of bodies” (II.iii.35-36, cf. III.i.90) and learning how they have been tricked by the Host, Evans and Caius drop their quarrel rather than be “laughingstocks to other men's humours” (III.i.78-79).

Life in Windsor is not uneventful, but on the whole people live together there peacefully, controlling potentially explosive situations through various forms of social pressure. Act one, scene one, sometimes criticized as superfluous, demonstrates the social group functioning smoothly, reconciling differences through good will and hospitality. Settling the quarrel between Evans and Caius requires more complicated manoeuvres and recourse to the harsher weapons of trickery and ridicule. In both cases the peacemakers act as a group: Evans, Page, and the Host are the self-appointed umpires for the deer-stealing controversy, and Shallow, Slender, Page, and the Host co-operate to reconcile Caius and Evans. While they are effective as representatives of the community, not as individuals, they transmit the group judgment personally and informally rather than through impersonal institutions, and their power is accepted rather than imposed. With the notable exceptions of Falstaff and his followers, the residents of Windsor have a sense of themselves as part of a group and are willing to bend to social pressure in order to retain the reassurances of community.

Although critics have made much of Falstaff's status as an outsider, the fact that he is a visitor is less crucial than his imperviousness to public opinion and his refusal to identify with the group. After all, for an English village, Windsor has a remarkably heterogeneous population, including a Welsh parson and a French doctor as well as the Fords, Pages, and Justice Shallow with his three-hundred-year-old coat of arms. Even Shallow and Slender, like Falstaff, are visitors, guests at the inn (II.iii.53, 69).

Being a visitor or an alien is no bar to participation in Windsor society. Although there are jokes about Evans and Caius, they are mocked affectionately as members of the group. Their accents are ridiculed as Mistress Quickly's malapropisms are, as personal idiosyncracies, and cause no real problems in communication. In contrast, Nym's affected language earns Master Page's distrust and defeats his attempt to make Page jealous. And Falstaff, whose command of the King's English surpasses all other characters', utterly misunderstands Mistress Quickly and Mistress Ford. He boasts that Mistress Ford “gives the leer of invitation; I can construe the action of her familiar style, and the hardest voice of her behaviour, to be Englished rightly, is, ‘I am Sir John Falstaff's’” (I.iii.42-45). As Pistol says, he has “translated her will—out of honesty into English” (ll. 46-47), and he suffers for his mistranslation. Society is held together, then, not so much by a shared language as by shared values, in this play especially by agreement about permissible sexual activity. The scene where Mistress Quickly hears indecencies in young William's recital of his Latin lesson comically demonstrates that, as society transmits its culture to the young, it passes on not merely grammar and vocabulary but attitudes and assumptions and that the two are distinguishable: proficiency in one does not necessarily imply understanding of the other.

While the heterogeneity of Windsor's population suggests that enjoying the bucolic peace and innocence traditionally symbolized by a pastoral setting depends not on place of nativity or social rank but on values and attitudes, the physical presence of the court itself at Windsor suggests that the courtly vices of ambition and sexual intrigue are temptations for country men and women as well as for courtiers. Mistress Quickly assures Falstaff that he is not the first courtly suitor to address Mistress Ford:

there has been knights, and lords, and gentlemen, with their coaches—I warrant you, coach after coach, letter after letter, gift after gift … that would have won any woman's heart … and yet there has been earls, nay, which is more, pensioners, but, I warrant you, all is one with her.


Although this flight of fancy is not to be believed literally, it reminds us of the immanence of the court and establishes that it is a matter of conscious choice that the court has no effective reality in the lives of the characters. Just as a harmonious social life is possible for a French doctor, a Welsh clergyman, and a down-at-heels aristocrat as well as for the Fords and Pages, so the civilized decadence and individual ambition associated with the courtly ambience are possibilities within ordinary life. Caius, who boasts of his practice among earls, knights, lords, and gentlemen, and Fenton, who is reputed to have “kept company with the wild Prince and Poins (III.ii.66-67), as well as Falstaff, have connections with the court, but their preference for integration with the humbler Windsor community is expressed by their desire to marry Anne Page.

The Windsor community that accepts considerable diversity and tolerates a good deal of aggressive, anti-social behaviour severely punishes Falstaff for his proposed adultery. By attacking marriage, the basis of social structure, Falstaff has repudiated the friendliness and hospitality that are the means both of creating and of expressing communal solidarity. Also, his smug assumption of the acceptability of his proposal threatens the women's sense of their own identity, which depends largely on their public status as virtuous wives. Mistress Ford's reaction on receiving Falstaff's letter is to reflect uneasily on her own behaviour:

What an unweighed behaviour hath this Flemish drunkard picked … out of my conversation, that he dares in this manner assay me? … I was then frugal of my mirth. Heaven forgive me!


Mistress Page expresses even more explicitly the disorientation they both feel at this threat to their sense of themselves:

MRS. Ford.
What doth he think of us?
MRS. Page.
Nay, I know not: it makes me almost ready to wrangle with mine own honesty. I'll entertain myself like one that I am not acquainted withal; for, sure, unless he know some strain in me that I know not myself, he would never have boarded me in this fury.

(ll. 80-86)

Because their sense of themselves depends on their public image, they cannot simply refuse Falstaff's proposal but must prove to him and to the community at large how totally wrong he is. Thus their revenge is as much educative as retributive. They do not denounce Falstaff and send him packing; instead they teach him a lesson by humbling his aggressive individualism to the values and authority of their rural community. They put him through a series of experiences that forces him to bow to social pressures and prepares him to understand and accept his place within the society.

Appropriately, the staging of Falstaff's humiliation utilizes burlesque versions of pastoral motifs. In the first episode, the ubiquitous flowing brook of the pastoral landscape has been transformed to the muddy banks of the Thames into which Falstaff is thrown. The traditional symbolism of purity is rendered comically in the domestic details of laundering, and Falstaff's urgent need for purification is reified in the dirty, smelly linen that he shares the buck basket with. The man who woos with talk of jewels and courtly finery is unceremoniously “rammed … in with foul shirts and smocks, socks, foul stockings, greasy napkins, that … there was the rankest compound of villainous smell that ever offended nostril” (III.v.80-84).

As the merry wives anticipate, this first treatment does not cure Falstaff's “dissolute disease” (III.iii.177). Like Duke Senior, who finds that natural adversities “‘feelingly persuade me what I am’” (AYL II.i.11), Falstaff is reminded by his rude immersion in the Thames of what kind of man he is—a man with “a kind of alacrity in sinking,” “a man … that am as subject to heat as butter; a man of continual dissolution and thaw” (III.v.12, 105-08). But while he is made conscious of his physical grossness and vulnerability, he remains unrepentant and unashamed. He recounts the experience with indignation at the discomfort he has suffered and with undiminished arrogance and contempt for Master Ford, whom he again plans to cuckold, and for Mistress Ford, whom he plans to pass on afterwards to Master Brook.

In his next encounter with the Windsor wives, Falstaff is disguised as a woman. Although a shepherd's costume is a more usual pastoral disguise, Falstaff's female clothing is not unprecedented. Pyrocles in Sidney's Arcadia also puts on women's clothing to disguise his pursuit of a forbidden love. But while Pyrocles disguises himself as a splendidly beautiful and war-like amazon, Falstaff appears as an outcast old woman. Again, the details of the punishment appropriately travesty the fat knight's pretensions. His favourite persona as suitor has been that of a blunt, virile soldier. For example, his initial love letters concluded:

“Let it suffice thee … if the love of soldier can suffice—that I love thee. I will not say pity me—'tis not a soldier-like phrase—but I say, love me. By me,

                              Thine own true knight,
                              By day or night,
                              Or any kind of light,
                              With all his might
                              For thee to fight,
                                                            John Falstaff.”


And at his first assignation with Mistress Ford he disdainfully contrasts his own manly courting with that of those effeminate “lisping hawthorn-buds that come like women in men's apparel” (III.iii.65-66). At their next meeting when he hears that her husband is coming, this mighty knight begs the women to devise a disguise for him—“any extremity rather than a mischief” (IV.ii.65-66). Pyrocles, disguised as the amazon Zelmane, feels only momentary shame at being discovered in his female disguise and justifies his adopted motto, Never more Valiant, by fighting bravely and victoriously. But the merry wives have mischievously dressed Falstaff as “the fat woman of Brainford” (IV.ii.67), whom Master Ford believes to be a witch and has threatened to beat, so that, in addition to betraying his cowardice, Falstaff receives a thorough drubbing from the “peasant” Ford.

This experience shakes Falstaff's self-confidence even if it does not damage his self-esteem. He rather defensively boasts to “Master Brook” that, although he has been beaten “in the shape of a woman[,] … in the shape of man … I fear not Goliath with a weaver's beam” (V.i.20-22). In soliloquy he admits that he has been “cozened and beaten too” (IV.v.89), but he boasts to Mistress Quickly of the “admirable dexterity of wit” (IV.v.112) with which he avoided the further humiliation of being exhibited as a witch in the common stocks. He fears public humiliation, but the authority and judgment he respects are the court's:

If it should come to the ear of the court how I have been transformed, and how my transformation hath been washed and cudgelled, they would melt me out of my fat drop by drop, and liquor fishermen's boots with me; I warrant they would whip me with their fine wits till I were as crest-fallen as a dried pear.


Abashed but unrepentant, he wants revenge rather than forgiveness from Windsor society.

His desire to be revenged on Ford incites him to meet Mistress Ford once more and so to fall into the last trap set for him. Mistress Ford and Mistress Page understand that Falstaff has been sufficiently frightened by the last fiasco not to renew his solicitations but that his punishment will not be complete until his shame is made public. Falstaff suffered his dunking in the Thames privately and his beating anonymously; his final humiliation takes place before the entire community. It also penetrates most deeply to the core of his pride. When Ford, disguised as Master Brook, flatters Falstaff that he is renowned for his “many war-like, court-like, and learned” (II.ii.220-21) endowments, he shrewdly articulates Falstaff's image of himself. Although his soldierly swaggering and his courtly wooing are perhaps largely tongue-in-cheek, pride in his “admirable dexterity of wit” is wholly genuine. For example, it provides his enjoyment in mocking country obtuseness and superstition when Slender sends Simple to consult the fortune-telling woman of Brainford (IV.v.28-53). And, of course, a sense of intellectual superiority underlies his whole cony-catching scheme. Just as being treated as a piece of dirty laundry has tarnished his pretensions to courtly grandeur and receiving a beating as a weak old woman has undermined his war-like boasting, the last plot is designed to attack his intellectual pride.

For the last, much elaborated punishment, Mistress Ford arranges a midnight rendezvous in Windsor forest by an old oak tree reputed to be haunted by the spirit of Herne the hunter. Falstaff, wearing stag antlers in disguise as Herne the hunter, is caught up in the fabulous, numinous atmosphere:

The Windsor bell hath struck twelve; the minute draws on. Now, the hot-blooded gods assist me! Remember, Jove, thou wast a bull for thy Europa; love set on thy horns.


Although he had planned to manipulate the women sexually for his own financial purposes, they now arouse him to an erotic frenzy:

My doe with the black scut? Let the sky rain potatoes; let it thunder to the tune of ‘Greensleeves’, hail kissing-comfits, and snow eringoes; let there come a tempest of provocation, I will shelter me here.

(ll. 18-22)

Suddenly, his sexual fantasy-come-true is interrupted by Evans, Quickly, and the Windsor children disguised as fairies, and the women flee. Falstaff, who had mocked Simple's credulity so wittily, is totally duped and hides his eyes in terror: “They are fairies; he that speaks to them shall die” (l. 48). The “fairies” discover and torment him until the Pages and Fords arrive to complete his disgrace by mocking him.

The scene at Herne's oak is a burlesque version of the supernatural centre at the heart of the pastoral landscape. Speaking of the multiple setting of Renaissance pastoral romances, Walter R. Davis suggests thinking of “a center with two concentric circles surrounding it.” The pattern, he says, implies

a kind of purification of life proceeding inward: from the … naturalistic outer circle, to the refined pastoral inner circle, and then to the pure center of the world.

The center is always supernatural, usually either a shrine … or the dwelling of a magician. It may be the actual dwelling place of the god, who may reveal himself … there.6

The spectacle of a fat old man with deer antlers tied to his head being pinched by a motley assortment of villagers got up as fairies obviously is a long way from Calidore's vision of the Graces dancing on Mount Alcidale in Spenser's Legend of Courtesy, yet, for all its absurdity, the scene at Herne's oak functions much as the visit to a supernatural centre does in more orthodox pastorals. Calidore, who withdraws from his heroic quest into a pastoral world and then happens upon the Graces dancing to Colin Clout's piping, gains momentary access to the poet's vision of perfect order that embraces the natural and human worlds while transcending them. Falstaff witnesses a humbler artistic production, but even Mistress Quickly is unexpectedly dignified in her role as fairy queen and evokes quite eloquently an image of natural and social order:

And nightly, meadow-fairies, look you sing,
Like to the Garter's compass, in a ring:
Th'expressure that it bears, green let it be,
More fertile-fresh than all the field to see;
And Honi soit qui mal y pense write
In em'rald tufts, flowers purple, blue, and white,
Like sapphire, pearl, and rich embroidery
Buckled below fair knighthood's bending knee:
Fairies use flowers for their charactery.


The basic action of the pastoral romance, according to Davis, consists of the hero's journey from the heroic world of the outer circle to the peaceful pastoral world, and then to the supernatural centre, where the hero resolves his internal conflicts and is prepared for his return to the outer world.7 Sometimes the resolution is simply the supernatural gift of a god, but sometimes the illumination is gained more painfully. In Sidney's Arcadia, for example, the centre is not a shrine but a cave, which serves as a focus for events that are “degrading and even shameful as well as instructive and humiliating.”8 For Falstaff the process is painful and increasingly humiliating. First, the “fairies” taunt and torture him for the sinful fantasies of his corrupted heart. After the fairy vision vanishes, the mockery of the assembled company forces him to realize that the only metamorphosis to occur at Hearne's oak is, as he ruefully admits, that “I am made an ass” (l. 120). What most astonishes him is his own gullibility—that he, witty Jack Falstaff, “in despite of the teeth of all rhyme and reason” took the villagers for fairies: “See now how wit may be made a Jack-a-Lent, when 'tis upon ill employment!” (ll. 126-29). The Fords and the Pages taunt and insult him, but it is Parson Evans's voice that Falstaff reacts to most strongly:

Have I lived to stand at the taunt of one that makes fritters of English? This is enough to be the decay of lust and late-walking through the realm.

(ll. 143-46)

The chorus of ridicule culminates with Evans's denunciation, which elicits Falstaff's surrender:

Well, I am your theme: you have the start of me. I am dejected; I am not able to answer the Welsh flannel; ignorance itself is a plummet o'er me; use me as you will.

(ll. 162-65)

When Falstaff's wit is humbled to Evans's ignorance, the pastoral values of simplicity and humility have triumphed over wit and worldliness, communality has triumphed over selfish individualism, and Falstaff's punishment is over. He has been exposed, humiliated, and hence controlled. The goal has not been ostracism or even conversion but rather integration, and the Pages begin the process by extending yet one more hospitable invitation, including “Sir John and all” (l. 240). Once the threat of adultery has been defeated, the group turns its attention to celebrating marriage—sexuality in its socially controlled form. Anne Page's elopement is discovered and forgiven, and the play ends with a joking reference to middle-aged, married sexuality:

                                                                                                              Sir John,
To Master Brook you yet shall hold your word,
For he to-night shall lie with Mistress Ford.

(ll. 240-42)

In this way, Windsor combines two traditions: the pastoral world as a place of innocence and chastity and the pastoral world as a place of full sensual gratification.

While The Merry Wives ends happily with plans for everyone to return to town and “laugh this sport o'er by a country fire” (l. 239), mockery, the weapon that brings Falstaff's greed and lust under social control, also can be socially divisive. Suffering scorn and ridicule creates the desire to mock others in revenge. Thus when the Host ridicules Caius and Evans, they abandon their duel rather than be laughingstocks only to ally themselves in a plot to have revenge on him. Poor Master Ford's double fear, of being revealed to public scorn as a cuckold and of being ridiculed by Page as a “jealous fool” (IV.ii.120) for unwarranted suspicion, drives him to the absurd position of wanting to prove his wife guilty of adultery so that he can “be revenged on Falstaff, and laugh at Page” (II.ii.299-300). This potentially destructive process of mockery begetting mockery does not develop into an uncontrolled cycle of revenge largely because of its communal nature. No one pursues a goal of private vengeance; instead, each person who feels aggrieved enlists friends and neighbours in his scheme, whose end is always public ridicule. No one rejects the group judgment or perpetuates his grudge beyond the public acknowledgement of guilt. For example, Ford explicitly submits himself to the judgment of the group each time he sets out to prove Falstaff's adultery (III.iii.138-40; IV.ii.147-51) and admits his fault and asks for forgiveness when his suspicions prove wrong (III.iii.210; IV.iv.6-9). Although Parson Evans occasionally reminds him of his weakness, Mistress Ford asks no additional penance, and Master Page, rather than gloating, exemplifies characteristic Windsor moderation by warning Ford against being “as extreme in submission / As in offence” (IV.iv.11-12).

The pattern works out most clearly, indeed almost schematically, in the three plots against Falstaff. The first involves only the women—Mistress Ford, Mistress Page, and Mistress Quickly. In the second, the men co-operate unwittingly: Ford beats Falstaff without knowing it. Significantly, as the group opposing Falstaff widens, Falstaff's sub-group disintegrates, and the men's involvement results directly from his followers' revenge against him for turning them away. Finally, the men, women, and children of Windsor all participate in the last plot. In the first episode, the women Falstaff has most directly misjudged and insulted punish him. In the second, the agent of persecution is Master Ford, the man he has consciously tried to injure. In the third, that role is taken by Parson Evans, a disinterested representative of the community. Once Falstaff has submitted, he is invited to participate in the favourite communal activities of feasting and shared laughter.

On the whole, then, social solidarity and co-operation operate beneficently in the Windsor of Shakespeare's imagination, defeating anti-social aggression and controlling the use of the powerfully coercive weapons of social pressure. But the play also acknowledges the danger to individuality inherent in the power of social coercion. Abraham Slender, who is perfectly willing to marry anyone Justice Shallow tells him to but cannot comprehend the idea that his own feelings could be at all relevant to the matter, is a potent warning of how the individual mind and will can be stunted in a tightly knit society. Still, Slender is the only happy and hopeless victim of this power we see. If the threat of divisive individualism is defeated by social cohesion, the possible tyranny of this cohesion is prevented by its fluidity and informality. Anne Page can disobey her parents and marry the man she wants because her mother and father disagree. They close ranks to defeat a common enemy but pursue their goals for Anne singly and secretly. This division enables Anne to act independently and justifies her doing so. Mistress Page's attempt to outwit her husband and Anne's success in outwitting both her parents do not constitute a direct assault on ideas of patriarchal, hierarchical authority, but they suggest, perhaps even more subversively, that such orthodoxies are irrelevant abstractions with little relation to the actual functioning of a harmonious society. When Anne and Fenton return and defer obediently to Anne's parents, the group rallies to reconcile the Pages to the marriage, and the rebellious marriage becomes part of the “sport” that “Sir John and all” will laugh over by their country fire.

The narrative patterns of The Merry Wives draw heavily on the conventions of the pastoral tradition and dramatize its assumption that outside the pressures and rigidities of sophisticated society people can achieve natural freedom and harmony with their environment. In one line of action, a man embroiled in conflict retires to a natural setting where, after a period of contemplation, he puts away his sword, makes peace with his enemy, and re-enters society as a peacemaker and moral instructor. In another plot line, a young aristocrat, who is good at heart but corrupted by worldly society (indicated by his mercenary motives and reputation for profligacy), falls in love with a village lass. Purified by the experience, he overcomes obstacles and wins her hand in marriage. In the main plot, a knightly exile from court enters a rural society where, although evil exists, moral issues are simplified and clarified and where his pride is humbled. Impelled by disappointment in love, he moves further from man-made institutions into the natural world until he reaches a sacred place where the human and divine meet. Here he experiences humiliation and a revelation about the natural sources of social harmony and then re-enters society a sadder but wiser man.

While the play's plot structure and symbolic motifs derive from the highly artificial, conventionalized traditions of pastoral literature, the tone and texture of the dramatic action are realistic, farcical, and unromanticized. The action on stage is often rowdy and boisterously physical. The setting is rural England, not a remote and glamorous Arcadia. The cast of characters includes popular comic fictional characters and ordinary bourgeois English men and women rather than lovelorn shepherds. The prose dialogue contains a good deal of “hack[ing] our English” (III.i.72) and very little of the rhetorical elegance of Sidnean or Spenserian pastoral. This incongruous combination is doubly satirical, pointing at once to the pastoral conventions' distance from reality and to ordinary life's banality and pettiness in comparison with the idylls of the poetic imagination. But the parodic tension between pastoral framework and low-comedy rendering does not destroy the connection between them. After all, poetry typically works by disjunctions, disrupting familiar associations and established connections and forging new ones. In The Merry Wives the disparity offers an interpretation of the pastoral ideal of human harmony compatible with recognizing the imperfections of human nature. The harmony in this imaginative model may derive from nothing more exalted than natural human sociability (the desire to belong that is the other side of the fear of mockery and isolation), but, for all that, the amity and unity of its attainment should not be despised. In Shakespeare's Windsor the pastoral values of simplicity, humility, and fidelity are elusive and transitory but always accessible; dramatic action grows out of the struggle by the inhabitants to maintain this equilibrium.


  1. I quote throughout from the New Arden edition, ed. H. J. Oliver (London: Methuen, 1971).

  2. Ronald Huebert, “Levels of Parody in The Merry Wives of Windsor,English Studies in Canada, 3, 2 (Summer 1977), 136-52. For useful discussion of the evidence for dating the play 1597, see Oliver's New Arden introduction, pp. lii-lvi, and Jeanne Addison Roberts, Shakespeare's English Comedy: ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’ in Context (Lincoln, Neb.: University of Nebraska Press, 1979), pp. 41-50.

  3. Thomas Sternhold and John Hopkins, The Whole Booke of Davids Psalmes (London: John Daye, 1582), pp. 343-44.

  4. Huebert argues that since Psalm 137 concludes by calling for God's vengeance on the enemies of Israel, Evans implicitly is invoking divine wrath on Doctor Caius, and “the threatening rumble of the Babylon Psalm is the bugle-call of the knight-at-arms.” Because Evans as knight is more notable for discretion than valour, the effect is mock heroic (Huebert, p. 141). I think that the original audience, like the modern, would have associated Psalm 137 with waters, willows, harps, and tears more readily than with bugles, that is, with elegaic pastoral rather than with heroic poetry or epic.

  5. Barbara Freedman, “Falstaff's Punishment: Buffoonery as Defensive Posture in The Merry Wives of Windsor,Shakespeare Studies, 14 (1981), 167.

  6. Walter R. Davis and R. A. Lanham, Sidney's ‘Arcadia’ (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1965), p. 35.

  7. Davis, pp. 38-39.

  8. Davis, p. 175.

Brian Gibbons (essay date 1987)

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Last Updated on February 4, 2016, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 10437

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 Arcadia. Such was their popularity that Rosalynde was reprinted in 1592 and 1596, and Arcadia in 1593, before both of them were again reprinted in 1598. According to some scholars it was a revival of Lyly's pastoral comedies by the children's companies that gave an immediate incentive to Shakespeare and his company, with their new Globe Theatre, to respond to the revived fashion for pastoral comedy.1 It is my contention that what we know of the circumstances of Shakespeare's company in 1599, and of Shakespeare's work of the time, makes his decision to turn to pastoral more than opportunist.

As You Like It is a self-consciously stylish play, and in this essay I seek to explore its style as a work of theatre, not simply of literature. I do so by comparing and contrasting it with the non-dramatic works of Lodge and Sidney in the hope of identifying Shakespeare's particular use of pastoral on this occasion and of showing the ways he found to translate into the language of theatre, effects achieved in non-dramatic pastoral literature. I take it that the new pressure of intelligence to which Shakespeare subjects the pastoral mode in As You Like It (which represents an advance on his earlier limited use of pastoral elements in his plays) owes more to the example of Sidney than Lodge. I certainly find that to return to The Arcadia with As You Like It in mind sharpens response to Sidney's art.

As You Like It, which was almost certainly completed in 1599, the year after the works of Lodge and Sidney were reprinted, contains like Henry V allusions to the new Globe Theatre. Henry V is also probably of 1599, and although the differences between the two plays are obvious, they have one important thing in common: Henry V, like As You Like It, is strikingly preoccupied with highlighting questions of narrative technique and dramatic and literary form, with theatre's unique expressive resources and, conversely, with its stark limits. It is reasonable to attribute this marked emphasis to the fact of the newly acquired playhouse, but it may also be significant that 1599 is the year of Ben Jonson's first revolutionary experiment with metatheatrical comedy, Every Man Out of His Humour. In this context, Shakespeare's choice of pastoral as one of the modes to translate into theatre at this time seems to me to be an inevitable one.

In the space of two or three years from 1598 Shakespeare produced, in addition to the epic history, Henry V, and the pastoral comedy, As You Like It, two romantic tragi-comedies, Much Ado About Nothing and Twelfth Night, a satiric history, Troilus and Cressida, a farce, The Merry Wives of Windsor (though this yet awaits satisfactory classification), and Hamlet. In a burst of such extraordinary creative activity, in which he seems as a matter of deliberate decision to have chosen sharply contrasting kinds of play and several new modes (something which the old designation ‘middle period’ scarcely emphasizes)—in a phase when, in short, Shakespeare's interest in the expressive resources and limitations of different kinds of theatre seems clearly to have been intense—it is entirely appropriate that he should decide to turn to pastoral, given that mode's particular reputation and particular traditions, its oblique treatment of its narrative subject, its invitation to the artist to reflect on his art, its prompting an audience to recognize his artistry.

So when, in As You Like It, Orlando interrupts a conversation between Jaques and Ganymede by making an exuberant entrance, exclaiming ‘Good day and happiness, dear Rosalind’ (IV.i.28), Jaques reacts immediately to this as an unwelcome tone, lyric, and with it an alien mode, romance, to say nothing of the intolerable sense, simple well-being! He turns on his heel with the retort, ‘Nay then God buy you, and you talk in blank verse!’ In this collision between satire and romance the elaborate prose of the melancholy man is shown up as symptomatic of his vanity, while at the same time the open eager style of the lover, as we are amused to note, finds expression in less than artless metrical form. Here Shakespeare gets excellent comic effect by joining together what Ben Jonson held all men should keep asunder.

At first sight Shakespeare's title for the play, As You Like It, emphasizes style only to disarm critics as they enter the theatre. Here, it seems to say, shall you see only pleasure of a familiar kind in a well-tried style—and the seemingly simple art of the opening scenes may confirm such an impression. Yet pastoral is often mischievous in its manipulation of the audience, and As You Like It is almost studious in its adherence to the conventions of pastoral. We may well, on second thoughts, suspect ambiguity in the play's title, recognizing it to be glancing outwards at the restrictions imposed by audience taste (what you like) and simultaneously glancing inwards at the author's attentiveness to decorum, pastoral being too dominant a genre, and too complete a system of construction, to permit more than variations on old themes. Shakespeare in the event takes the opportunity with both hands, finding in the theory and style of pastoral itself a fertile comic subject, and transforming its themes into dramatic poetry of a kind that honours the shade of Sidney.

If we accept that the Epilogue is an integral element in the play we must find it acting to reinforce this critical view of the audience's taste for mere fiction and false appearances. The boy-actor of Rosalind-Ganymede, still in costume as a woman, steps forward for the Epilogue, half out of (yet still half in) the fictional frame, and asks the audience what they have earlier heard Ganymede ask Oliver in the play: was not this well counterfeited? This is just as piquant the second time, since we still do not have a real girl or real boy but yet another created dramatic part, this time of boy-actor half-impersonating the play's heroine. This no-man's-land, so to speak, the obverse of a Jonsonian induction, this fictional representation of half-created fiction, corresponds to that other no-man's-land where pastoral is situated, between the present representation and the ideal world it strives to recover, to translate.

The play begins by wilfully underlining the fact of its fictionality as Le Beau gives his news: ‘There comes an old man, and his three sons—’ (I.ii.109) and Celia at once reacts to his style: ‘I could match this beginning with an old tale.’ In fact Shakespeare has done exactly that, matching the number of the old man's sons to those of Sir Rowland de Boys, as his source, Lodge, had not. So here As You Like It is even more like an old tale than is the prose narrative of Rosalynde on which it is based. But this is to anticipate. For the moment let it be enough to observe how Shakespeare's teasing Epilogue makes an audience recognize how readily, even at this moment after the play has ended, they would surrender to the counterfeit of art, even when its deceptions are half-exposed.

And this too is consistent with the treatment of pastoral as we find it in the non-dramatic writing of Shakespeare's contemporaries, who felt expected to include threads of reflective commentary in the fabric of their narratives, often teasingly playful in drawing the reader's attention to the artifice. Thus Sidney in his Old Arcadia writes out for the reader a song which he says Cleophila sang, and then he remarks, ‘I might entertain you, fair ladies, a great while, if I should make as many interruptions in the repeating as she did in the singing’ (29). Sidney then gives a description of how much her sighing did interrupt the song, and this actually takes twice as long to read as the song itself did. Again, in Bk III, ch. 39 of The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia, he begins: ‘But Zelmane, whom I left in the cave hardly bestead … makes me lend her my pen awhile to see with what dexterity she could put by her dangers’ (654). Sidney pretends whimsically to have no control at all over his narrative: he would have us imagine it unfolding in various strands simultaneously in separate places, only one of which can be recorded at any one time. More startling still for its playful and absurd disturbance of the reader who may have succumbed to the charm of the fiction is Sidney's description of one of the disguised princes taking his lady's hand, ‘and with burning kisses setting it close to her lips (as if it should stand there like a hand in the margin of a book to note some saying worthy to be marked) began to speak these words’ (176).

Sidney's humorous but also carefully self-conscious reference to his own act of writing paradoxically serves to win the centre of the stage for the events narrated. The lover's hand is given immediacy by contrast with the mere sign for a hand printed in a book's margin, and this immediacy of the narrated event over the act of describing is stressed when we read on: for as the lover begins poetically to lament love's power to change men's states and torture them, he is interrupted by a rather more urgent instance of inconstant fortune in the form of a real lion and a she-bear, ready to tear him (and his lady) limb from limb on the spot.

Such emphasis on the act of writing serves not only to foreground the events narrated but, more basically, to stress the gap between the verbal process of narration—the narrator's and the reader's time—and the time and place in which the narrated events occur. This is consistent with pastoral exactly because its whole cast is reflective, expressive of a longing for simplicity of life and of art, for simplicity of language to describe forms of life remote from a present preceived as more complex, confused or colourless. Pastoral laments the gap between representation and its imagined subject, and in a sense its subject is this gap. Situated between a fallen present and an imaginary place and time, persistently endeavouring and persistently failing to translate that remote subject into the here and now, pastoral creates its own provisional condition: its presence involves simultaneous awareness of the absent imagined subject, and its nature is hence reflective, its status paradoxical.

This is apparent, for instance, in the song of the young prince Musidorus in Arcadia who, disguised as a shepherd, sings to the chaste princess Pamela ‘to show what kind of shepherd I was’. The kind of shepherd he was, as we see from the song, is a shepherd only in metaphor; he remains a prince, his shepherd's weeds a discardable disguise. In his song, the pastoral metaphors are only that. They can be simply removed to leave the decoded statement. The prince in his own condition is a complex figure, only one aspect of whom is apparent in shepherd's costume. His language here, if shorn of its sheep's clothing, suddenly acquires the complexity of court poetry. The shapely closure of pastoral's decorum offers only illusory containment, as the adjectives ‘fruitless’ and ‘endless’, and the verb ‘upholds’ indicate:

My sheep are thoughts which I both guide and serve,
Their pasture is fair hills of fruitless love:
On barren sweets they feed, and feeding starve:
I wail their lot, but will not other prove.
My sheephook is wanhope, which all upholds:
My weeds, desire, cut out in endless folds.
What wool my sheep shall bear, while thus they live,
In you it is, you must the judgement give.


To speak of Shakespeare ‘translating’ pastoral romance into a play, as I do, may serve to emphasize the nature and scale of the process, ‘removing from one person, place or condition to another’ and ‘changing into another language while retaining the sense’.2 Looking more closely at the idea of translation one sees that there is a qualification to be made to this sort of definition, since there is something ineffaceable in a work of art which will alter the native character of the language into which it is translated, thereby creating something new: there inheres in a translation the shadow of the absent original which makes it a different thing from an independent work of art in either language. In fact Shakespeare seems to have wanted actually to stress the derivative literary model which he translated in As You Like It, and I hope to examine some of the ways in which he makes us aware of it. It is not only As You Like It, but also the preceding non-dramatic narratives Arcadia and Rosalynde, which stress their status as imitations, which call attention to the gap between themselves and antecedents with stronger claims to authenticity, being less veiled by repeated translations. Such purer narratives take the form of romance, an extended action whose configurations correspond to deep emotional patterns and whose process irresistibly absorbs the solitary reader, who finds his secret hopes, desires, and dreams represented there in forms his conscious mind permits him to feed on uninhibitedly.

Sidney's Arcadia is a great work of literary imagination, whose power and wit must have influenced Shakespeare at levels deeper than most of the materials from which he borrowed his plots. To Sidney Shakespeare could look for subtle observation of the play of motive and counter-motive, for openness to the surprising mixtures of elements in intimate relationships developing—this above all—in time. The striking features of Shakespeare's romantic comedies are their depiction of major personal development in the chief protagonists, presented in a context of busy, diverse, humorous contrasts. I would not rule out the notion that The Arcadia was used as a source (in the orthodox sense) in more places than Shakespeare-source-hunters have so far suggested, but here I am concerned with influence at a much more profound level. Sidney sets an example in depicting processes of change, of growth, and capacity for love, without protecting his characters from painful as well as ridiculous revelations about their personal inadequacy, and the mingled yarn from which experience is made; and Sidney continuously alters the degree of sympathy with which the narrative engages the reader, and the angle of vision from which it is recorded, so that his style enacts rather than simply conveys this incessantly dialectical record.

Sidney's narrator, and his characters in The Arcadia, always speak, sing and write within a decorum. In this sense there are no truly internal voices of self-communion. In place of a hesitant, erratic inner voice, Sidney presents one aspect of a character using oratorical means to address himself or herself.

Sidney makes distinct his frequent shifts from one style to another, and this sometimes has an abruptly dramatic effect. The reader, made conscious of the art of a particular style, becomes aware also of what its decorum excludes (this is comically evident in the speech of Miso, for instance). In style, and in the narrative itself also, Sidney makes outlines emphatic, but the eye is consequently drawn also to what lies beyond (or behind) the present subject, implied or as yet unseen or unsaid. This awareness of gap, of vacant space, is a characteristic feature of the pastoral mode: in defining the frame so consciously, Sidney ensures that we think also about what is precisely not said, so keeping us critically alert. In isolating and outlining an attitude or a group of figures, a detachable and summarizable meaning may be indicated, emblemizing the speaking picture, yet this emblemizing process is also resisted by the fluid current of dramatic action and the contrast and comparison of styles involved in it, making our assent to such emblems, when they seem too restricted or static, more than reluctant.

To approach Shakespeare by way of some detailed episodes from Sidney's Arcadia may serve to identify in the non-dramatic, written mode, techniques and effects which Shakespeare translates into pastoral drama in As You Like It; for the process is much more thorough and complex than might be suggested by Duke Senior's speeches, which well merit the implied ironic criticism of his courtier, Amiens, that style alone is not enough:

                                                                      Happy is your Grace,
That can translate the stubbornness of fortune
Into so quiet and so sweet a style.


In As You Like It Shakespeare employs the circumstances of stage performance to set the written in contrast to the spoken word. Episodes in verse are juxtaposed to prose; the revelation of character through realistic conversation is contrasted to formal emblematic descriptions of people (Jaques and the stricken deer, II.i.25-66; or Ganymede's mock-portrait of the typical lover's ‘careless desolation’, III.ii.359-71). Written poems are brought on stage and pinned up, or read aloud to other characters and to the theatre audience in a critical spirit. Faultless songs are sung to musical accompaniment, creating emotion no mere words, spoken or written, can equal.

In terms of theatre spectacle, the physical charm of Ganymede, the strength and grace of Orlando, the mimic skill of Touchstone, the foulness of Audrey, make a direct impact on the audience's eyes and senses; but surprising emphasis is also placed on what is withheld from the audience's view, though described with literary art and having tantalizingly visual interest: the natural landscape; the weather; Orlando found sleeping under a tree, ‘stretched along like a wounded knight’ (III.ii.236); Oliver asleep and menaced by a green and gold serpent and a lioness; Orlando, bleeding, falling in a faint (only a shadow of this is seen on stage, when Ganymede faints on hearing of his wound).

Shakespeare not only reproduces the ingredients of non-dramatic pastoral as readers like it, he ensures also that the variety of ways of representing experience, which the contrasting styles afford, will constitute an implicit critical debate, to which nonsense and parody make telling contributions. While this is possible in non-dramatic narrative like Sidney's, it is stressed in the extra dimension of theatre in As You Like It, where Shakespeare's necessary concern with movement, and with time, sets against the writer's or painter's belief in the value of pattern the theatrical truth that a tableau is no sooner achieved than it must dissolve.

Sidney's account of the princess Philoclea falling in love with a graceful Amazon (whom she fails to detect as a prince, Pyrocles, in disguise) begins apparently by chance; the narrator has been describing a day's hunting when he suddenly remembers the princess: ‘And alas, sweet Philoclea’, he cries, ‘how hath my pen till now forgot thy passions’ (237). As he turns to tell her story, the day's hunting nevertheless lingers in his mind, yielding the brooding simile, ‘she was like a young fawn who, coming in wind of the hunters, doth not know whether it be a thing or no to be eschewed’ (238). We are told that Philoclea falls for the Amazon at first sight. She behaves exactly like a character in a stage play, miming the conventional signs of infatuation. Sidney presents this as a scene to be acted, and in a style visually reminiscent of the Commedia dell'Arte:

And if Zelmane sighed, she should sigh also; when Zelmane was sad, she deemed it wisdom and therefore she would be sad too. Zelmane's languishing countenance, with crossed arms and sometimes cast up eyes, she thought to have an excellent grace, and therefore she also willingly put on the same countenance, till at the last, poor soul, ere she were aware, she accepted not only the badge but the service, not only the sign but the passion signified.


Sidney maintains a distance between tenor and vehicle in his own prose even if Philoclea cannot in reality. His own metaphors depict her susceptibility to signs and images; but though Sidney is not unsympathetic to the girl's tender pictorial fancies he makes clinically clear their graduated increase in sexual feeling, as he tells us how she progressed from emblematic frame to emblematic frame: ‘First she would wish that they two might live all their lives together, like two of Diana's nymphs. … Then would she wish that she were her sister. … Then grown bolder, she would wish either herself or Zelmane a man, that there might succeed a blessed marriage betwixt them’ (239). These brittle images disintegrate under pressure from below, where in her dreams Philoclea encounters self-begotten images that frighten her. Her whole personal development is presented in terms of her relation to images. Those of her secure childhood identity are reflected in her mother and sister. They become painfully defamiliarized as she acquires a separate selfhood through love for the Amazon, who at first seems an ideal female image, but very soon becomes disturbingly ambivalent.

Her sister Pamela, who reflects her childish self, repeats her own transformation into melancholy lovesickness. Her mother, who also falls for the Amazon, suddenly appears in the hostile role of sexual rival, presenting an image, distressingly close to Philoclea, of lust and jealousy: adult sexuality at its most rank. So, torn by alienation, burned by desire for she knows not what, she feels as if, while acting a part (as we see she did when imitating the Amazon), the part has taken possession of her, and an alien person acts out a role through her own body: ‘For now indeed love pulled off his mask and showed his face unto her, and told her plainly that she was his prisoner. Then needed she no more paint her face with passions, for passions shone through her face’ (240).

We recognize that, viewed externally, this looks farcical, yet we sympathize with her inner dilemma. Sidney deploys metaphors drawn from the theatre—masks, costumes, disguises, expressive gestures and signs—and these we can see to be psychologically valid (as well as being appropriate to an intrigue plot, in which she finds herself). Philoclea's development proceeds from one imprinting (in the ornithological sense) to another, more appropriate to her maturation: she passes from a state of narcissism to the brink of love for the opposite sex, in the process discovering jealousy at her own mother; and Sidney even intensifies the image of adolescent crisis by making her father also lust for the Amazon, so producing a situation claustrophobic and perverse as much as farcical. Philoclea is not willingly perverse; rather we recognize that she is undergoing a reorientation of the personality which is serious rather than ridiculous. Sidney's use of the analogy of stage comedy achieves, then, a double perspective, making the reader recognize two separate, opposed codes in the narrative: one detached, one sympathetic.

To depict the full onset of sexual love in Philoclea, Sidney creates a set of episodes, constructed in a subtly modified version of exemplary drama, in which setting, action and gesture are endowed with symbolic and emblematic visual meaning. Philoclea, suffering isolation ‘by the smoke of those flames wherewith else she was not only burned but smothered’, seeks comfort in a wood which was a favourite haunt in happier times; now, that familiar tuft of trees ‘with the shade the moon gave through it, it might breed a fearful kind of devotion to look upon it’ (240). In this place is ‘a goodly white marble stone that should seem had been dedicated in ancient time to the Sylvan gods’. Sidney explains that only a short time before she first met the Amazon, Philoclea had taken her pen and written a poem on the white and smooth marble, praying that she might remain chaste. In the poem (which Sidney records for us to read) she makes the marble an emblem of her pure mind.

Though Philoclea does not know, apparently, what Sidney tells the reader about the place's dedication to the Sylvan gods, she does half-notice that the trees resemble a little chapel and that the place is half-concealed from Phoebus and Diana. Her poem may be addressed to chastity, but her attempt to dedicate the marble cannot succeed, cannot efface its more ancient consecration to powers of which her immaturity makes her dangerously ignorant:

Thou purest stone, whose pureness doth present
          My purest mind; whose temper hard doth show
My tempered heart; by thee my promise sent
          Unto myself let after-livers know.


Now, returning to the marble stone at night in a state of emotional torment, she finds the moonlight will not allow her to read the words, and in any case the ink is now ‘forworn and in many places blotted’. Although Philoclea sees at once how aptly the blotted lines reflect her present shame, she will not see her previous condition as other than pure. She composes new verses lamenting her shame, but this time she has no pen. These ‘words unseen’ thus represent her new discovery of mutability. Though she does not write them down, Sidney does do so. Though for Philoclea the words are ephemeral, as expressing a sense of futility, for Sidney they are to have a durable place in the larger frame of his narrative. Not for him, one sees, is a poetic truth ephemeral. We witness Philoclea's dilemma as tender rather than ridiculous, as the pictorial view by itself might suggest.

As readers, our perspective is via Sidney's text, in which everything is expected to yield to interpretation, rather than having the contingent tendency to randomness of real life, with which Philoclea is shown struggling. For her the clear marble's meaning has changed like the moon, and the sense of obscurity will never quite evaporate. To the reader, that poem written in ink on the marble perfectly defines a state of mind both deluded and ephemeral. In Sidney's text it is preserved, in Arcadia effaced.

When she returns to the lodge she finds her sister Pamela also solitary and distraught, and reads in her appearance ‘the badges of sorrow’. Pamela is discovered silent and motionless, not writing but reading: ‘looking upon a wax candle which burnt before her; in one hand holding a letter, in the other her handkerchief which had lately drunk up the tears of her eyes’ (244). Sidney presents a double image which refracts and clarifies, by subtle contrasts, the differences between two women so close, so very alike in all sorts of ways. We may well think of how often Shakespeare uses pairs of lovers (Hermia/Helena and Rosalind/Celia, for example) in his comedies to present comparable effects. The sisters, lovelorn, console one another in a shared bed ‘with dear though chaste embracements, with sweet though cold kisses’ (245). Sidney makes the reader see in this the pictorial suggestion of Narcissus, but the dramatization gives immediacy to the characters' emotion: for each sister longs for another mate in the phantom embrace here: and in the psychological sense, narcissism is waning. Philoclea's development, though repeatedly depicted in fixed emblematic images which suggest it is frozen, can yet be glimpsed and felt in motion in the underlying narrative current, which draws the reader expectantly beyond the frame of such tableaux. Sidney prompts the thought that the Narcissus story only begins with a mirror-image.

There is tension between the narrative's weaving process and the moments of stillness in which a framed scene is displayed. Sidney's characters are often composed in a scene which for a moment metamorphoses into a set-piece out of Ovid, making them mythological. This is clear in the episode where Philoclea, wandering alone, comes upon the Amazon, whose face is bent over a stream, weeping: ‘one might have thought’, Sidney says, that he ‘began meltingly to be metamorphosed to the under-running river’. The Amazon composes poetry, writing with a willow stick in the sand of the river bank (one degree even more ephemeral than ink on marble) verses which emblemize the stream as mirror of his tearful eyes:

In watery glass my watery eyes I see;
Sorrows ill eas'd, where sorrows painted be.


The Amazon unknowingly echoes Philoclea's second set of verses about the blotted marble, which (we recall) she did not write down at all. The Amazon's poem declares that the place has an echo, and as the poem ends Philoclea materializes in response to it by stepping into view (so neatly reversing the fate of Echo in Ovid).3 As the lovers begin to talk and the princess Philoclea learns that her Amazon is really a prince, Sidney, with another neat reversal of Ovid, compares her to Pygmalion finding his beloved statue coming to life as a real woman. Sidney then dissolves the mythological tableau in order to foreground the Arcadian narrative once more, taking up a string of recapitulatory metaphors: Philoclea is like a ‘fearful deer’, though now a deer coming to the ‘best feed’ (329); she cannot resist revealing her heart to the prince, yet fears such boldness will provoke him ‘to pull off the visor’; but for her part, she exclaims, ‘Shall I labour to lay marble colours over my ruinous thoughts?’ (330).

It is as if we are observing the aboriginal emergence of fables in the simple archetypal world of pastoral which precedes the codifying of Ovid—and so it is only natural that Ovidian translation of pastoral should fleetingly intervene between the simple story of Arcadia and the reader. In As You Like It the direct physicality of performance gives present tense to the pastoral action, sometimes stilled so that Ovidian allusion may be foregrounded. We see how in Sidney such shifts in narrative register create drama: so, in the episode between Philoclea and the Amazon, the Ovidian configuration is more restricted (as well as more faintly outlined) than the Arcadian frame in which the princesses are described, and the reader is made aware of the ceaseless movement between the text's surface and its remoter vales.

Sidney's writing has a limpid clarity and exactness, his descriptions are focused, and the typically sharply etched outlines make figures and signs stand out distinct and separate from one another. We are aware of margins literally and figuratively. Ultimately indeed it is a fastidious subtlety of mind rather than eye to which his writing appeals, its system of contrasts appealing to our judgement as spectators in a vivid theatre of the mind. Yet, grounded as it is in scenic form, it must give any dramatist reading it food for thought.

By contrast, Thomas Lodge in Rosalynde requires caution. In his opening pages (160-1) he almost falls over his own metatextual conceits. After a formula from oral tradition, disarmingly simple—‘There dwelled adjoyning to the citie of Bourdeaux a Knight of most honorable parentage’—there intervenes a rhetorical pattern: ‘Whom Fortune had graced with manie favours, and Nature honored with sundrie exquisite qualities, so beautified with the excellence of both, as it was question whether Fortune or Nature were more prodigal in deciphering the riches of their bounties.’ These personifications prepare the reader for ever more bookish elements. The knight is rapidly given attributes fitting a writer's hero in an Elizabethan prose fiction, ‘the stroake of his Launce no less forcible, than the sweetnesse of his tongue was perswasive’. Lodge insists on the overwhelming importance of eloquence, as against simple oral narration, because his work invokes the shade of John Lyly in its preface; but this hardly excuses the ridiculous lengths to which the narrative is pushed. The old knight Sir John senses that he has not long to live and resolves to deliver a speech, as well as his written Will, to his three sons. Lodge says that the old man is conscious of, and uses, the possibilities of his aged face as a source of persuasion, since ‘the map of age was figured on his forehead: Honour sat in the furrowes of his face, and many yeares were pourtraied in his wrinkled liniaments, that all men perceive that his glasse was runne.’

Nevertheless, to take such a view of one's own features, as adjuncts to one's rhetorical performance (old age as a visual aid, so to speak), though it may possibly be allowable in a narrator, appears ludicrous if not grotesque in a dramatic character himself. The old man, however, Euphuist to the last, ‘Having therefore death in his lookes to moove them to pitie, and teares in his eyes to paint out the depth of his passions’, begins his oration to his three sons. Lodge sets the speech out on the page as an important textual event in its own right, with an upper-case title imitating the layout of a legal document or public proclamation:

Sir John of Bordeaux Legacie He Gave to his Sonnes

We notice, however, that it is supposed to be delivered spontaneously. Generally in Rosalynde stereotyped character and motive are baldly, explicitly accounted for in the authorial narrative. Scenes are staged in emblematic expository style. Action is held up while characters make formal orations for and against the alternative courses of action facing them, and their rhetoric is tediously elaborate, as when Rosader, coming upon his sleeping brother who lies in mortal danger from a lion, analyses the situation with all the restraint of a designer of mazes:

Now Rosader, Fortune that long hath whipt thee with nettles, meanes to salve thee with roses; and having crost thee with manie frownes: now she presents thee with the brightnesse of her favours. Thou that didst count thy self the most distressed of all men, maist accompt thy selfe now the most fortunate amongst men; if fortune can make men happie, or sweete revenge be wrapt in a pleasing content.


This effusion is prefaced, according to Lodge's custom, with the upper-case, centred title Rosaders Meditation, and it is set out as an oration of (detachable) general interest.

It is interesting, in terms of Lodge's formal rhetorical mode, to examine As You Like It II.vii, where Orlando makes a heroic intrusion upon the courtly exiles as they are about to banquet. He draws his sword, and utters a suitably lofty command in keeping with his role: ‘Forbear, and eat no more.’ To his audience on stage, his pose and style are all too familiar, but stagey, quite disjunct from this occasion. His melodramatic claim ‘I almost die for food, and let me have it’ is answered with the relaxed and polite ‘Sit down and feed, and welcome to our table’, even perhaps with an air of faintly amused condescension. This sophisticated and subtle reaction to Orlando's speech becomes unmistakable in the Duke's mock-solemn repetition, with slight stylistic improvement, of Orlando's formal oration:

If ever you have look'd on better days;
If ever been where bells have knoll'd to church;
If ever sat at any good man's feast;
If ever from your eyelids wip'd a tear. …


This, to someone who has recently been reading Lodge, if not Sidney, parodies the typical procedure (and unintended absurdity) of romance, where formal rhetoric is utterly dissynchronized from the situation, time and place of the narrative action. Lodge does not provide Shakespeare with any central informing poetic idea; that of Fortune, which some critics have canvassed, is clumsily superimposed in Lodge and in As You Like It serves as a butt of ridicule, parody and subversion from all sides, particularly from the dramatist himself. But Lodge does give Shakespeare one excellent thing, not to be found in Sidney: a heroine with gaiety and sprightliness.

Critics sometimes describe the mode of As You Like It as if it were anticipatory Chekhov. It may be worth recalling how different it is. Here is an intelligent comment on Chekhov's dramatic style in The Cherry Orchard:

the call of the business to be done behind the scenes is almost more insistent than the call of what is to be enacted by the footlights; the stage is not so much a point or a focus as a passage over which his personages drift or scurry, a chance meeting place where we hear only fragments of their talk and see less important moments of their action.4

The same critical view sees much of the dialogue as elliptical, more important for its subtextual content than its overt function as exchange between characters. Compared to this, it is obvious that the structure of As You Like It foregrounds positively competitive encounters between contrasting characters, making dialogue often exciting as debate, in a manner Shaw himself, but for his determined obtuseness towards As You Like It, would have had to find congenial.

Viewed analytically, this play's style is indeed so far from Chekhov that it shows significant affinities with the technique of Shakespeare's last romances, where Shakespeare exploits sudden changes in style and even mode as part of an overall dramatic strategy, awaking surprise, shock and wonder in the audience. In these plays certain episodes are presented with a realism of social and psychological observation which would be congenial to a George Eliot; then suddenly a medieval rhyming Chorus-figure will take over, insisting on the simple primitive folk-tale level of the narrative, or highly self-conscious and mannered allusions to acting, to the technique of spectacular staging, or to the openly acknowledged presence of the audience, will insist that the entrances and exits and dialogue are recognized as artifice. Then, without warning, an irresistibly powerful dramatic illusion will be restored to seize the audience's full imaginative concentration.

In As You Like It many passages of dialogue present an illusion of lifelike spontaneous conversation, even in characters given to oratorical flights or witty repartee; particularly naturalistic are the conversations which, so far from being lively, animated and competitive, reveal one or both speakers to be dull in mood and halting in speech, as when Rosalind confesses she has not one word to throw at a dog (I.iii.3), or Jaques says to Orlando ‘Let's meet as little as we can’ (III.ii.253). Yet such episodes of naturalism are embedded in a plot whose overall shape is determined by the inexplicable and astonishing: at the beginning the sudden and violent malevolence of Duke Frederick; at the very last moment, the sensational news delivered by a messenger who is in himself surprising: he is Jaques de Boys:

Let me have audience for a word or two.
I am the second son of old Sir Rowland
That bring these tidings to this fair assembly.
Duke Frederick hearing how that every day
Men of great worth resorted to this forest,
Address'd a mighty power, which were on foot
In his own conduct, purposely to take
His brother here, and put him to the sword.
And to the skirts of this wild wood he came,
Where, meeting with an old religious man,
After some question with him, was converted
Both from his enterprise and from the world.


This announcement generates wonder; there is wonder too for this third de Boys brother, discovering he is just in time for the weddings of both his brothers as well as two other couples; the sending in of this forgotten third brother at the last moment seems deliberately to exaggerate the plot's artifice and the contrived tying up of all loose ends. Its chief effect is comic wonder and explicitly theatrical delight, but it reminds an audience of sensational moments elsewhere in the play: Frederick's anger, Orlando demanding food for his dying old servant at sword point, not to mention the heroine's dead faint, and the epiphany of Hymen, elements which seem clearly to anticipate Cymbeline and The Tempest.

What is most alien to the theatre of Chekhov here is the use of the style which states nothing obliquely, leaves nothing to be inferred, which employs expository soliloquies or asides, clearly announces entrances and exits, makes spectators expressly aware of the reasons for stage action, formally patterns language so that its structures are brought to the surface, supporting other patterned codes.

In As You Like It strong emphasis is made on this open expository style right at the beginning, when a vigorous, well-spoken young man enters with an old man whose name, repeated for emphasis, is Adam. Adam's name helps suggest Biblical as well as folk-tale resonances. Orlando stresses his plight in physical terms, born gentle but stalled like an ox (I.i.10), denied education while even the horses of his brother are ‘bred better; for besides that they are fair with their feeding, they are taught their manage’ (I.i.11-12); nourishment for the mind we take for granted as essential to a hero of literary romance, but it is striking that equal stress is here placed on nourishment for the body. Adam, though aged and virtually worn out in body, is sustained by spiritual vigour. We recognize in this pair youth and age, and an emblem of the interplay of body and spirit. Shakespeare then adds to the group the lonely saturnine figure, Oliver, of whom Orlando has been speaking. Oliver's perfectly stereotyped cold villainy awakes instantly the hot resentment of his younger brother, who seizes him and proves the better wrestler. The tableau which results is a speaking picture: Adam, fatherly spectator, intervenes to prevent the potential fratricide.

From the play's outset, then, such archetypes, directly shown or formally described, secure for the play a deep structure in fable and keep the audience subliminally in touch with the primitive sources of the narrative's power. The basic dramatic structure maintains a naive expository attitude against which the varied display of fashionable literary manners, of wit and nonsense, is set in contrast.5 In his consistent change of emphasis from his source, Lodge's Rosalynde, Shakespeare can be seen emphasizing a central theme of transformation through love which is very reminiscent of Sidney, while at the same time calling persistent attention to the effect upon pastoral themes and styles of their translation into dramatic form.

The extensive space and emphasis Lodge gives to the description of fights, roistering and general violence on a larger scale, is reduced in narrative terms and focused in the two violent wrestling bouts performed before the audience's eyes, making a shocking physical impact extremely early in the play. The first bout, between Orlando and Oliver (I.i.52-4) is violent, however short and inconclusive; the second (I.ii.200-3) is violent, complete and very conclusive indeed: Charles the professional having to be carried away speechless.

Once the impact of the violent wrestling bout is made, and the literal meaning of ‘a fall’ in wrestling is demonstrated, the word can become metamorphosed in the dialogue as a term for falling in love, and verbal wrestling, wit combats, many of which are vigorously competitive, can become the prevailing sport for everyone in Arden.

The repercussive shock-waves from the initial physical violence persist throughout the play, mainly below the surface of explicit action but glimpsed in the verbal account of the stricken deer, and again in the entry of the deer-slayers, before making one more direct impact when Rosalind falls unconscious on hearing of Orlando's wound as she looks at the bloody napkin.

The emotional malevolence of the wicked brothers Oliver and Duke Frederick is an indirect expression of violence and persists through the action. It propels the lovers into exile: their journeys are identified with the body and physical hardship, but the ‘desert inaccessible’ (II.vii.110) is soon reached, and is a place full of civilized people, whose hunting, before being a brute necessity for physical survival, is first of all a cultural rite, inspiring poetry and music. In the play hunting has a double value, as reality and as metaphor: in pastoral Arden, hunting is as much an embodiment of literary love imagery and a metaphor for political tyranny as it is the real thing from which metaphors are created. In the same way physical exile is a fact of the narrative but also a metaphor for spiritual freedom. The equal status of thing signified and sign is a feature of pastoral writing; so Shakespeare insists on recognition of the imperatives of the body as an essential precondition for true wit, and insists, remarkably, that the body's irrationality is essential as an informing substance for true style. In translating pastoral he gives pronounced emphasis through the language of the theatre to this literary and dramatic judgement. Self-consciousness in the writer of Elizabethan pastoral is, as we have seen, a constituent feature of the mode; in As You Like It Shakespeare begins to draw the audience's attention to style, in a spirit of playfulness, extremely early on.

In I.i.85-7, Shakespeare gives the villainous Oliver a moment alone on stage so that he can tell the audience directly and simply of his feelings and plots. He calls for Charles the wrestler, to whom he puts a series of abrupt questions, making no comment whatever on the long and rather surprising answers. The overall dramatic style seems to be expository: the questions are not revelatory of Oliver's character or state of mind, they are merely a dramatist's device: ‘What's the new news at the new court? … Can you tell if Rosalind the Duke's daughter be banished with her father? … Where will the old Duke live?’ On the other hand, considering the muscle-bound masculinity presumably to be ascribed to a wrestler, the answers are so unexpectedly polished in their eloquence, and so romantically idealistic in feeling, that the incongruity must surely be deliberate and the audience is invited to savour the effect. Even though Charles, it could be argued, may be supposed to be partly protected by the obvious expository form, his effusions on the tenderness of feminine affection, or on the merry men who flock to Arden where they fleet time carelessly as they did in the golden world, seem altogether too improbable to explain away, and furthermore invite us to make an ironic reassessment of Orlando himself, who speaks uncommonly well for one who has been, as he claims to have been, starved of education. A moment or two later the two young ladies offer some excellently witty word-play, and show a quick sensitivity to other people's styles, so reinforcing the impression that Shakespeare wishes to alert his audience to the absurdities in pastoral and romance convention.

Soon after, in staging which has a hint of allegorical stiffness, young Orlando enters in exile accompanied by the faithful servant Adam, and the two young ladies take as their companion Folly, in the shape of Touchstone. They are all received by a Duke in exile presiding over a no-Court in which everybody habitually translates their surroundings, Nature and the elements, into consciously elaborated metaphor and allegory. (For the audience this is more complex, since the natural world they inhabit can also be recognized as having pastoral, literary-fictional status). The ‘moralizing’ of the natural world produces a bizarre reversal: courtiers in Arden, supposedly a ‘desert’, read it as allegory of civilization, finding ‘books in the running brooks’ (II.i.16) exactly like characters in The Arcadia.

Such details amount cumulatively to a thorough-going stylistic subversion which Shakespeare seems wilfully to encourage, and later this has become quite explicit, when in an exchange which is Shakespeare's invention, Orlando tells Ganymede that he finds it surprising Ganymede should speak so well: ‘Your accent is something finer than you could purchase in so removed a dwelling’ (III.ii.333-4). To the audience (including Celia, an on-stage spectator) who are here enjoying Rosalind's first moments in the riskily improvized part of ‘saucy lackey’, Ganymede's momentary embarrassment at this question is comic, but so also is Orlando for asking it, in a pastoral. Such a matter-of-fact attitude looks even more ridiculous, too, when he swallows Ganymede's explanation, which is as highly improbable as the purest traditions of pastoral fiction allow.

When the ladies begin their first scene Rosalind idly proposes, as a sport, falling in love. Given the self-conscious dramatic style Shakespeare creates here, the prompt appearance of the Fool is partly a comment on her flippancy. A moment or two later there is another interruption, this time the sophisticated courtier Le Beau (presumably he is supposed to live up to his name in dress and manner). This event the ladies treat as a frankly artificial bit of theatre, and Le Beau is to be put out of his part with mockery. Indeed the ladies' attitude does invite us to question such stagecraft, sending in this courtier, so conventional a stage type, in this perfunctory way, in order to get the story going.

Le Beau begins his tale with a sentence startlingly incongruous for a sophisticate: ‘There comes an old man, and his three sons’ (I.ii.109). Is this conscious parody? Celia is amused by its predictable and childish quality and mocks it (purely from the point of view of style) with flippant indecency: ‘I could match this beginning with an old tale.’ All the same, Le Beau's words might well serve to begin a non-dramatic version of As You Like It itself, and a moment later the ladies, despite themselves, do in fact become gripped by the tale when they realize that while they have been exchanging melancholy and silly remarks three young men have fallen to Charles the wrestler and now lie with little hope of life. The words Le Beau uses give way to the physical reality they describe: in confronting that, Rosalind can say no more than ‘Alas’. Words fail her on the first of three memorable occasions in the play.6 Presumably the number is not a coincidence.

For the climax of physical action Shakespeare shows tension building up for Rosalind (IV.iii), although he does not build it up in the same degree for the audience. Rosalind notes Orlando's lateness with evidently real impatience. When someone enters it is not he but only Silvius. Then, when the next person enters, it is his brother Oliver, whom neither lady has ever before seen. Oliver, taking his time, delivers his fabulous report of having just been saved from two mortal dangers, a golden-and-green serpent as well as a nursing lioness (Lodge could only manage a lion). This speech, climaxing in the announcement that the bloody napkin which he brandishes is ‘Dy'd’ in Orlando's blood, has two simultaneous effects: it makes Celia fall in love, and Rosalind fall in a dead faint. In telling his tale Oliver demonstrates with his own body the physical wound Orlando suffered, to positively gruesome effect:

                                        and here upon his arm
The lioness had torn some flesh away,
Which all this while had bled; and now he fainted.


This whole on-stage episode is Shakespeare's invention; Lodge offers no parallel to the meeting, the direct report, the falling in love at first sight of Celia, or the dead faint of Rosalind/Ganymede. Shakespeare gives pronounced visual and physical emphasis to this reception on stage of off-stage events, the romantic nature of which Shakespeare makes even more fantastic as he takes them over from Lodge. The pronounced extravagance of Oliver's tale is made evident to the audience by the sharp contrast of the matter-of-fact style in which it is delivered, by the very unexpected absence of witty raillery by the ladies, and by their completely unquestioning acceptance of it: indeed Rosalind's anxious impatience to hear what the bloody napkin has to do with Orlando makes her oblivious to everything except that one thing. The existential fact of the bloody cloth before her eyes blinds her to the tale's blatant romantic incredibility. Certainly, we can say that Love triumphs literally in her fall, but the literalness is not without absurdity, as she half-acknowledges when she revives: the cloth, a sign for passion, has exposed the actual passion she was concealing under the sign of a boy. To put it another way, Oliver's role as messenger is obvious to the audience, and the highly artificial tale he tells endows the napkin with a degree of unreality, as a stock stage property, to be recognized as a literary motif in the same breath as the literary lion and literary serpent, whose actual presentation on stage would be an absurdity too heavily distracting from Shakespeare's chief purpose here. The normally witty Rosalind's reaction exposes the gap between the pastoral fiction in which Ganymede figures and the dramatic present of As You Like It where Rosalind is to be found.

Our response to her faint is sympathetic, but also amused. Her reaction of fainting betrays intense emotion, acute vulnerability, and gives the lie to Ganymede's mockery of love's ideals, thereby honouring the shades of Ovid and of Marlowe, the ‘dead shepherd’. Anticipating Orlando Rosalind here finds she ‘can live no longer by thinking’ (V.ii.50), cannot suppress or disguise her serious emotion. Yet at the same time the self-conscious theatricality of the episode's style is given almost as much prominence, for the audience: Oliver's matter-of-fact tone contrasts with the extraordinary story he relates in a manner so extreme as to appear absurd. The audience finds comedy in his assumption, when he addresses Ganymede, that he is talking to a fellow male and so perhaps should emphasize his stiff-upper-lip attitude. His brisk thrusting forward of the bloody napkin is, again, as the audience see, bound to give Ganymede an unintended violent shock.

All these details help to give comic momentum to his speech and to his splendidly unimpressed (and wonderfully incurious) comment on Ganymede's dead faint: ‘Many will swoon when they do look on blood’ (IV.iii.158). The further reflection an audience may make, that the attractive presence of Celia acts as a stimulus to Oliver's boastfully manly attitude, adds an even more Sidneian complexity to a complex comedy of mistaken identity, already reminiscent of Sidney in the sense that it is precisely through this mode that Shakespeare expresses the profounder theme, of self-discovery in love for another.

The pleasures and perils of eloquence are given pronounced critical attention in this play, as they are in Much Ado and Twelfth Night, but unhesitating eloquence as a value in itself appears suspect. Many forms of utterance, copious, curt, artless, elaborate, fantastic, curmudgeonly, formally oratorical or nonsensical, are displayed for their delightfulness and variety, but each is subjected to the process of contrast and comparison which informs Shakespeare's whole idea of theatre in As You Like It.

Sidney, it will be remembered, juxtaposes, as stuff for low comedy and caricature, the unselfconscious human animal in Miso, Mopsa and Dametas, against those who have the breeding and education to set their erected wit against their infected will. In III.iii.14-15, Audrey's remark to Touchstone, ‘I do not know what “poetical” is. Is it honest in deed and word? Is it a true thing?’ summons unwittingly the shade of Sidney in An Apologie of Poetrie, where the relation between decorum of behaviour and decorum of speech is affirmed, and their status as arts is basic to the discussion. That Touchstone, doughty defender of the claims of the body, should be provoked to some of his greatest exertions of wit by the basic Audrey and the plain Corin, is characteristic of the play's faux-naive working; indeed Corin's simplicities—for example ‘I know the more one sickens the worse at ease he is; and that he that wants money, means, and content is without three good friends’ (III.ii.23-5)—are so accurate as criticism of Touchstone's situation as to seem like urbane irony, or even flat parody of one of the Fool's habits of wit, as when he responds to Rosalind's ‘O Jupiter, how weary are my spirits!’ with the remark, ‘I care not for my spirits, if my legs were not weary’ (II.iv.1-2).

It is true that in Rosalind/Ganymede Shakespeare presents speech which might be thought to approach an ideal of artifice fused with spontaneity, but this is rather a reader's than a playgoer's judgement. It is certainly true that Rosalind's key qualities of nerve, of risk-taking and vitality, springing from acute, quick response to the moment, live in her eloquent speech; but in a performance of the play it is when she shows herself ready in her double self to immerse in nonsense, self-contradiction, parody, incoherence, and, climactically, speechlessness, that the play's and her most important moments come.

So Shakespeare stresses the practical physical hardship, the physical risk, and the physical pleasures which a real journey, real countryside, and real sexual feeling, must involve, and he has of course real physical actors to perform the play. Nevertheless, and wholly consistent with pastoral's ambiguity, he keeps this sense of practical experience in tension with artifice and reflection. His basic style in As You Like It is by no means to be described as realism.

At the centre of As You Like It Rosalind, in the guise of Ganymede, watched by a usually silent Celia, performs a translation of herself as she projects for Orlando a delicious dream-courtship, controlled and devised according to the rules of romance. Neither Orlando nor Ganymede makes love in his own person, exactly; that is deferred by the rules of the game. In the contemplation of this ‘fiction’ Celia too is silently transformed in unconscious preparation for meeting the transformed Oliver, Orlando's brother. The persona of Ganymede is an uncertain entity, insisting that all things are provisional, including the fiction in which he himself exists, a pretty youth in a paysage moralisé which is realized only by the play's language and which, on the Elizabethan stage, can only be distinguished (if at all) from the Court, or from nowhere (an unlocalized playing space) by at most a few token property trees.

Rosalind appears ‘in her own person’ again at the end of the play, but here she is translated anew, being no longer the Rosalind of the beginning of the play but now a Rosalind in whom the shadow of the absent Ganymede remains, making her now different from either the one or the other. She introduces a classical deity: Hymen is a mythological, if not a magical, figure, and in his actual appearance on stage a new kind of theatre supervenes. In Lodge there is a real priest who conducts a real marriage service. Elizabethan law forbade the presentation of a marriage service in a play, thus posing an obvious technical problem for the Globe playwright. Shakespeare's solution is to bring on stage this mythological deity to stand beside the play's familiar human characters, effecting a transformation of the dramatic decorum. The theatrical artifice of the episode is qualified by the highly ritualized staging and music, which translate initial disbelief among the characters on stage into wonder, while leaving the audience still partly conscious of an element of trickery.

Hymen has several simultaneous meanings. He is pure theatrical surprise, a ‘happening’ inducing wonder. He is an evident metaphor for Christian marriage, devised to evade Elizabethan censorship. He is a fashionable Renaissance theatre figure, from the Court Masque. Finally, he is literally and simply the ancient god of marriage, truly at home in Arden and the remote world of pastoral. Through Rosalind the equivocal relation of trickery to magic, of theatrical to spiritual wonder, is evoked, and through Jaques, with his disenchanted realistic voice and presence, a double view of this ending is indicated, bringing an audience to a new sense of ending and unending. Hymen exists in the true dimension of pastoral, between here and there, dialectically: a place of the mind, and of the theatre, in Shakespeare's translation.


  1. Agnes Latham, ed., As You Like It (London, 1975), p. xxvi. Quotations from Lodge's Rosalynde are from Geoffrey Bullough, ed., Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare, vol.2 (London and New York, 1968). Quotations from Sidney are from: (a) Jean Robertson, ed., The Old Arcadia (Oxford, 1973). This work was not published in Shakespeare's lifetime; (b) the version known as The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia, ed. Maurice Evans (London, 1977). The episodes discussed in the present essay appeared in the 1590 edition and subsequent editions. The 1590 edition consisted of Sidney's revised version of The Old Arcadia: Bks I, II and part of III, ending in mid-fight and mid-sentence.

  2. These definitions of ‘translate’ are from the Oxford English Dictionary (I,i and II,2). For a searching discussion of the idea of translation see Hans-Jost Frey's article in Colloquium Helveticum, no. 3, Bern, 1986.

  3. Metamorphoses, Bk III; Echo, a nymph vainly in love with Narcissus, pines away for grief to nothing but her voice.

  4. George Calderon, writing in 1911, quoted by Jan McDonald, ‘Productions of Chekhov's plays in Britain before 1914’, Theatre Notebook, 44 (1980), 33.

  5. By changing Lodge's story so that the usurper Duke becomes brother of the exiled Duke, and by excluding the third de Boys brother, Shakespeare contrives a highly symmetrical pattern whose function is expository, in which the characters are paired, bound either by close kinship or by love. Shakespeare adds a bond of love between the exiled Duke and Orlando's dead father, which completes the pattern of strong ties between all the main characters. In reducing the vague supporting cast of Rosalynde, he gives each Duke one leading courtier: Le Beau is discreetly disloyal to Frederick, Amiens is discreetly ironic in flattering Senior's stylish pose of literary stoicism. If these courtiers are instances of equivocal service, then Shakespeare's important new characters Touchstone and Jaques present, as marginal figures, more detached questioning of the pastoral and social ties between human beings. Even the wrestler Charles is shown to be honourable (accepting no bribes as in Lodge), despising Orlando only after being made to believe him ‘a secret and villainous contriver’ against his elder brother. Shakespeare drastically abbreviates, reduces and concentrates Lodge's story to give central emphasis to love's power, and he juxtaposes clearly contrasted groups, in highly symmetrical patterns of twos and threes, to generate a visual, and then a more general, dialectic of contrast and comparison. The prolonged bad relations between the brothers in Lodge are telescoped by Shakespeare and simplified, so that Orlando goes directly into exile, with Rosalind fresh in his mind. When she arrives in Arden, with a Celia who has come with her out of pure love (not as in Lodge banished like Rosalind), the poems they find on trees and shrubs are by Orlando himself, not, as in Lodge, by a minor character, Montanus. Arriving in Arden, Orlando interrupts the Ducal banquet with sword drawn and heroic martial challenge, although in Lodge Rosader shows only polite civility.

  6. I.ii.123; I.iii.1-3; IV.iii.156.

Jerry H. Bryant (essay date autumn 1963)

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Last Updated on February 4, 2016, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 6470

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 the connection, then abandon it to court other features. Some explain the drama as tragicomedy, some as one of the “last plays”. Others see it against the background of Elizabethan thought. Still others, lately, have examined the grammar, the vocabulary, and the reverberations of the imagery. All these approaches are good, cogent, helpful; but the pastoral element has gone begging for an analyst. For that matter, Sir Walter Greg once went so far as to say that “it is characteristic of the shepherd scenes in that play, written in the full maturity of Shakespeare's genius, that, in spite of their origins in Greene's romance of Pandosto, they owe nothing of their treatment to pastoral tradition, nothing to convention, nothing to aught save life. …”1 This persistent neglect of an important historical precedent deserves correction. I should like, therefore, first to try to show that Shakespeare is in fact very much a part of the pastoral tradition and that The Winter's Tale can be seen as an example of the English pastoral drama, which has roots in classical, Italian, and English literature. Then I should like to go on to a consideration of the freshness and vitality which Shakespeare brings to the tradition, showing how he transforms the hackneyed conventions of the pastoral into an involved and subtle commentary on appearance and reality.

The most indirect influence upon the English pastoral drama and hence upon The Winter's Tale is the classical one. First of all there was the pastoral eclogue, given most of its forms and themes by Theocritus. His shepherds were isolated in the hills of Sicily where they were safe from the fever of the city and court. They piped to their flocks, contested in song with their companions, wooed their nymphs, complained of unrequited love. They spoke of milk-white lambs, pretty shepherdesses, and gifts of red apples. Theocritus' pastoral world was also a place where gods and goddesses rubbed shoulders with human Sicilians. But even the mythological deities were drawn with an exactness and a benign humor which have given the Theocritan idyls their hallmark of refreshing and delightful realism.

The Greek pastoral idyl was extended into the Roman world by Virgil, who imitated Theocritus. In the exchange, something of the original freshness was lost. Virgil's mind was largely upon either his own problems or those of the world, and he used the eclogue to disguise contemporary allusion or direct satire upon the shortcomings of the civilized world.2 Thus, though the complaints, the singing contests, the talk of love remained, they were included for something more than the simple delight they in themselves could bring. And so we get a noble prophecy of Astrea's return, some waspish complaining about the politics which caused Virgil trouble with his farm, and Silenus' philosophical song describing the progress of earth's creation.

The other aspect of the classical influence upon the English pastoral drama is the Greek romance. The long prose tales of Heliodorus and Achilles Tatius, in particular, received enthusiastic audience during the Renaissance for the endless adventuring to exotic shores contained in them. Unlike the stories of chivalry, which spotlighted the activities of a single knight, the Greek romance focused upon two protagonists, a boy and a girl. The typical tale begins with their falling in love. But before the two youths are able to consummate their passion, the gods send down on their heads every conceivable kind of adversity. They are kidnapped, singly or in pair; they are captured by pirates, separated, sold into slavery; re-united, they are cast adrift in a violent storm. The reader follows these exciting characters from one end of the world to the other. Other things keep the lovers apart. In the Æthiopica of Heliodorus, the hero cannot marry the heroine because of her inferior origins. But after the two have been tossed about the world's seas, she is discovered to be the daughter of the Ethiopian king. The disparity resolved, the two marry amidst much rejoicing.

The eclogue and the Greek romance went pretty much underground during the period of the Middle Ages. But they both reappeared in the Renaissance with considerable force. Virgil's pastoralism was adopted by Boccaccio, Petrarch, Mantuan, Tasso, Marot, and Spenser. Latin and vernacular eclogues sprang abundantly from these writers' pens. The artificiality which was incipient in Virgil's pastorals became the identifying trait of the Renaissance ecloguists' work. The pastoral scene is used to disguise hyperbolic praise of patrons or monarchs, to mask satire upon the sham and hypocrisy of contemporary society, to cover up discussions of religious and political issues. Since the aim of these writers was not to recreate an accurate picture of the shepherd's life, the scene became idealized and stereotyped, a quality which we always associate today with the pastoral as a form, ignoring the realistic beginnings of the tradition. Nevertheless, this genre was extremely popular and it is important to the pastoral drama.

The first direct influence upon the English stage which I want to examine is the Italian pastoral drama. It is Greg's thesis that this drama grew out of the pastoral eclogues discussed above, which were read with enthusiasm at the court of Ferrara.3 The plays which came to be written to meet the demand for more drama than the mere eclogue provided contained echoes of the Greek romance. The best examples of the Italian pastoral drama are Tasso's Aminta, first acted at Ferrara in 1573 and translated into English in 1591, and Guarini's Il Pastor Fido, performed at Ferrara in 1585 and translated in 1602. Aminta, in Tasso's play, is unsuccessful in his suit to the huntress Silvia. When Aminta rescues his love from the clutches of a rude satyr who has bound her to a tree, Silvia, with rather questionable modesty, runs away into the forest. Later it is thought that she has been devoured by a wild beast. In despair Aminta leaps off a cliff. But Silvia has not been killed and she returns from the forest. Upon being informed of the results of her hard-heartedness and Aminta's great love and fidelity, she goes to recover his body. Luckily, Aminta was not killed when he jumped, and the two join their loves.4

Il Pastor Fido is longer and more complicated than the Aminta and has more resemblances to the Greek romance. Mirtillo, the faithful shepherd, cannot marry his Amarillis because of his low birth. The oracle has assured the country that it will not be delivered from a certain curse until

                    two of heavens issue love unite
And for the auncient fault of that false wight,
A faithful Shepherds pittie make amends.(5)

Mirtillo, doggedly faithful throughout, turns out to be the shepherd spoken of in the prophecy, for his fidelity “makes amends”. And at the auspicious moment, he is also found to be of “heavens issue”, i.e. of royal shepherd birth. These brief synopses show that the dominating interest in the Italian pastoral drama is the youthful love affair, as it was in the Greek romance. They also show that fidelity and honor can overcome any impediment to the realization of love. What they do not reveal are the rich appendages to the main action: the lustful satyrs, the wanton shepherds and shepherdesses, the disguise, the mistaken identities—in short, any of the dramatic devices which provide conflict by threatening the chastity, honor, and fidelity of the hero or heroine. The more obstacles to overcome the better, but fidelity always wins out; maidenheads are retained; chaste Jack gets his chaste Jill.

The other direct influence upon the English pastoral drama is the pastoral prose romance. Sidney's Arcadia, Greene's Menaphon and Pandosto, Lodge's Rosalynde—all eventually were acted, in one form or another, upon the stage. Like the Italian pastoral drama, the romance has roots in classical literature, that is, the Greek romance; all three genres, in fact, share several features. All are preoccupied with the honor of the heroine, an honor kept intact so long as she remains a virgin. All produce conflict by throwing up obstacles in the course of true love. And the theme of fidelity in love is central in all three forms. Finally, all rely extensively upon mistaken identity or disguise. In the pastoral romance a maiden of royal birth is for various reasons, usually parental dissatisfaction, sent into the wilds where she is raised by shepherds. Variations have the abandoned person a child, either male or female. Then, the banished character's lineage unknown, he woos a princess (who might be disguised as a shepherd); or she is wooed by a prince.6 The disguise motif is carried out in a variety of ways—change of clothing, magical transformation, or confusions surrounding the birth of the hero or heroine. These disguises, however, are no match for the protagonists' powerful love. The heroes' passion sweeps away appearances; a prince's love will be drawn to a princess in spite of the fact that she is dressed in shepherd's weeds. All of this suggests a further contribution of the pastoral romance: the court element, for the pastoral episode usually is presented within a frame of action which begins and ends in the court. With the ejection of one or more characters from court the action is set in motion, and the resolution is made when those characters are accepted back into the active life after finding the necessary answers in a pastoral setting.

Examples of the English pastoral drama show a wide range of borrowing from all of these traditions. George Peele's The Arraignment of Paris, an odd, masque-like little play, is very much like a pastoral eclogue. On the other hand, Fletcher's The Faithful Shepherdess begins a large debt to the Italian pastoral drama with its title. A composite of the Greek romance, the Italian pastoral drama, and the pastoral romance occurs in The Maydes Metamorphosis, which contains the court frame, features dancing and singing, and peoples itself with mythological deities, shepherds, nymphs, princes, and princesses. It also uses the oracle. Love and fidelity, impeded by the forces of disguise and lust, form the main plot motives. A companion piece to The Maydes Metamorphosis is The Thracian Wonder, an incredibly complicated dramatization of Greene's incredibly complicated romance Menaphon.7 This play deals not only with several sets of lovers, but several generations of them.

The debt of The Winter's Tale to the pastoral tradition which I have sketched can be made clear through some specific citations. For instance, the humor and realism in the fourth act have been cited as examples of Shakespeare's freedom from the pastoral tradition. The fact is that the tradition began in a humorous spirit with Theocritus. In Idyl IV8 two herdsmen gossip about the state of local herds and flocks, a neighbor's journey to the Olympics, the death of Amaryllis, and the fact that their cows are grazing in the wrong place. Battus gets a thorn in his foot. The talk turns to the pursuit of a young girl by an old man, who is apparently successful. In the next Idyl a goatherd and a shepherd hotly accuse each other of robbery. They resolve their argument through a singing contest. Thievery, thorns in a shepherd's foot, cows grazing in the wrong place—Theocritus is amusingly frank and quite realistic.

Perhaps the humor which was potential in the pastoral was smothered by the serious purposes of Virgil and his imitators, but clearly Theocritus' impulse was valid. The low characters which the poet must treat make the form ripe for comedy. Even Guarini sees the comic possibilities. In Act I, Scene v, of Il Pastor Fido, a satyr embarks upon an amusing discourse concerning the artifice of women in decorating their faces with make-up and plucking their eyebrows. There is also a pretty scene in which Dorinda, a determined shepherdess in pursuit of the young bachelor hunter Silvio, withholds the boy's hunting dog until he gives her a kiss.

Comic realism abounds in much of the English pastoral drama. The Maydes Metamorphosis contains three comic characters who are the ancestors of Autolycus. Joculo, Mopso, and Frisco are a spry lot, rogues and singers. In one of the longest acts of the play the three comics enter upon the stage singing, as Autolycus does when we first see him. Joculo, the page of the hero Ascanio, is recognized by the rustic Mopso: “Yes, if you be the Joculo I take you for, we have heard of your exployts / For cosoning of some seven and thirtie alewives in the villages here about.”9 Neither thievery nor humor is new to the pastoral tradition, and Perdita's foster brother, as attested here by Mopso, can take some comfort in the fact that he was not the only innocent cozened by a rogue who once served a nobleman. Autolycus, too, is a thief and rogue, adept at changing his roles and his clothes. Even more, he has an irrepressible bent for song, and that, of course, is the indispensable requirement of the pastoral character.

There are other links between The Winter's Tale and the pastoral tradition. It has already been said that the pastoral eclogue became in the Renaissance an instrument for satire and commentary on present-day events. By the sixteenth century the conventional object of the satire had become the courtier, pompous and artificial, mouthing deep emotions but not feeling them. Guarini pays lip service to the convention. The ideal life of the country invokes unfavorable criticism of the city and the court, for in the country the swains are not bothered with “vaine and most immoderate hope”, as Uranio says in Il Pastor Fido. Not to be outdone by Uranio's praise of the rural scene, Carino levels a few acid remarks at the court, where he found

People in name and wordes right and curtuous
But in good deedes most scarse, and Pitties foes:
People in face, gentle and pleasant still;
But fiercer then th'outragious swelling sea:
.....The greater showes they make, the less troth they mean.(10)

The lively pages of The Maydes Metamorphosis use less invective and more fun. Joculo has told Frisco that he has never heard his master Ascanio swear “six round oaths”. Frisco, snorting, says, “I will stand too't hee's neither brave Courtier, bouncing Cavalier, nor boone Companion if he swear not some time; for they will sweare, forsweare, and sweare.” “How sweare, forsweare, and sweare?” asks Joculo. Why, retorts Frisco, “They'll swear at dyce, forsweare their debts, and swear when they lose their labour in love.”11 Autolycus is the kinsman of these characters, but he is a better satirist. After he has put on Florizel's clothing, Autolycus meets the Clown and the Old Shepherd. The latter, fooled by the clothes, asks him if he is a courtier. Autolycus in his answer captures the superficiality of the courtier's vain affectations:

Seest thou not the air of the court in these enfoldings? Hath not my gait in it the measure of the court? Receives not thy nose court-odour from me? Reflect I not on thy baseness court-contempt? Think'st thou, for that I insinuate, or touse from thee thy business, I am therefore no courtier? I am courtier cap-a-pie.

(IV. iv. 754 ff.)

The parallels continue to accumulate. One of the principal characters in The Arraignment of Paris was Flora. As goddess of flowers, she bestows her blooms upon Juno, Pallas, and Venus, according to their degree. For her perfection in this she receives great praise from Venus. The first words addressed to Perdita are, “These your unusual weeds to each part of you / Do give a life; no shepherdess, but Flora, / Peering in April's front” (IV. iv. 1-3). Perdita carries out Flora's activities, distributing flowers, as part of her office, according to the age of her visitors. The exactness of her floral knowledge moves Polixenes to utter his famous speech on Nature and Art. The common tradition which the two plays share is even more emphasized when we compare the discussion between Perdita and Polixenes with the pronouncement of the chorus in Peele's play concerning Flora's activity:

What living wight shall chance to see
These goddesses, each placed in her degree,
Portrayed by Flora's workmanship alone,
Must say that art & nature met in one.(12)

At the end of the flower episode Camillo, as Venus did Flora, praises Perdita: “I should leave grazing, were I of your flock, / And only live by gazing.” Shakespeare, given a pastoral situation, turns to the broad outline presented by tradition.

Shakespeare's use of what seems to be a conventional sequence occurs again. The two lovers of The Thracian Wonder, disguised and unknown to each other and living in pastoral seclusion, take part in a celebration similar to the sheep-shearing festival in The Winter's Tale. The high point of the celebration comes with a dance, and the disguised lovers, Radagon and Ariadne, find themselves partners. So clearly superior are they to the others and so suited are they to each other that they win the garland. Following the dance, Tityrus, another of Autolycus' ancestors, appears as Janus. In this guise he entertains the guests. Then the stage is cleared except for the Clown. He climbs a tree when he sees the love-sick Palemon enter. Palemon mistakes him for his loved one and threatens to climb up the tree in pursuit. The Clown descends, braving the misguided ardor of Palemon in the hope of getting at the banquet left on the tables. But Palemon, the complete lover, feels it is dangerous to eat. The Clown, however, takes the realistic approach: “Let's fill our bellies and we shall purge the better.”13 Shakespeare's feast is more polished but the same actions occur in like order. After the guests have gathered, Florizel claims the hand of Perdita for “our dance”. The stage-directions call for “a dance of Shepherds and the Shepherdesses” to follow. The appropriate comments are made about the grace of Perdita, fit partner for the princely Florizel. Then the attention is turned, as in The Thracian Wonder, to the comic characters. Autolycus enters, again singing, and the Clown becomes the willing purchaser of some bawdy ballads for Mopsa and Dorcas. The correspondences go even to the satiric handling of love in both plays at the same point in the action.

The last scene of Act III, in which Antigonus deposits Perdita in the wilds of Bohemia, has crowded into it several conventions. The storm which sinks the ship is the same storm which cast the lovers adrift in more than one Greek and pastoral romance. Here it covers up the origins of the abandoned child. The famous bear that eats up poor Antigonus has its counterparts in both the romance and the pastoral drama. In Tasso's Aminta, as we have seen, the heroine is seen pursuing a wolf. Later she is thought to have been devoured by the animal. And the princely cousins of Sidney's Arcadia display their courage by saving their princesses from a ravening beast. Where, however, in Shakespeare's forerunners the animal usually came off worst, here we get a vivid description of the bear's triumph over Antigonus. This does serve to cut the last strand of Perdita's connection with her origins. But so horrible are the accounts of the killing that it seems likely Shakespeare was spoofing the clichés of storms and wild animals, in spite of G. Wilson Knight's solemn assurance that “We must take the bear seriously, as suggesting man's insecurity in the face of untamed nature.”14

Chasing parallels is a pointless game which I do not want to play for itself alone. I wish only to establish that the presence in The Winter's Tale of the conventions I have referred to indicates that Shakespeare wrote within a well-defined tradition and that the material he used was chosen consciously from that tradition. But at the most important points, Shakespeare becomes unconventional, and the departure from his models shows us the playwright in control, modifying the conventions considerably because they do not offer a vessel capacious enough for his meaning. His treatment of the most important theme in the pastoral, fidelity in love, illustrates such modification clearly.

Fidelity and disguise go together. In The Maydes Metamorphosis, Eurymine, a lady of “obscure birth”, is banished from the court because Ascanio, the Duke's son, is in love with her. She is conducted to the forest and cast into the wilderness. Her beauty attracts several lovers, one of them the god Apollo. To remain true to her Ascanio she must escape the god's advances; so she tricks him into transforming her into a boy. When Ascanio arrives in the forest looking for Eurymine, he is understandably nonplussed by his feelings for the “boy” he finds there. He remains faithful, however, and is rewarded. Eurymine returns to girldom, her noble birth is discovered, and the two children are happily accepted back into the court fold. Chastity is maintained through disguise; fidelity wipes away the disguise.

The romantic ethic based on a fidelity which is either impeded or assisted by disguise is set out clearly by Fletcher in The Faithful Shepherdess. Clorin, the faithful shepherdess, is drawn as the epitome of fidelity. Remaining true to her dead shepherd, Clorin has retired into a little glade to make her hut near a life-giving fountain, a pleasant little retreat full of symbolism and similar to the fountain of Diana in Daphnis and Chloe. She has learned much forest lore and in the course of the play she uses herbs to cure the wounds of various shepherds and shepherdesses. These latter characters stand for all degrees of faithfulness, from the lustful, calculating Chloe to the innocent Amoret. Chloe indiscriminately tries to seduce every man who happens along. Amoret, however, has vowed her love to Perigot, who returns her passion as long as she is chaste. But Amarillis also wants Perigot and sets out to win him. By magic Amarillis changes her appearance into that of Amoret and in this disguise offers herself to Perigot. Since Perigot's love for Amoret goes only as far as her virginity, her overture revolts him. In a fit of anger he wounds the disguised Amarillis and runs off into the woods. There are many variations upon this incident in the play, but in the end the good and the evil are rewarded in correspondence to the magnitude of their sins and virtues. Chloe is ejected from the forest; Amoret and Perigot, both wounded, are reunited; Amarillis is forgiven; the rest get their just due. Presiding over all and curing those worthy of being cured is Clorin, who, chaste and faithful above all human powers, wields, in the name of fidelity, the regenerative services.15

As most other pastoral playwrights and romancers, Fletcher has given a shallow treatment of a noble virtue, even though he explores more than one face of the motif. The interest is in chastity, the refraining from sexual intercourse. Love goes no further. Within this limited frame there is no lack of stereotyped characters representing degrees of good and bad. Real human feelings are hardly given a chance. Moreover, the truth behind the disguises is a very narrow truth. Reality and right are seen only in the cramped sphere dominated by a shallow concept of love. Further implications of this attitude are explained by Greg, who, in speaking of Tasso's Aminta, says that there is present “a degeneration of sexual feeling … [that is] primarily of an animal nature, and this in a sense other than that in which physical love may be said to form an element in all natural relations between men and women.”16 The same holds for almost all of the precursors of The Winter's Tale, since the romancers and the playwrights seem more interested in arousing excitement in their audience than honestly exploring human feelings.

Greene, in Pandosto,17 paid fealty to the convention of fidelity. A brief glance at the main action of the book will show this. Pandosto (Leontes) in fact does lose his wife Bellaria (Hermione). She dies after Pandosto, in a jealous rage, has caused the death of their son, sent away Egistus (Polixenes), and set adrift Fawnia (Perdita). This story comprises about a third of the narrative. The remaining two-thirds of the book focus upon Dorastus (Florizel) and Fawnia. Unguided, Fawnia lands upon the shores of Sicily, is found by a shepherd, and is raised by him and his wife. In time she meets Dorastus and, as is traditional in the romance, the two youngsters fall in love at first sight. Greene spends a good deal of time lingering over the sensibilities aroused during the courtship, capitalizing upon his opportunity with the usual long monologues. Finally, after some courtly fencing, the two declare their mutual passions and Dorastus spirits his shepherdess away to Bohemia, where his ship is blown by a storm. They try to disguise themselves by taking false names, but Pandosto does not believe their stories and imprisons Dorastus. Then he attempts the chastity of Fawnia, whom, of course, he does not recognize. Egistus, discovering the whereabouts of his son and his son's paramour, requests Pandosto to execute them. At the last moment, however, Fawnia's foster father appears and reveals her true identity. The shock is so great for Pandosto that he commits suicide. Dorastus and Fawnia are left occupying the stage, prototypes of pastoral romantic lovers. The goal of the book is the happiness of Dorastus and Fawnia, and it is achieved through a stereotyped fidelity.

Shakespeare makes many changes, but the most significant one is the departure from the usual handling of the fidelity theme. Instead of making the inviolable love between Florizel and Perdita the center of the action, he uses it for the examination of a larger problem—the nature of truth. The fact that Hermione remains alive and steals the last scene from her daughter throws the dramatic weight upon the story of herself and Leontes. Greene exploits the conventional courtly romance between Dorastus and Fawnia, playing upon their falling in love, and the obstacles to consummating that love, for the sake of sentimental chills. Shakespeare is not interested in that. By shifting the focus, he anatomizes an infected king whose disease is an inability to see the truth. Leontes' disease is developed through contrast with other examples of the apprehension of truth and reality. Shakespeare, in submitting to certain superficial aspects of the pastoral tradition, transforms them into devices for commenting seriously upon the theme of reality and experience and its importance to the conduct of a king.

The serious commentary begins with Leontes' misapprehension of actuality. Suddenly, without warning, he is seized by an unreasoning, unfounded certainty of his wife's infidelity. His infected mind “[does] make possible things not so held” (I. ii. 139). He deludes himself into believing the raging fancies of his own dreams, fancies derived from the most tenuous appearances. Camillo shows that nothing is going on between Hermione and Leontes' childhood friend Polixenes by having to ask whom Leontes suspects Hermione of being unfaithful with (I. ii. 307). Both chastity and fidelity are issues here, as the conventions demand, but they are not the main issues. The main one is the awfulness of Leontes' burning mind, fabricating at will: “Is whispering nothing? Is leaning cheek to cheek? Is meeting noses? Kissing with inside lip?” (I. ii. 284-286). To this Camillo replies, “Good my lord, be cur'd.” Camillo cannot verify Leontes' suspicions because there is nothing to be verified. Fearing for his own life and unable any longer to support Leontes' imaginings, Camillo defects to Polixenes with the information about Leontes' plot upon the life of the Bohemian king. Hard upon this, Leontes' Sicilian courtiers, for whom we have no reason to feel anything other than respect and trust, deny Leontes' accusations against Hermione and Polixenes. Finally, divinely pointing up the phantoms of Leontes' mind, the oracle clears Hermione in every eye but Leontes'.

This jealousy, this humour, brings Leontes near to madness—“Dost think I am so muddy, so unsettled, / To appoint myself in this vexation …” (I. ii. 325-326). Paulina declares that she is “no less honest than you are mad” (II. iii. 70-71), and “These dangerous unsafe lunes I' th' King, beshrew them” (II. ii. 30). In this humour Leontes betrays the obligations of a good king. He becomes cruel and peremptory. He refuses the counsel of his nobles. He commits himself, without moderation, to his own passion. The results of this are serious. He loses a friend, a son, a daughter, and a wife. But the consequences are not confined to the personal sphere. A ruler who treats the truth as something of his own making must eventually unhinge his state. The repercussions of his irresponsible suspicions, so firm in his mind that they create a world which he actually sees and feels (II. i. 152), are potentially cataclysmic. An apprehension of what is and what should be are principal requirements for the good ruler; Leontes attempts to shape reality to his own fantasies.

The psychological implications of Leontes' anger are a good deal deeper than those present in similar situations in other examples of the pastoral drama. In part this derives from Greene. But Pandosto's jealousy is brought about gradually; he at least makes a feint at examining what might be only appearances. Shakespeare treats the situation with more daring. Because he provides no real motives for Leontes' jealousy, the irrationality of his fancies is dramatically emphasized. In The Maydes Metamorphosis the Duke banishes Eurymine because his son loves her. He does not, however, merely imagine that that love exists; he has it from his son's own testimony. He is legitimately angered because he does not and cannot know Eurymine's birth, and so attempts to save his son from an inferior match. Radagon, in The Thracian Wonder, disguises himself to woo Ariadne, the daughter of the Thracian king. She submits and when she becomes pregnant, unmistakably by Radagon, her father sends the two lovers and the child to sea in little boats. The actions of these two rulers might not have been “right”, but the men knew what they saw. The only disguises in these plays were physical disguises which really did mask the identity of those involved. But the disguise in the first three acts of The Winter's Tale is of Leontes' own making and is intimately connected with psychological truth and observable reality. Some ten years after the production of The Winter's Tale Bacon, speaking in another context, will state a generality which embraces Leontes' problem: “… everyone … has a cave or den of his own, which refracts and discolours the light of nature. …”18

Shakespeare cures Leontes' infected mind through the pastoral, and, as we have seen, that episode contains almost all of the conventions of the genre. The devices of disguise and mistaken identity are again put to the task of exploring the reality and appearance theme. But more than that, Shakespeare uses them to point up Leontes' shortcomings. In contrast to his distortion of reality according to his own “den”, the characters in Act IV are confronted with tangible costume disguises and mistaken identities which make their inability to see the truth quite justifiable. Polixenes, in other words, like the Duke in The Maydes Metamorphosis, cannot be blamed too severely for not wanting his royal son to marry what appears to be a mere shepherd girl. The reprehensibility of Leontes' unjustifiable delusions, however, is most effectively emphasized by Florizel and Autolycus.

Florizel is the fairy prince who does not concern himself with the mere appearance of outward trappings. Through infalliable intuition and the highest integrity he pierces externals to discover the emotional truth of Perdita's real quality. The clarity of his vision, which sees through the physical disguise, throws into relief the blindness of Leontes, who had no such impediment to overcome. Indeed, the truth was clear to all but him. In Act IV the truth is clear only to the faithful Florizel. Shakespeare heightens the effectiveness of this contrast by ennobling the relationship between Florizel and Perdita, another example of his transformation of hackneyed conventions into living situations. In former pastorals, love was a matter of sex and it was expressed through chastity. Shakespeare does not avoid or reject the virtue; he simply does not use it as the foundation of real love. Perdita is too charming for chastity even to be an issue. Without the priggishness of her pastoral forebears, she declares her heart with disarming candor. She is like her mother and Florizel discerns her worth under her apparent identity. This innocent love, in other pastorals valuable only in itself, becomes the means of restoring a civic body to health.

The other main contrast to Leontes' behavior comes in Autolycus. He suffers from no delusions. He may be a thief, a cozener, a sharp salesman, but he is thoroughly truthful with himself, and he has taken full measure of the reality about him. The most interesting comments on the nature of truth and appearance and reality are made through Autolycus. First of all, his constant changing of costumes reflects truth—it is first one thing and then another. Secondly, the word truth is bandied about during the ballad-selling, and Autolycus, knowing the truth, is several jumps ahead of his coneys. Mopsa, in her country innocence, says, “I love a ballad in print o' life, for then we are sure they are true” (IV.iv.263). How slenderly people go about learning the truth, as though print could create it. The silly shepherds, mouths hanging open in awe, take the pedlar's word for truth that a usurer's wife actually bore “twenty money-bags at a burden”, and that a fish high above the water sang a “ballad against the sad hearts of maids”. The truth is disguised under many robes, but Mopsa's gullibility is no more grotesque and certainly less consequential than Leontes', who believed something worse upon less provocation.

Later, when Autolycus switches clothes with Florizel, his shrewd eye detects “a piece of iniquity” in the prince's actions. But instead of performing his duty to his sovereign like a good subject, he decides to conceal his knowledge about Florizel's actions because such concealment is the “more knavery”. Under different circumstances such a commitment to knavery would seem sinister, as it does with Richard III. But Shakespeare's use of irony saves Autolycus for comedy and strengthens his effectiveness as a foil to Leontes. It is ironical that Autolycus should use such a clear grasp of reality to achieve knavery, while a king, lacking that grasp, threatened a whole realm. But, to enrich the irony, dramatically it is not knavery at all for it works a better end, since it allows Florizel's escape and sets up the happy conclusion. The escape of the lovers is served by a knave, when two kings almost destroyed the youngsters through varying degrees of blindness.

The final comment upon Leontes' inability to distinguish between reality and appearance comes in Act V. The Clown and the Old Shepherd, now known to be the foster relatives of Perdita, confront Autolycus with their new-made fineries. The Clown forces from him the acknowledgment that the two shepherds are “gentlemen born”. It is characteristic of Autolycus' astute acceptance of circumstances that he meekly, without the old loquacity, surrenders: “I know you are now, sir, a gentleman born” (V.ii.146). The Clown will never know the difference between the truth and mere appearances. Autolycus has always known, and has laughed. The Clown is a generous fellow and when Autolycus declares that he is going to mend his ways, the Clown insists that he “will swear to the Prince thou art as honest a true fellow as any in Bohemia” (168). This swearing disturbs the Old Shepherd, who asks, “How if it be false, son?” The Clown replies, “If it be ne'er so false, a true gentleman may swear it in the behalf of his friend” (176). A gentleman, in short, may swear the truth into existence; just as a ballad in print, for Mopsa, might declare absurdities true; and just as Leontes' fancies might “make possible things not so held”. These distortions of truth are all of the same class. Leontes' delusions, serious as they are, are made ridiculous when they are paralleled with those of Mopsa and the Clown.

The Clown gets in the last word with Autolycus, and as though to emphasize the pertinence of his remarks to the Leontes episode, he opens the curtains for the final scene when he announces the entrance of the royal entourage on its way to see the “Queen's picture”. And so the action shifts and we are shown the final prodigy. Hermione, appearing to be a statue, returns to life. Appearances are swept away and reality is restored. Theodore Spencer has said that in the last plays appearance is evil and reality is good.19 In The Winter's Tale, the evil lies not in appearance itself but in the royal mind which insists that appearance is reality. To explore this premise, Shakespeare converts the stereotyped conventions of the pastoral drama into highly original instruments which combine to form one of the best of his last plays.


  1. W. W. Greg, Pastoral Poetry and the Pastoral Drama (London, 1906), p. 411.

  2. Greg, p. 7.

  3. Greg, p. 169.

  4. All references are to Torquato Tasso, Aminta, ed. Louis E. Lord (London, 1931).

  5. Giovanni Baptista Guarini, Il Pastor Fido, printed for Simon Waterford, 1602, sig. C2.

  6. For an extensive list of plot conventions see Edwin Greenlaw, “Shakespeare's Pastorals”, SP [Studies in Philology], XII (1916), 123.

  7. Cf. J. Q. Adams, “Menaphon and The Thracian Wonder,MP [Modern Philology], III (1906), 317-318.

  8. All references to the Idyls are from Theocritus, Bion, and Moschus, ed. A. Lang (London, 1918).

  9. The Maydes Metamorphosis, in Old Plays, ed. A. H. Bullen (London, 1882), p. 136.

  10. Il Pastor Fido, sig. N4.

  11. The Maydes Metamorphosis, p. 138.

  12. George Peele, The Arraignment of Paris, eds. Charles Read Baskervill, Virgil B. Heltzel, and Arthur H. Nethercot (New York, 1934), p. 211.

  13. John Webster, The Thracian Wonder, printed by Tho. Johnson, 1661.

  14. G. Wilson Knight, The Crown of Life (New York, 1947), p. 98.

  15. John Fletcher, The Faithful Shepherdess in Beaumont and Fletcher, ed. J. St. Loe Strachey, vol. II (New York, 1950).

  16. Greg, p. 190.

  17. Robert Greene, Pandosto, ed. P. G. Thomas (London, 1907).

  18. Sir Francis Bacon, Novum Organum, in Selected Writings, ed. Hugh G. Dick (New York, 1955), p. 470.

  19. Theodore Spencer, “Appearance and Reality in Shakespeare's Last Plays”, MP, XXXIX (1942), 269.

Philip M. Weinstein (essay date spring 1971)

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Last Updated on February 4, 2016, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 6312

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)

As is well known, the Pastoral Scene in The Winter's Tale functions, basically and indisputably, as a contrast with life in the Sicilian court. And this purpose is so well achieved, the sense of rebirth so strong, that E. M. W. Tillyard has written: “Now the latest plays aim at a complete regeneration; at a melting down of the old vessel and a recasting of it into something new. Thus Florizel and Perdita re-enact the marriage of Leontes and Hermione, but with better success.”1 No one would reject outright Tillyard's statement, but in an important way it overstates the case, asserting resolution where there still remains considerable conflict. Seeking to define how the Pastoral Scene functions in the play as a whole, this paper will assess what resolutions do and do not take place by analyzing several pairs of motifs—such as reality and fantasy, realism and idealization, past and present, art and nature—as they appear in both parts of the play.

To the degree that these motifs are harmonized, the Pastoral Scene does constitute a “perfectly-timed affirmation of rebirth.”2 But to the degree that such motifs remain unresolved, the scene will mirror, not redeem, life as we have seen it in “that fatal country Sicilia.” Indeed, from this lack of resolution the scene attains its vivid and conflict-breeding realism (so unexpected in pastoral), while at the same time enough of the play's problems are resolved to convey the essential theme of symbolic regeneration. What results is a conflation of realism and symbolism in the Pastoral Scene that not only ballasts the symbolism—as many critics have stressed—but also limits, even indicates the inadequacy of, that symbolism.

We might begin by considering the twin motifs of death and rebirth. The Old Shepherd formulates them explicitly when, after his son has related the shipwreck and the devouring of Antigonus, he says, “Heavy matters! heavy matters! But look thee here, boy. Now bless thyself: thou met'st with things dying, I with things new-born” (III. iii. 111-113).3 One tends to forget just how joined these phenomena are throughout the play, and the usual reading of the Pastoral Scene as pure spring (as pure symbolic rebirth) fails to observe that the sheep-shearing feast occurs in the waning of the year, “Not yet on summer's death nor on the birth / Of trembling winter” (IV. iv. 80-81). Since the images of growth and rebirth in this scene have been widely recognized, I would like to glance at some of the less emphasized images of death or diminution.

Perdita's flower speech is filled with an awareness of both vigor and decay:

                                                                                          O Proserpina,
For the flowers now that, frighted, thou let'st fall
From Dis's waggon! daffodils,
That come before the swallow dares, and take
The winds of March with beauty; violets, dim,
But sweeter than the lids of Juno's eyes
Or Cytherea's breath; pale primroses,
That die unmarried, ere they can behold
Bright Phoebus in his strength (a malady
Most incident to maids); bold oxlips, and
The crown imperial; lilies of all kinds,
The flower-de-luce being one. O, these I lack,
To make you garlands of; and my sweet friend,
To strew him o'er and o'er!
                                                                                What, like a corpse?
No, like a bank, for love to lie and play on;
Not like a corpse; or if—not to be buried,
But quick, and in mine arms.

(IV. iv. 116-132)

The power of these lines comes from the juxtaposition of robust and fragile images: brave daffodils and bold oxlips are silhouetted by dim violets and pale primroses, and the short-lived frailty of the latter is curiously described as a sexual shyness or failure. In like terms Florizel is demonstrably a quick and ardent lover, but—like those “primroses / That die unmarried”—he is for a moment glimpsed not as a vigorous young man but as a short-lived one, a corpse strewn with flowers.

Such darker motifs are more than merely glimpsed. Non-pastoral figures like Polixenes and Camillo hover in disguise throughout most of the scene, threatening at any moment to dispel its mirth. And Polixenes, the intruder from the court world, is not without authority. “'Tis time to part them” (IV. iv. 345), he curtly says, and shortly thereafter he erupts into a grisly diatribe upon old age:

Is not your father grown incapable
Of reasonable affairs? is he not stupid
With age and alt'ring rheums? can he speak? hear?
Know man from man? dispute his own estate?
Lies he not bed-rid? and again does nothing
But what he did being childish?

(IV. iv. 398-403)

Polixenes' harsh outburst points obsessively to human decay and senility. His last question not only parodies the “symbolic rebirth” theme, but authoritatively rebukes Florizel's youthful and time-denying idealism. It reveals the nether side.

The King grows more angry. To the Shepherd he says:

                                                                                Thou, old traitor,
I am sorry that by hanging thee I can
But shorten thy life one week.

(IV. iv. 421-423)

And he warns Perdita that if ever she tempt his son again, “I will devise a death as cruel for thee / As thou art tender to 't” (IV. iv. 441-442). But the Pastoral Scene's concern with death surely reaches its apotheosis in Autolycus' “solemn” prophecy to the quaking Clown:

He has a son, who shall be flayed alive, then 'nointed over with honey, set on the head of a wasps' nest, then stand till he be three quarters and a dram dead; then recovered again with aqua-vitae or some other hot infusion; then, raw as he is, and in the hottest day prognostication proclaims, shall he be set against a brick wall, the sun looking with a southward eye upon him, where he is to behold him, with flies blown to death.

(IV. iv. 786-793)

My point, of course, is not that The Winter's Tale is uniformly obsessed with death and the passage of time—in Act IV, Scene iv, as well as elsewhere—but rather that the Pastoral Scene in no way avoids these matters, as critics tend to avoid them in their reading of the scene. For pastoral in The Winter's Tale is a great deal more nuanced than Florizel's blithe reassurance to Perdita, “Apprehend / Nothing but jollity” (IV. iv. 24-25), would indicate, and it equally escapes the simplistic confines of Polixenes' earlier idyllic reminiscences to Hermione:

                                                                      We were, fair queen,
Two lads that thought there was no more behind,
But such a day tomorrow as today,
And to be boy eternal.

(I. ii. 62-65)

The Pastoral Scene, as Northrup Frye suggests, operates simultaneously on several levels. “To Florizel it is a kind of betrothal mask and ‘a meeting of the petty gods’; to the Court Party, Polixenes and Camillo, it is an illusion which they snatch away; to Autolycus it is an opportunity to sell his ‘trumpery’ and steal purses.”4 But this is not all. To Perdita it is at once a game of “borrowed flaunts”, and a hypnotic celebration in which “this robe of mine / Does change my disposition” (IV. iv. 134-135). To the Old Shepherd it is the dignified and moving re-enactment of a traditional ceremony, while to his son it is an opportunity for revelry and light lovemaking. An adequate reading of the scene must see it through all of these characters, rather than see it only through the enchanted eyes of Florizel gazing upon Perdita.

Along with its variety of characters and perspectives, the play exhibits a spectrum of motives and events that ranges from the grossly realistic to the wildly fanciful. Moreover, Shakespeare's implicit attitude toward his characters' behavior—rational or fantastic—is far from constant. For instance, the play is ruthlessly critical of the passion of Leontes, in which a dream world has been spawned where fancy replaces fact: “Thou [his passion] dost make possible things not so held, / Communicat'st with dreams” (I. ii. 139-140). Leontes equates all of reality with his new and insubstantial fabric:

                                                            Is this nothing?
Why then the world, and all that's in't, is nothing,
The covering sky is nothing, Bohemia nothing,
My wife is nothing, nor nothing have these nothings,
If this be nothing.

(I. ii. 292-296)

He becomes wholly isolated, incomprehensible to others:

You speak a language that I understand not:
My life stands in the level of your dreams,
Which I'll lay down.
                                                            Your actions are my dreams.
You had a bastard by Polixenes,
And I but dream'd it!

(III. ii. 77-82)

The irony of the last line is heavy as Leontes scornfully speaks truth while preparing to act upon fantasy. Dreams in this case lead to illusion and madness.

Still, Antigonus will fatally learn that some dreams do come true, even though their logic is obscure. And, by extension, a statue coming to life is certainly incredible, possessing no clear and self-evident logic, easily “hooted at / Like an old tale” (V. iii. 116-117). This last complication—which suggests that fantasy or fable lies at the heart not only of the structure, but also of the title and the meanings of the play—brings up deeper connections between dreams and reality which I shall not discuss until later.

Shifting slightly from dreams and reality to idealism and realism, we are perhaps surprised to discover just how substantial, how factual is the sheep-shearing feast. Here Shakespeare is farthest from the pastoral conventions, for as W. W. Greg observes on the nature of pastoral, the shepherd has been chosen as a fitting image of sophisticated and often sentimental artlessness by a complex society seeking leisure. Therefore “the shepherds are primarily and distinctively shepherds; they are not mere rustics engaged in sheepcraft as one out of many of the employments of mankind.”5

But in The Winter's Tale Shakespeare does just the opposite. His shepherds are realistic, unsophisticated rustics, and, as Tillyard says (p. 43), “the country life is given the fullest force of actuality.” When the Clown speaks of the celebration, we almost taste the items on his list:

Let me see; what am I to buy for our sheep-shearing feast? Three pound of sugar, five pound of currants, rice. … I must have saffron to color the warden pies; mace; dates, none—that's out of my note; nutmegs, seven; a race or two of ginger, but that I may beg; four pound of prunes, and as many of raisins o' th' sun.

(IV. iii. 36-49)

If in addition to these realistic elements one considers the far from outdated tricks of Autolycus and the lively folk dances, one becomes convinced of the scene's actuality and its firm entrenchment in the Elizabethan English countryside. It is conspicuously here and now rather than there and then, closer to “rustics engaged in sheepcraft” than to the more artificial and self-conscious pastoral. In this sense there is very little artifice or idealization.

Greg notes also (p. 4) that what is constant in different versions of pastoral is “the recognition of a contrast, implicit or expressed, between pastoral life and some more complex type of civilization.” Such a contrast obviously exists in The Winter's Tale, but its implications are not clear-cut. On the one hand the frolic and festivity, the frank and healthy attitude toward love in the pastoral scene are surely preferable to the jaded and stifling atmosphere of sensuality, grief, and death that broods about Leontes and “that fatal country Sicilia.” Further, Autolycus keenly satirizes court snobbery when he says to the gullible Clown: “Receives not thy nose court-odor from me? reflect I not on thy baseness, court-contempt? … I am courtier cap-a-pe” (IV. iv. 732-736). But this is no simple-minded preference for pastoral purity. The irony cuts both ways, as the Clown is greatly impressed by such unmistakable “authority”: “This cannot be but a great courtier” (IV. iv. 749). Moreover, the rustics in general are systematically gulled: Autolycus is prologue and epilogue to the scene, and he prospers. In fact, only the unmasking of Polixenes checks him:

… and had not the old man come in with a whoo-bub against his daughter and the king's son, and scared my choughs from the chaff, I had not left a purse alive in the whole army.

(IV. iv. 616-620)

The characters are realistically presented as fallible in both parts of the play; the rustics as well as a King are capable of being imposed upon. Like Leontes they will accept a dream, an impossible fable as the truth. Mopsa says of Autolycus' ballads: “Pray now, buy some: I love a ballad in print, a life, for then we are sure they are true” (IV. iv. 261-262). So gullible as to be able to believe Autolycus' outrageous ballads, the rustics thus bring home to us the whole prickly question of belief—our belief, the characters' belief—in something patently “false” like Leontes' dreams, or Shakespeare's “winter's tale”. One wonders who is being gulled. The balance between fantasy and reality is by no means resolved in Act IV, Scene iv, and there is little chance for successful and idyllic leisure when Autolycus is on the prowl, and Polixenes and Camillo are waiting in disguise.

If my preceding analysis is correct, then Tillyard omits a great deal when he writes (p. 43) that “the whole country setting stands out as the cleanest and most elegant symbol of the new life into which the old horrors are to be transmuted.” For Shakespeare this type of transmutation is much too important to be relegated to landscape. The country is surely different—and importantly so—from the city, but not necessarily its antidote; the distinctions between reality and fantasy are still unresolved: what is new in the Pastoral Scene is the way resolution is attempted.

Here Shakespeare's use of pastoral begins to achieve its meaning. If the play is to bridge the gap between Leontes' sin and his regenerated virtue, it can only do so by recreating the situation of Leontes' fall, and yet somehow avoiding a second fall. The past innocence of Leontes' boyhood, his youthful wooing and idealistic love, must be reconstructed vicariously, but the reconstruction can be persuasive only if the challenge to it is likewise present.

The friendship between the two kings has rested so far on the youthful state of innocence; based on a sentimental ignoring of the reality of the temporal process, it has assumed with pathetic simplicity that it was possible to remain “boy eternal.” The realities of human nature, however, make this impossible. … Only through a conscious reaction to tragedy, and the consequent acceptance of deeper experience, can this idyllic state of childhood grow into an independent, conscious maturity.6

For genuine resolution to occur, there must be some firm and sane middle ground between “twinn'd lambs” frisking “i' th' sun” (I. ii. 67) and “paddling palms, and pinching fingers” (I. ii. 115). A balance between ideal youth and realistic adulthood must be struck, one that welds the past and the present.

The Sheep-shearing Scene renders precisely both sides of this balance; its pastoral elements express those qualities of idealism and youth needed to reinvigorate Leontes' deadened capacity for innocence and joy, while the realistic elements of the scene expose the inadequacy of that idealism. For the scene does not finally effect a triumphant bridge between youth and adulthood; it supplies instead the indispensable and otherwise missing element of passionate loyalty. Its great virtue is in the way it supplies this element simultaneously with an announcement of its limitation.

Because the idyllic is only one strand within a complex web, Shakespeare can grant Florizel some of the most beautiful lines in the play. His lyric and extravagant devotion to Perdita atones, as it were, for the harsh brutality of Leontes' earlier insults to Hermione:

These your unusual weeds, to each part of you
Do give a life: no shepherdess, but Flora
Peering in April's front. This your sheep-shearing
Is as a meeting of the petty gods,
And you the queen on't.

(IV. iv. 1-5)

Florizel believes in the reality of this dream, accepts as genuine the pastoral roles he and Perdita are playing; they enable him to express the plenitude of his love, uncluttered by other concerns. He is magnificently excessive:

                                                  I take thy hand, this hand,
As soft as dove's down and as white as it,
Or Ethiopian's tooth, or the fann'd snow that's bolted
By the northern blasts twice o'er.

(IV. iv. 363-366)

But the impatient realist Polixenes is there to bring him down to earth:

                                                                                                    What follows this?
How prettily the young swain seems to wash
The hand was fair before!

(IV. iv. 366-368)

It is as though Miranda had said, “O brave new world, / That has such people in't!” and Prospero had wisely replied, “'Tis new to thee” (The Tempest V. i. 183-184).

Shakespeare has constructed a world in which Florizel sees only Perdita, while we see Polixenes and Camillo as well. And the pastoral conventions are potent enough to embroider the fabric of Florizel's fancy so as to make it almost irresistible. We have the idealized world of Leontes' and Polixenes' youth, recreated as it might have been—even to its oversimplification—and simultaneously the infringing pressures of reality which challenged and, for Leontes, destroyed that idealism.

But there is a difference here. Florizel and Perdita have solved the problem of the blood. They have joined physical desire with loyalty to one another, although they are still incapable of integrating their private feelings into the domain of public responsibility. Unlike Florizel, however, Perdita remains aware of this problem, and though her lover may naïvely counsel, “Apprehend / Nothing but jollity”, she is not amazed when Polixenes reveals his presence:

I told you what would come of this: beseech you,
Of your own state take care: this dream of mine—
Being now awake, I'll queen it no inch farther.

(IV. iv. 448-450)

Perdita is not merely realistic; she too has had a dream, one in which she was at one time the wife of a prince and—during the feast—became the goddess Flora: “sure this robe of mine / Does change my disposition.” “Being now awake,” she declares her love to have been a dream: “I'll queen it no inch farther.” And yet this dream of her love and her queenship, while only a fantasy to her, will be revealed in Act V as true.

Dreams in the play are both misleading and prophetic; only their trial in time can prove them to be reality or fantasy. By remaining constant to his love, Florizel symbolically repudiates the lack of loyalty that Leontes had shown toward Hermione: “I am but sorry, not afeard; delay'd, / But nothing alter'd: what I was, I am” (IV. iv. 464-465). Tested, as Leontes was tested, Florizel retains his loyalty; by weathering duress he will transform his dream into reality.

The situation, however, is even more complicated, and the young prince is unequal to its other stresses. Although Florizel's ardor is praiseworthy, is there not something slightly fatuous about his exaltation?

That were I crown'd the most imperial monarch
Thereof most worthy, were I the fairest youth
That ever made eye swerve, had force and knowledge
More than was ever man's, I would not prize them
Without her love.

(IV. iv. 373-377)

Perdita remains silent during this declamation; Florizel goes on to mention with complacent pride (and unintended cruelty):

                                                                                                                        One being dead,
I shall have more than you can dream of yet;
Enough then for your wonder.

(IV. iv. 388-390)

Moreover, when Camillo, in a role he has played before, tries to bring Florizel to reason, the young man in his resistance bears an uncanny resemblance to Leontes:

From my succession wipe me, father; I
Am heir to my affection.
                                                                      Be advis'd.
I am: and by my fancy. If my reason
Will thereto be obedient, I have reason;
If not, my senses, better pleas'd with madness,
Do bid it welcome.
                                                                      This is desperate, sir.

(IV. iv. 481-486)

We have witnessed madness before, and there also it was allied to the fact of an heirless throne. There is no wonder, then, that when Florizel says,

                                                                                                    So we profess
Ourselves to be the slaves of chance, and flies
Of every wind that blows

(IV. iv. 540-542)

he ominously echoes Leontes' “I am a feather for each wind that blows” (II. iii. 153). The relationship between fantasy and reality may fail in a less drastic way in Bohemia than it did in Sicilia, but it fails nonetheless. This becomes clearer when the problem is refocused in terms of passion and reason.

For Florizel has simply failed to take into account the whole realm of public responsibility. His family and its legitimate expectations are burdens—extending back through time—that he cannot reconcile with his immediate and private desire. Rather than assimilate he will discard, and he chooses the less demanding stance of either-or: “Or I'll be thine, my fair, / Or not my father's” (IV. iv. 42-43). Therefore he may reject but he cannot refute the disguised Polixenes' reproach:

                                                                                Reason my son
Should choose himself a wife, but as good reason
The father (all whose joy is nothing else
But for posterity) should hold some counsel
In such business.
                                                                                I yield all this.

(IV. iv. 407-411)

Florizel has indeed chosen a wife with “reason”, but the second “reason”—the public one which concerns the father, posterity, and the welfare of the state—he has been unable to confront. Faced with a situation too complicated to resolve, he chooses flight rather than integration. The description of Florizel's love, by echoing that of Leontes' jealousy, betrays its inadequacy to the situation. The pastoral conventions which he so willingly adopts for his lovemaking are an insufficient frame of reference for the son of a king.

Finally Camillo, who had earlier tried and failed to advise Leontes, succeeds with Florizel, managing to perfect symbolically the Prince's passion by gracing it with rational reflection:

                                                                                                              Then list to me:
This follows, if you will not change your purpose,
But undergo this flight; make for Sicilia.

(IV. iv. 542-544)

This joining of Florizel's passion and Camillo's reason is alone responsible for directing the flight of the lovers. Camillo has this to offer:

                                                            A course more promising
Than a wild dedication of yourselves
To unpath'd waters, undream'd shores; most certain
To miseries enough.

(IV. iv. 566-569)

Reflection and feeling thus fused, the lovers can depart from Bohemia, heading now for the shore of civilization, that complex and corrupt kingdom of Sicilia where all genuine resolutions must take place.

In the Pastoral Scene Shakespeare has rendered the idealistic love of Florizel and Perdita with superb nuance. In the Prince we recognize a saner version of Leontes, a young man who would have succeeded the Leontes frisking with Polixenes in the sun and prevented Leontes the tyrant. For Florizel, unlike the “frisking lambs”, has moved from innocence into sexual maturity; in him the “weak spirits” have been successfully blended “with stronger blood”. The result is a lover whose desires “run not before mine honour, nor my lusts / Burn hotter than my faith” (IV. iv. 34-35). In this context he is Leontes as he was not and should have been.

But on the other hand Florizel's love is an inadequate guide for the stresses with which he must cope; defined by the exuberant “jollity” of Act IV, Scene iv, it resembles too much Leontes' weak and insufficient pastoralism. As Leontes' saccharine childworld became an “unweeded garden”, so Florizel confuses the lusty and many-faceted sheep-shearing feast with an unreal Arcadian paradise. Both imagined worlds are not only isolated—Leontes' engulfed in one moment of Time, Florizel's in a timeless Golden Age—but they are essentially fantastic and reductive distortions (each in its own way) of the complex realities of Sicilia and Bohemia.

If Florizel were perfect, if Polixenes welcomed Perdita, this new green world would neither relate to Leontes' stricken world nor convince in itself. It is not enough that Florizel avoid the mistakes of Leontes; he must, in avoiding them, make mistakes of his own, mistakes which echo those of Leontes. For the generations come together not as “error” and “exemplum” but as kindred human beings, in effect ransoming each other. Only then can the Pastoral Scene convince us of its own realism and of its legitimate relation to the rest of the play. Only then can it provide the cross-over, the missing point of reference that makes credible the play's essential themes of continuity and regeneration.

Forced by abrupt circumstances to act—the idyll is now over—Florizel attains his heroism and makes his mistake at one and the same moment. His disobedience to his father is both mistaken and heroic, and the ambivalence that results is inseparable from the ambivalence of dreams that I have already touched upon. It is an ambivalence that comes from acting in time, from making a value decision in a world of flux. If the scene were simply “green” and idyllic, there could be no such trial of Florizel. But Time tries all, and Florizel makes his decision. The problem of value in a spatial-temporal world, of appearance and reality, becomes his.

This problem brings into prominence the larger motif of past and present—of time in general—as it operates in both parts of the play. The isolation of Leontes, as I suggested earlier, derives from his obsessive fantasy of betrayal. His unvarying perspective, filled with images of filth and sordid sensuality, prevents him from temporally connecting the degraded present in any way with his idyllic past. He has no point of comparison; the “weak spirits” of his idealism, “ne'er … higher reared / With stronger blood”, have failed to support him.

Likewise he is yoked to one point in space; pastoral for him connotes only a stable, and his colloquial language parodies the rustic elements in Bohemia. Leontes has no recourse to the freshness of a new climate; he would be insensible to Cleomenes' description of the isle of the oracle:

The climate's delicate, the air most sweet,
Fertile the isle, the temple much surpassing
The common praise it bears.

(III. i. 1-3)

In its aura of health and fertility this description suggests the spacious world of the sheep-shearing scene and contrasts with the infected world of Leontes. As yet he is incapable of making an overpass to it.

Hermione, however, possesses a deep sense of continuity, which serves to ballast and preserve her from the malice of Leontes' dream. Her appeal (III. ii. 28-45) to the dignity and proofs of the past, the promise of the future, the whole of his experience with her, her request that he see her as a queen, as a daughter, and as a mother—these pleas that he extend his horizons in space and time are all lost on Leontes. His dream tells him but one thing: “She's an adultress!” (II. i. 78).

Although the need to see the present moment within a larger continuum recurs as a leitmotif throughout the play, Florizel's arguments explicitly assert just the opposite: constancy to Perdita precludes constancy to the state. He would cling to an unchanging present, just as Polixenes had reminisced about being “boy eternal”. But the Prince's inability to unite his private ideals with the responsibility of public position, his selfish desire to enjoy love beyond the influence of time and the implications of place, contrasts massively with the warning of Time who tries all, with the presence of Polixenes and Camillo at the sheep-shearing feast, and—most intimately—with the latent sources of his own love for Perdita:

                                                                                          What you do,
Still betters what is done. When you speak, sweet,
I'd have you do it ever: when you sing,
I'd have you buy and sell so; so give alms,
Pray so, and, for the ord'ring your affairs,
To sing them too: when you do dance, I wish you
A wave o' th' sea, that you might ever do
Nothing but that, move still, still so,
And own no other function. Each your doing,
So singular in each particular,
Crowns what you are doing, in the present deeds,
That all your acts are queens.

(IV. iv. 135-146)

Here, as in Perdita's flower speech, the poise between things past and things present, between the continuing flux of time and the isolated moment, accounts for the beauty of Florizel's tribute. And it is Perdita's own mastery of such a poise that moves him most. Only when he compares what she does with “what is done”, does he realize “That all your acts are queens.” Like the wave which is always the same and always moving, the resulting grace comes not from timeless Arcadian beauty but from the maintenance of constancy within motion. Perdita's role is bolder than that of a pale and passive “girl eternal”; and Florizel, once graced symbolically with the reason of Camillo, will also be prepared to essay a more ambitious role of balanced responsibility to his kingdom and love to his wife, a role that can accommodate the opposed and yet inalienable stresses that make up his predicament. They set out for Sicilia.

Leontes, meanwhile, has passed sixteen years lamenting his betrayal of Hermione. Much more seriously than Florizel, he had lost sight of the sanity-making continuities within his life. But if he could not at the moment of crisis recall his own wooing and idyllic past, he has now had ample time to do so. In the constancy of repentance, in the weaving of all of his experience together within the fabric of memory, Leontes has come to know and cleanse himself. Tried by time, his repentance has not withered into apathy; he has spiritually regenerated. He is ready for the arrival of Florizel.

                                                                      Were I but twenty-one,
Your father's image is so hit in you,
His very air, that I should call you brother,
As I did him, and speak of something wildly
By us perform'd before. Most dearly welcome!
And your fair princess,—goddess!—O, alas!
I lost a couple, that 'twixt heaven and earth
Might thus have stood, begetting wonder, as
You, gracious couple, do: and then I lost—
All mine own folly—the society,
Amity too, of your brave father …

(V. i. 125-135)

Their arrival has, in an almost Proustian way, resurrected his past life. The “something wildly / By us perform'd before” recalls the lambs frisking in the sun, just as later his “O thus she stood … when first I woo'd her!” (V. iii. 34-36) announces the connection that Leontes has made with what was vital in his past. The appearance of the young lovers completes his temporal perspective and enables him to achieve a spatial one. He breaks out of the life-denying prison of grief and glimpses the invigorating climate of pastoral that Florizel's youthful idealism imparts:

                                                                                          The blessed gods
Purge all infection from our air whilst you
Do climate here.

(V. i. 167-169)

Finally, Leontes is given his second chance to act in time, and he connects. Ignorant of Perdita's birth and pressed by Florizel:

                                                                                Beseech you, sir,
Remember since you ow'd no more to time
Than I do now; with thoughts of such affections,
Step forth mine advocate.

(V. i. 217-220)

Leontes looks at Perdita, recollects his own past, and answers:

                                                                                I will to your father:
Your honor not o'erthrown by your desires,
I am friend to them and you.

(V. i. 228-230)

In this moment of regeneration he symbolically redeems his past inconstancy. His regenerated idealism challenged by untoward circumstances and forced to affirm itself or to disintegrate as before, Leontes rededicates himself in the absence of material “proof”.

The fusion of past and present that occurs in such a resolution could not take place until the past actually met the present, until the father saw in the children the constancy he might have maintained and that through the trial of sixteen years he is in a position to reaffirm. Such a resolution, requiring the test of time, could not occur within the few hours of the sheep-shearing feast. Thus the supreme achievement of the Pastoral Scene is perhaps its modesty: its status as both idyll and the inadequacy of idyll. Florizel's idealism is both convincing enough to move Leontes to admiration and inadequate enough to require his support. Bohemia and Sicilia—forest and court—each is incomplete alone, and the play's deepest insights are about the intricacy of their interdependence.

Mention of one last pair of motifs—nature and art—might bring this paper to a close. Perdita has refused to “get slips of” carnations and gillyvors, “nature's bastards”, and defended herself, claiming, “There is an art which, in their piedness, shares / With great creating nature” (IV. iv. 87-88). Polixenes wisely grants this, but continues:

Yet nature is made better by no mean
But nature makes that mean: so, over that art,
Which you say adds to nature, is an art,
That nature makes. You see, sweet maid, we marry
A gentler scion to the wildest stock,
And make conceive a bark of baser kind
By bud of nobler race. This is an art
Which does mend nature—change it rather—but
The art itself is nature.

(IV. iv. 89-97)

Polixenes' point is well-taken in principle if not actually followed (later he will militantly prohibit the marriage of his “gentler scion” to what he considers “the wildest stock”). His argument suggests a nature that is ideal, one that accommodates both creative energy and rational design; his actions show her as contradictory and mean-spirited. If physical nature is properly nurtured by the various arts, it becomes fully realized, humanized, redeemed nature, all the acts of which are queens.

Such a state of nature made rational by the spiritual discipline of art would be perfection. It would encompass both reason and passion, responsibility and love; it would celebrate the constancy of value despite flux; it would, uncoerced, exhibit moral coherence and artistic beauty. But The Winter's Tale is constantly suggesting not that nature is perfectible but that it is at once mysterious and powerful, the source of Leontes' jealousy as well as Florizel's love, of Polixenes' idealistic statement about higher nature and his subsequent contradictory action that betokens lower nature. And the art that portrays her in this play, if it is to persuade, must show all her facets.

The ambiguity of dreams in The Winter's Tale implies a kind of nature that is wild, irrational, uncultivated. Its defining trait is passionate energy, the jealousy of Leontes, and its issue may well be anarchy or madness. But passion (and only passion), when informed by reason, can become creative. The love of Florizel and the jealousy of Leontes are, at bottom, kindred. And they are both related in their irrationality to the fantastic element in Autolycus' ballads, in Hermione's reappearance, and in The Winter's Tale itself. To distinguish between the real and apparent value of such dreams or passions is crucial, and it is only through time that their validity is tried. Ultimately, unreasoning faith is required in such a trial along with reason. Paulina correctly maintains that the fulfillment of the prophecy would be “monstrous to our human reason” (V. i. 41). But Hermione's constancy during sixteen years stems from her faith in that very prophecy; supported by neither logic nor evidence, she believes that “great creating nature” moves toward that higher and ultimately rational better nature of which Polixenes speaks. The coherence she seeks does not derive from the incredible events, but from the constant or rebuilt determination within herself to make the events yield a meaning. Without faith in higher nature, Hermione would succumb to despair, Leontes would either collapse or remarry, the entire play would be “hooted at / Like an old tale” (V. iii. 116-117).

Seen with a faithful eye toward higher nature fulfilling itself and achieving a meaningful, artistic form, The Winter's Tale enacts a coherent and positive redemption of sin. Yet, seen skeptically, it is “so like an old tale that the verity of it is in strong suspicion” (V. ii. 28-29). But seen comprehensively it is both; the ambiguous element of fancy and improbability is so stressed that the audience is forced to realize that, while there is internal thematic resolution through the regeneration of nature, there is also a potentially chaotic aspect of nature, one that needs nothing less than a “miracle” imposed by art to make it rational. Art, then, in The Winter's Tale is simultaneously natural (Polixenes' theory) and artificial (Perdita's theory). There is both idealism and realism, art and the mockery (which marks the limitations) of art. The more comprehensive realism effected by this combination is the governing principle of the Pastoral Scene. Ultimately, constancy within time, abiding value that is both proved and used within flux, is the only possible victory that is convincing. Convincing because it admits its loss.

                                                                                          But yet, Paulina,
Hermione was not so much wrinkled, nothing
So aged as this seems.

(V. iii. 27-29)


  1. E. M. W. Tillyard, Shakespeare's Last Plays (London, 1962), p. 22.

  2. D. A. Traversi, “A Reading of the Pastoral Scene of The Winter's Tale”, The Winter's Tale, ed. Francis Fergusson (The Laurel Shakespeare, 1959), p. 20.

  3. The Winter's Tale, ed. J. H. P. Pafford (London: The Arden Shakespeare, 1963). All textual references are based upon this edition.

  4. “Recognition in The Winter's Tale”, Essays on Shakespeare and Elizabethan Drama, ed. Richard Hosley (Columbia, Missouri, 1962), p. 238.

  5. W. W. Greg, Pastoral Poetry and Pastoral Drama (New York, 1959), p. 3.

  6. Traversi, An Approach to Shakespeare (Garden City, N. Y., 1956), pp. 264-265.

Thomas McFarland (essay date 1972)

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Last Updated on February 4, 2016, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 10291

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 the alpha and omega of Shakespeare's comedy. For here the two great realities of Shakespeare's comic vision—the movement toward social concord on the one hand, and on the other the recognition of disharmony and disruption (identifiable as early as The Two Gentlemen of Verona, and grown almost cancerously into the bitterness of the middle comedies)—come face to face in a final confrontation. The Tempest reaffirms the festive happiness of A Midsummer-Night's Dream, and at the same time completes and overcomes the motif of Jacobean “cohaerence gone” that strained against Shakespeare's comic dream in Measure for Measure and Troilus and Cressida, in Cymbeline and Pericles. Accepting in full the social asymmetry of the bitter comedies, the mighty pastoral of The Tempest serenely reasserts the enchantment of brotherhood and social harmony.

The completeness of pastoral's victory is here unique. For the jars it muffles and the shocks it concludes are not the “human follies” of comic sport, but rather the crimes of religion's testament: brother against brother, the intent of rape, the intent of murder, the reality of lies, disloyalty, and plots both large and small. Never before in Shakespeare's comedy has the paradisal vision been so profoundly challenged. And never before has the pastoral affirmation so completely dominated the materials of the play; for the corresponding bliss of A Midsummer-Night's Dream is attained without opposition from the harsher aspects of existence. In The Tempest disharmonies, for all their prevalence, have no purchase; the goodness that flows from Prospero, in his island haven, represents not only absolute benignity but absolute power as well. All the motifs of betrayal that persistently tormented Shakespeare's view of reality are here, but the pastoral vision reduces treachery to something like the willful naughtiness of children. The principle of evil represented by Caliban is formidable: ingratitude for kindness, the attempted rape of his benefactor's daughter, and gruesomely planned murder (not only is his name an anagram for “cannibal,” but as G. Wilson Knight well says, “all Shakespeare's intuition of the untamed beast in man” is “crystallized” in his character [The Shakespearian Tempest (London, 1968), p. 258]). But so impotent is that evil under the omniscient gaze and awful power of Prospero that Caliban's motives enlist sympathy rather than arouse horror. Just as in Paradise Regained our foreknowledge gives the evil efforts of Satan, Belial, and the other devils, doomed as they are to failure, a sense of Sisyphean pathos, so Caliban's schemes seem, by their hopelessness, ridiculous and somewhat sad. For even evil needs a structure of hope; and that hope must here be abandoned.

So, too, for all other intents of evil in the play, overmatched as they are by Prospero's mysterious good. The Machiavellian aspiration, which dominated so much of the Elizabethan and Jacobean dramatic imagination, and which, in Shakespeare's Octavius, Claudius, Macbeth, and Bolingbroke, became an absolute standard of the perverted hope that forfeits all values of mutual human regard—the Machiavellian aspiration is here as incapable of evil fruition as is the transcendent evil of Caliban. Just as Claudius kills his brother, or as Macbeth kills his king, so Sebastian and Antonio plot to kill brother and king. They plot in the manner of Richard of Gloucester, of, indeed, the whole long dramatic tradition of the power-greedy and amoral Machiavellian plotters:

                                                                                                    Will you grant with me
That Ferdinand is drown'd?
                                                                                                    He's gone.
                                                                                                    Then tell me,
Who's the next heir of Naples?


And then:

                                                                                          Say this were death
That now hath seiz'd them; why, they were no worse
Than now they are. There be that can rule Naples
As well as he that sleeps; lords that can prate
As amply and unnecessarily
As this Gonzalo: I myself could make
A chough of as deep chat. O, that you bore
The mind that I do! What a sleep were this
For your advancement! Do you understand me?
Methinks I do.


And Sebastian accepts with alacrity the Machiavel's main chance, unlike the equivocating Pompey of Antony and Cleopatra, who retreats before Menas's proposal (“These three world-sharers, these competitors, / Are in thy vessel. Let me cut the cable; / And, when we are put off, fall to their throats. / All there is thine.”). In play after play, not only in Shakespeare, but in his contemporaries as well—Marlowe, Marston, Jonson, Webster—such murderous intent is depicted as fulfilled by the actual fact of murder, and the subsequent action wrestles with the consequences of the deed. Every preliminary for such a deed is observed in The Tempest:

But, for your conscience—
Ay, sir, where lies that? …
                                                                                twenty consciences,
That stand 'twixt me and Milan, candied be they
And melt, ere they molest! Here lies your brother,
No better than the earth he lies upon,
If he were that which now he's like—that's dead;
Whom I with this obedient steel, three inches of it,
Can lay to bed for ever; whiles you, doing thus,
To the perpetual wink for aye might put
This ancient morsel, this Sir Prudence, who
Should not upbraid our course. …
                                                                                Thy case, dear friend,
Shall be my precedent; as thou got'st Milan,
I'll come by Naples. Draw thy sword. One stroke
Shall free thee from the tribute which thou payest;
And I the King shall love thee.


We might almost be reading Webster or Tourneur, or Shakespeare at his most bloodily tragic, so explicit and lengthy is the Machiavellian preparation as here presented. And all for nothing. The deepest plots and most ruthless readiness advance evil's cause not an iota. The intervention of Prospero's agent, Ariel, leaves the conspirators almost ludicrously explaining the fact of their drawn swords to their suddenly awakened victims:

                                                                                What's the matter?
Whiles we stood here securing your repose,
Even now, we heard a hollow burst of bellowing
Like bulls, or rather lions. …
                                                                                Heard you this, Gonzalo?
Upon mine honour, sir, I heard a humming,
And that a strange one too, which did awake me;
I shak'd you, sir, and cried; as mine eyes open'd,
I saw their weapons drawn—


Evil, indeed, is in this enchanted place not only stripped of its effectiveness, but stripped even of its Luciferan dignity. Sebastian and Antonio, swords drawn, are converted in the twinkling of an eye from fell assassins to sheepish explainers. And the same thing happens to Caliban. The “abhorred slave, / Which any print of goodness will not take” (1.2.351-52), the “lying slave, / Whom stripes may move, not kindness!” (1.2.344-45), who, treated “with human care,” sought in return “to violate / The honour of my child” (1.2.346-48)—this creature, in grotesque reflection and doubling of Sebastian and Antonio's death plot, plans with the clown and the butler the death of Prospero:

Why, as I told thee, 'tis a custom with him
I' th' afternoon to sleep; there thou mayst brain him,
Having first seiz'd his books; or with a log,
Batter his skull, or paunch him with a stake,
Or cut his wezand with thy knife. Remember
First to possess his books; for without them
He's but a sot, as I am, nor hath not
One spirit to command; they do all hate him
As rootedly as I.


In the hideous explicitness of Caliban's proposal the intent of evil does justice to all the random brutality of actual experience. But this horror in the subplot is disarmed as magically as its aristocratic Machiavellian counterpart; Prospero treats the intent of unspeakable brutishness (I'll yield him thee asleep, / Where thou mayst knock a nail into his head” [3.2.57-58]) as a threat hardly worth noticing: in the midst of the wedding masque he suddenly remembers:

                                                            I had forgot that foul conspiracy
Of the beast Caliban and his confederates
Against my life; the minute of their plot
Is almost come.


And although Caliban is

A devil, a born devil, on whose nature
Nurture can never stick; on whom my pains,
Humanely taken, all, all lost, quite lost;


Prospero's treatment of him and his confederates is not counteraction of equal brutishness, but the almost ludicrous punishment of pinchings, dunkings, crampings and other trivial harassments, which “plague them all / Even to roaring” (4.1.192-93). Thus, despite his unlimited evil, Caliban, thwarted by Prospero's power, becomes, in the words of Trinculo, in this drama a “most ridiculous monster” (2.2.155).

The childish impotence of evil emphasizes the almost divine power of Prospero's good. And it is accordingly in this play that Shakespeare seems to come closest to open identification of the comic ideal and the hope of religion, of pastoral realm and Christian heaven. While it is true that some theological authority frowned on any attempt at the representation of divine things, it is also true that a tradition of such representation did exist. Sidney praises David's Psalms as “a heavenly poesy, wherein almost he showeth himself a passionate lover of that unspeakable and everlasting beauty to be seen by the eyes of the mind, only cleared by faith,” and hails his “notable prosopopeias, when he maketh you, as it were, see God coming in his majesty.” It may well be that Shakespeare in this play avails himself of that mode that Bacon, in his De augmentis scientiarum, calls “Parabolical” poetry, which “is of a higher character than the others, and appears to be something sacred and venerable; … It is of double use … for it serves for an infoldment; and it likewise serves for an illustration … for such things … the dignity whereof requires that they should be seen as it were through a veil; that is, when the secrets and mysteries of religion … and philosophy are involved in fables or parables.” And Henry Reynolds, in a platonizing treatise called Mythomystes, published about 1633, urges that the name “poet” is a “high and sacred title,” that one should look “farther” into “those their golden fictions” for a “higher sence,” something “diuiner in them infoulded & hid from the vulgar.” The tradition that divine things must be ‘infoulded & hid from the vulgar” was an ancient one: “Holy things,” said Plotinus, “may not be uncovered to the stranger, to any that has not himself attained to see” (Enneads, 6.9.11).

Furthermore Christianity, as well as the Platonist tradition, emphasizes that sacred matters are both presented and veiled by means of parabolical statement:

And when he had said these things, he cried, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear. And his disciples asked him, saying, What might this parable be? And he said, Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but to others in parables; that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand.

[Luke 8.8-10]

So Milton speaks of Spenser's Faerie Queene as a poetic statement “where more is meant than meets the ear.” In his pastoral Comus, the Spirit talks of “the Gardens fair / Of Hesperus, and his daughters three / That sing about the Golden tree … there eternal Summer dwells.” And there Adonis is said to be “Waxing well of his deep wound”—a statement prefixed by the exhortation, “List mortals, if your ears be true.” Milton seems by this exhortation symbolically to link the recovery of Adonis with the resurrection of Christ, just as the pastoral “eternal Summer” suggests the Christian heaven.

Parabolical utterances, rather than direct statements, are required because, as Paul says, we must see divine things “through a glass darkly.” Inasmuch as the parabolical conceals as well as communicates, its existence must somehow be signaled. Such signals are constituted by an obliquely insistent request for special attention: Milton's “List mortals, if your ears be true,” or Jesus' “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.” And words like those appear prominently in Prospero's lengthy discussion with Miranda in the first act: “The very minute bids thee ope thine ear” (1.2.37); “Dost thou hear?” (1.2.106); “Hear a little further” (1.2.135).

The play reinforces such indications in other ways. The language possesses a mysterious resonance and elevation. Prospero does not ask, “What do you remember?” he asks instead “What seest thou else / In the dark backward and abysm of time?” (1.2.49-50). He does not say, “Look there”; he says, rather, “The fringed curtains of thine eye advance” (1.2.408). Even the most sorrowful thoughts somehow seem, because of the mystery of the language, to be wonderful. As Ferdinand says:

                                                                                          Sitting on a bank,
Weeping again the King my father's wreck,
This music crept by me upon the waters,
Allaying both their fury and my passion
With its sweet air. …

And the music, which is Ariel's song, makes the idea of death beautiful, wonderful, but not fearful:

Full fathom five thy father lies;
          Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
          Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.


Something of that same wonder permeates Alsonso's counterstatement about the supposed death of Ferdinand:

Therefore my son i' th' ooze is bedded; and
I'll seek him deeper than e'er plummet sounded.
And with him there lie mudded.


Darkly wonderful unexpectedness continually springs from the language of the play, especially in the first interview between Prospero and Miranda, and so too do flickerings of ancient meanings. The reassurance uttered in a specific incident has a deeper and more universal comfort:

                                                                                                                        Be collected;
No more amazement. Tell your piteous heart
There's no harm done.


In haunting and symbolically indistinct words, old catastrophes and unknown fallings off are mentioned: “What foul play had we, that we came thence?” asks Miranda in a question that all struggling humanity could use for its own. And Prospero's answer keeps the same tone: “By foul play, as thou say'st, were we heav'd thence; / But blessedly holp hither” (1.2.60-63).

As old mysteries of sin and redemption seem to whisper behind the topics discussed by Prospero and Miranda, so also do more reverberating implications surround the figure of Prospero himself. In a matrix where the past becomes the “dark backward and abysm of time,” Prospero's own antecedents seem to suggest something more than the deposition of a Duke. The ambiguity of the language everywhere hints at deeper things. Ariel tells the newcomers that “man doth not inhabit” the island (3.3.57). Miranda is told by Prospero that she does not know “Of whence I am”; that she does not know “that I am more better / Than Prospero” (1.2.19-20). Sebastian and Antonio, conversely, are “worse than devils” (3.3.36). “Had I not / Four, or five, women once, that tended me?” asks Miranda. “Thou hadst, and more, Miranda,” replies Prospero ambiguously (1.2.46-48); and he tells her that “a cherubin / Thou wast that did preserve me” (1.2.152-53). Indeed, when Prospero says that “Thy father was the Duke of Milan, and / A prince of power” (1.2.54-55), Miranda, strangely, asks: “Sir, are not you my father?” (1.2.55).

Moreover Prospero, by his ability to control the elements, even to restore lives that seem lost, is invested with the power of a god. His power, in fact, is more than that of a god: “His art is of such pow'r,” says Caliban, “It would control my dam's god, Setebos, / And make a vassal of him” (1.2.372-73). And the aged magician possesses also the physical presence of a divine being: not the form of a pagan deity, but that of the infinitely wise God whom Christians worship. The reverend age associated anthropomorphically with God mantles Prospero's shoulders also, as do the divine attributes of justice, wrath, gentleness, and forgiveness. When Anselm of Canterbury argued for the existence of God from the idea of perfection that he found in his own mind, the monk Gaunilo made rebuttal by arguing that the idea of a perfect island did not make such an island exist. But in Shakespeare's art the perfect island does exist, and God, linked with that island in the theological arguments of the schoolmen, exists there also, although parabolically shadowed forth. As Ferdinand says of Prospero, “So rare a wond'red father and a wise / Makes this place Paradise” (4.1.123-24).

Prospero, indeed, bears the same relationship to his island haven as does Francesco Sansovino's Mythra, who, in a book reprinted at intervals throughout Shakespeare's lifetime, is represented as God ruling over an island Utopia. After a “descrittione dell' Isola d'Utopia,” Sansovino notes that some inhabitants of the island worship the sun, the moon, or the moving stars. “The greater part, however, I mean the wisest, do not worship any of these things, but believe that there is a secret and eternal divinity above any human capacity, which with its virtue and grandeur stretches over this world, and this God they call father.” On the island of Utopia, moreover, the inhabitants “hold in the temples no image of the gods, in order that each man can freely image God (liberamente imaginarsi Dio) in what form he pleases” (Del Governo et amministratione di diversi regni, et republiche, cosí antiche, come moderne [Vinegia, 1607], f. 183v, 198, 200).

On Shakespeare's own island, the parabolical suggestions of “Paradise” and “wond'red father” accord as fully with the pastoral tradition as they do with Christianity. Drayton notes of pastorals that “the most High, and most Noble matters of the World may be shaddowed in them, and for certaine sometimes are” (Works, ed. Hebel, 2:518). Furthermore, both Ovid and Virgil, with those historical effects the pastoral ideal is so profoundly entwined, were in the Renaissance repeatedly interpreted as allegories and foreshadowings of Christian mystery (see, e.g., Don Cameron Allen, Mysteriously Meant: The Rediscovery of Pagan Symbolism and Allegorical Interpretation in the Renaissance [Baltimore, 1970], pp. 135-99). And Plato, in a major prototype of the pastoral golden world, speaks of an Age of Kronos in which God himself was shepherd. Like Prospero ruling his enchanted island, and like the Christian God ruling over Eden, Plato's shepherd-God governs a paradisal realm:

When God was shepherd there were no political constitutions and no taking of wives and begetting of children. … People instead had fruits without stint from trees and bushes; these needed no cultivation but sprang up of themselves out of the ground without man's toil. For the most part men disported themselves in the open, needing neither clothing nor couch; for the seasons were blended evenly so as to work them no hurt, and the grass which sprang up out of the earth in abundance made a soft bed for them.

[Statesman, 271E-272A]

Even the supernatural agency of Ariel, similar but inferior to the authority of Prospero, is pastorally foreshadowed in the Age of Kronos: “Over every herd of living creatures was set a heavenly daemon to be its shepherd. … So it befell that savagery was nowhere to be found nor preying of creature on creature, nor did war rage nor any strife whatsoever. There were numberless consequences of this divine ordering of the world” (271D-E).

If Prospero, in brief, is naturalistically the deposed Duke of Milan, he suggests parabolically, along all lines of reference, the Ancient of Days: “His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire. … And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last: I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death” (Rev. 1:14-18).

It is here that W. C. Curry, in his elucidation of Prospero as a theurgic magician in a non-Christian, Neoplatonic mold, seems to go astray. The diffusion of magical motifs in the early seventeenth century, as indeed today, placed those motifs in the public domain, as it were, without any necessary commitment to Neoplatonic magic on Shakespeare's part (we surely do not seek a learned magic in, say, The Witch of Edmonton). Furthermore, Neoplatonism itself, from Ficino to Cudworth, was customarily syncretized with Christianity. It accordingly does not follow, as Curry would have it, that “in the Tempest, with its Neo-Platonic concepts serving as an artistic pattern” Shakespeare “no longer employs Christian myth as the integrating principle … here he creates an altogether different world … which is integrated by a purely pagan philosophy” (Shakespeare's Philosophical Patterns, 2d ed. [Baton Rouge, 1959], p. 198). On the contrary, pagan motifs, from Plato to the Sibylline oracles, were eagerly syncretized to Christianity during the Renaissance, and their presence, even if established, cannot be used as an argument against Christian interpretation (for a concurring opinion see D. G. James, The Dream of Prospero [Oxford, 1967], p. 61). Curry seems closer to the mark in his statement that “Prospero is evidently a theurgist of high rank. But we cannot determine precisely the degree of his attainments” (p. 188). It is the very indeterminateness that suggests the parabolical, the seeing through a glass darkly. And what is there glimpsed is neither merely a theurgic magician nor merely a Duke of Milan; rather, in “a notable prosopopeias” or use of personification, we “see God coming in his majesty.” This seemed strikingly clear to me the first time I read the play, and before I encountered any commentary at all; I have since been pleased to find that others have argued as much, not only among modern commentators, but among those of the past as well (for two nineteenth-century apprehensions, in 1859 and 1876, that Prospero is a representation of divinity, see A. D. Nuttall, Two Concepts of Allegory: A Study of Shakespeare's The Tempest and the Logic of Allegorical Expression [London, 1967], pp. 7, 9.) “The devil speaks in him,” whispers Sebastian. Prospero's reply is one word: “No” (5.1.129).

The immensity of this mysterious father-figure's power is the first of his attributes we encounter. At the beginning of the second scene of the first act, Miranda says: “If by your art, my dearest father, you have / Put the wild waters in this roar, allay them” (1.2.1-2). Shakespeare's dramatic tact is here unerring; he does not simply verbalize the hypothesis of Prospero's power, rather the tempest that begins the play takes us into the reality of that power and then leads us, daunted, to an encounter with the author of the storm.

That author is also the savior from its terrors. It is generally agreed that Shakespeare's imagined tempest had its immediate source in the “most dreadfull Tempest” actually experienced by a ship under the command of Sir George Summers in July, 1609:

a dreadfull storme and hideous began to blow from out the North-east, which swelling, and roaring as it were by fits, some houres with more violence than others, at length did beate all light from heaven; which like an hell of darkenesse turned blacke upon us. … For foure and twenty houres the storme in a restlesse tumult, had blown so exceedingly, as we could not apprehend in our imaginations any possibility of greater violence, yet did wee still finde it, not onely more terrible, but more constant, fury added to fury, and one storme urging a second more outragious than the former. … Prayers might well be in the heart and lips, but drowned in the outcries of the Officers: nothing heard that could give comfort, nothing seene that might incourage hope.1

With reference to Prospero's relationship to his own storm, it is interesting to note that William Strachey, the reporter of these events, recognizes God as the author of affliction: “It pleased God to bring a greater affliction yet upon us; for in the beginning of the storme we had received likewise a mighty leake.” And the deliverance from the storm is also, in this source, ascribed to God: “the almighty God wrought for us, and sent us miraculously delivered from the calamities of the Sea.”2

Now the fact of storm (as G. Wilson Knight has extensively documented) constitutes one of Shakespeare's major dramatic preoccupations, one that extends throughout his career. Storms occur from The Comedy of Errors all the way to The Tempest. We need only think of the storm that rages off the coast of Illyria, or the one that occurs off the coast of Bohemia; of the storm that surrounds Macbeth's castle, or the one that harrows Othello's passage to Cyprus. As a persisting symbol of the harshness of reality, and also as a convenience for the dramatist who can utilize the fortuitous separations and reunions incident to storms, the repeated use of tempestuous weather is a fitting adjunct to Shakespeare's dramatic art, both comic and tragic. But the achievement represented by the great storm scene that gives The Tempest its name can be matched only by the howling chaos deluging King Lear. The storms in both plays are similar in their evoked intensity, and similar also in their centrality to their dramatic situations. In other respects, however, they differ significantly. The storm in Lear occurs on land, while that of The Tempest takes place at sea. The implications of the former are that all reality is inundated by forces alien to humanity, while the implications of the latter are those of a passage from alien turmoil to a peaceful haven: in The Tempest we hear, in mysterious words, “the last of our sea-sorrow” (1.2.170). The storm in King Lear indicates a kind of monism of dramatic situation, a no-exit predicament; that in The Tempest, a dualism of earth and heaven. And the differing emphases reinforce the respective differences of tragedy and comedy. The storm in King Lear serves to underscore, in a macrocosm-microcosm correspondence, the tempestuous emotions in King Lear's heart. But the storm in The Tempest has quite the opposite effect, for it serves to accentuate the unearthly tranquility of Prospero's rule.

The storm in The Tempest, though comparable in intensity to that in King Lear, is really more closely related to the “sea-sorrow” in The Winter's Tale and Pericles, which are The Tempest's immediate predecessors. As the “last” of such sea-sorrow, The Tempest takes all the divisions and uncertainties represented by voyaging on the treacherous waters, and brings them to safe and paradisal reunion on holy ground.

Indeed, the fact that the storm here begins the play, rather than occurs as part of the internal action, accentuates the “sea-sorrow” experienced in the other two plays and closes the action off from any repetition of that sorrow. For the opening storm is like a curtain that divides the world of the island from all the world preceding, a veil that leaves all existential anxiety and striving on the other side.

The symbol of “sea-sorrow”—voyagings and storms and shipwrecks—is the symbol taken up by the existential thinkers of the twentieth century as a description of the human predicament. In Karl Jaspers it is called “Scheitern” (shipwreck or foundering) and is identified as a final truth about all human life. Likewise, Ortega y Gasset, in calling for an end to reverential biographies of an Olympian Goethe, says: “Give us a Goethe who is shipwrecked in his own existence, who is lost in it and never knows from one minute to the next what will become of him.” And such a biography, claims Ortega, is the only one that could achieve human plausibility, because

Life is, in itself and forever, shipwreck. To be shipwrecked is not to drown. The poor human being, feeling himself sinking into the abyss, moves his arms to keep afloat. This movement of the arms which is his reaction against his own destruction, is culture—a swimming stroke. … Consciousness of shipwreck, being the truth of life, constitutes salvation. Hence I no longer believe in any ideas except the ideas of shipwrecked men.3

The dramatic ideas of The Winter's Tale, Pericles, and in culmination, The Tempest, are those “ideas of shipwrecked men” which alone seem valid in the light of existential experience.

In The Tempest, the existential shipwreck gives way to a new security. But here too Shakespeare remains true to human needs as elucidated by philosophers of the human situation. Indeed, a title by Otto Bollnow—Neue Geborgenheit: Das Problem einer Überwindung des Existentialismus (New Security: The Problem of an Overthrow of Existentialism)—reveals how inseparably connected is the idea of haven and security with the existential idea of sea-sorrow. Every “Existenz,” as Jaspers repeatedly emphasizes in the most central idea of all his philosophy, is orientated toward “Transzendenz.” The enchanted island on the other side of the storm is the transcendence toward which shipwrecked existence reaches. And Paul, in the words of Calvin, “points out that faith, without holding to a consideration of the state of things present, or looking about at the things visible in this world … rises above the whole world and casts its anchor in heaven” (Commentaries, trans. J. Haroutunian and L. P. Smith [Philadelphia, 1958], p. 240).

So the pastoral ideal reveals itself as something far more necessary than a merely historical tradition in literature. As an analogue of the Christian heaven that exists as the goal of struggling mortals, of Jaspers's “transcendence” that flickers unattainably before all existence, it represents the deepest authentication of the meaning of human hope.

The necessity for that haven which is heaven is dramatically indicated in The Tempest by the fury of the awesome storm. Few more convincing testaments to Shakespeare's dramatic genius exist than the one provided by this first scene. For here he does not begin to build a plot, or describe character, or even, surprisingly, set the mood that will prevail in the play. Instead, without explanation, he simply represents the shattering fact of “Scheitern”: the fact of human existence tossed on the deeps, with no knowledge of what is to come, with the most tenuous hold on life itself. The divisions and distinctions that obtain in daily life are here expressly declared to be illusions. When Gonzalo, the man of eminence whom society respects, exhorts the boatswain to “be patient,” the boatswain's reply demolishes puny human distinctions in the face of reality's storm: “When the sea is. Hence! What cares these roarers for the name of king? To cabin! silence! Trouble us not!” (1.1.15-17). And when Gonzalo persists in his attempt to uphold the illusions of human significance by saying that the boatswain should “remember whom thou hast aboard” (1.1.18), the second reply is even more devastating than the first:

You are a counsellor; if you can command these elements to silence, and work the peace of the present, we will not hand a rope more. Use your authority; if you cannot, give thanks you have liv'd so long, and make yourself ready in your cabin for the mischance of the hour, if it so hap.—


Gonzalo's inability to alter the situation, despite his “authority” so mockingly acknowledged, accentuates the divine power of Prospero. For Gonzalo, in terms of humanity, is much like Prospero: he too is aged, he too has lived and suffered, he too is benign. But he is simply a man, and his Polonius-like absurdity, as a “counsellor” with no solution to the problems of reality, emphasizes his powerlessness, which in its turn throws into dramatic relief the unchallengeable potency of Prospero.

The fury of the storm testifies to the universality of humankind's situation, a predicament fully realized only when the veil of illusion is pierced: “All lost! to prayers, to prayers! all lost!” (1.1.49); “Mercy on us! / We split, we split! Farewell, my wife and children! / Farewell, brother! We split, we split, we split!” (1.1.57-59). “All lost”: that statement, when life is seen steadily and whole, represents the ultimate judgment that all men must utter. “To prayers”: when the philosopher of existence, Friedrich Jacobi, lay on his death bed, his final exhortation was to pray, because, he explained, that is all we mortals can do.

And the transcendent haven so desperately sought by storm-tossed humanity is hungrily summoned up by Gonzalo in the speech that concludes the opening scene: “Now would I give a thousand furlongs of sea for an acre of barren ground, long heath, brown furze, any thing” (1.1.62-64). Then, miraculously, beyond all Gonzalo's hope, the play presents the island. No “acre of barren ground,” it is instead an enchanted delight played upon by sweet music, and it parabolically suggests an unexpressed remainder to Ferdinand's statement that “This is no mortal business, nor no sound / That the earth owes” (1.2.406-7).

If Ferdinand finds that things here are other than mortal, his father finds them other than natural. “These are not natural events,” asserts Alonso. The other than mortal confirms the island as theological heaven; the other than natural, as poetic golden world. For “Nature,” as Sir Philip Sidney says, “never set forth the earth in so rich tapistry as diverse poets have done—neither with so pleasant rivers, fruitful trees, sweet-smelling flowers, nor whatsoever else may make the too much loved earth more lovely. Her world is brazen, the poets only deliver a golden.”

The difference between the golden island world and the brazen world of Naples and Milan is one of Platonic opposites. The Machiavellians of the real world, who pride themselves upon seeing things as they are, reveal themselves, in lengthy self-humiliation, as seeing nothing of reality. On the other hand, Gonzalo, mocked as a foolish unrealist, is in the island haven the speaker of certain truth. “I not doubt / He came alive to land,” says Gonzalo about Ferdinand (2.1.115-16). “No, no, he's gone,” replies Alonso sadly, acknowledging the reality that prevails in the probabilities of our brazen experience (2.1.116). But here Gonzalo's optimism is miraculously justified. Miraculously right also are his mysterious words of comfort—words that in another reality would be foolish: “be merry; you have cause, / So have we all, of joy; for our escape / Is much beyond our loss. Our hint of woe / Is common” (2.1.1-4). And the rightness of his vision, juxtaposed against the blindness of his too-human companions, is emphasized at length. Alonso's dejected answer to Gonzalo's counsel of joy is a curt “Prithee, peace.” And to Alonso's dejection Sebastian and Antonio append cynical mockery:

He receives comfort like cold porridge.
The visitor will not give him o'er so.
Look, he's winding up the watch of his wit; by and by it will strike.


But Sebastian and Antonio are so preoccupied in mocking the man they consider a sententious old fool, that they do not realize that Gonzalo (and Adrian, who is also mocked) are speaking simple truth. “Fie, what a spendthrift he is of his tongue!” sneers Antonio of Gonzalo (2.1.23). And when Adrian cautiously begins, “Though this island seem to be desert—” the two Machiavellian realists again interject mocking banter. But Adrian continues, is joined by Gonzalo, and their descriptions of what they see are strongly contrasted with the egotistically blind mockery of Antonio and Sebastian:

It must needs be of subtle, tender, and delicate temperance.
Temperance was a delicate wench.
Ay, and a subtle; as he most learnedly deliver'd.
The air breathes upon us here most sweetly.
As if it had lungs, and rotten ones.
Or, as 'twere perfum'd by a fen.
Here is everything advantageous to life.
True; save means to live.
Of that there's none, or little.
How lush and lusty the grass looks! how green!
The ground indeed is tawny.


The counterpoint of blindness with sight, of merry fatuity with serious understanding, continues as Gonzalo embarks upon his great Utopian vision, which epitomizes the coincidence of social hope and the pastoral ideal:

Had I the plantation of this isle, my lord—
He'd sow't with nettle-seed.
                                                  Or docks, or mallows. …
I' th' commonwealth I would by contraries
Execute all things. …
I would with such perfection govern, sir,
T' excel the golden age.
                                                  Save his Majesty!
Long live Gonzalo!


The discrepancy between Gonzalo's paradisal vision, which is now the actual sight of reality, and the unheeding cynicism of his fellows, which is now the mark of stupidity, is made still greater by Alonso's comment on the great Utopian projection:

Prithee, no more; thou dost talk nothing to me.
I do well believe your Highness; and did it to minister occasion to these gentlemen, who are of such sensible and nimble lungs that they always use to laugh at nothing.


Gonzalo, indeed, realizes as soon as he sets foot upon the island that the miraculous is now the real: “but for the miracle, / I mean our preservation, few in millions / Can speak like us” (2.1.6-8). His acceptance of the miraculous event reveals him as an easy inhabitant of the realm of hope, while Alonso, dejected and “out of hope” (3.3.11)—“I will put off my hope” (3.3.7)—and Sebastian and Antonio, vainly pursuing their irrelevant Machiavellian plot, cannot accept, and have no happy part in, the new reality. When Prospero's spirits enter with solemn and strange music, bringing in a banquet, Alonso's initial refusal to eat the food is contrasted with the childlike acceptance revealed by Gonzalo's answer:

Faith, sir, you need not fear. When we were boys,
Who would believe that there were mountaineers,
Dewlapp'd like bulls, whose throats had hanging at 'em
Wallets of flesh?


Gonzalo accordingly is not numbered among the evil men identified by Ariel's harpy interruption of the feast:

You are three men of sin, whom Destiny,
That hath to instrument this lower world
And what is in't, the never-surfeited sea
Hath caus'd to belch up you; and on this island
Where man doth not inhabit—you 'mongst men
Being most unfit to live.


Noteworthy in Ariel's pronouncement is the convergence of religious and comic themes. The actions of the three are identified by the theological concept of “sin,” and at the same time by the social concept of “'mongst men / Being most unfit to live.”

Since the sinful despair of Alonso is reproved by the miraculous survival of his son, and since all the plots and evil plans of Sebastian, Antonio, Caliban, and even Stefano come to nought before the power of Prospero, despair and evil are thereby shown to have no place in the enchanted haven. But if the most negative potentialities of humankind can achieve no actuality against the nullifying power of Prospero, positive potentialities come to perfect fruition. Side by side with the theme of evil, the play develops the archetypal comic theme of the progression to marriage. As, in The Winter's Tale, Perdita and Florizel bring new life and harmony to replace the disruptions of their elders, so here does Ferdinand bring a new intent of love to replace the power-struggles of his father and uncle. It would be difficult to improve on the beautiful statement of D. G. James: “There are, and always will be, the Antonios and Sebastians, frivolous, without reverence, treating the prompting of their moral natures as irrational, delusory, or meaningless. … But of Ferdinand and Miranda we shall say, if I may risk allegorizing them, that they represent the hope by which we live and without which we could not bear the burden of our lives” (The Dream of Prospero, p. 171).

The process of courtship is controlled by Prospero. This variation of the comic movement toward marriage is justified in the play by, on the one hand, Prospero's benignity, omniscience, and omnipotence, which are maintained absolutely; and on the other, by the projection of Miranda as a paradisal figure untainted by human sin. In terms of our actual experience of life, she is as ideal as the island itself; and her innocence and purity serve to rebuke all the meannesses of humankind. “O, wonder!” exclaims Miranda, “How many goodly creatures are there here! / How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world / That has such people in't!” But Prospero's laconic answer, desert-dry, is: “'Tis new to thee” (5.1.181-84). For the “goodly creatures” number among them the unholy trinity formed by the despairing and self-centered Alonso, the faithless and murderous Sebastian, and the treacherous and lying Antonio—the “three men of sin,” the “worse than devils,” the “unfit to live” among men. Miranda's salutation, uttered in openness of heart, shames all human actions that fall below mankind's heaven-orientated possibilities; and her unwitting criticism, spoken as it is in words of praise, bites almost as deeply as the most scathing denunciations of Timon or Lear.

To achieve so perfect a rebuke, however, the character of Miranda must be conceived as wholly unsullied by experience of humanity's baser nature. Hence her first view of man, that of Ferdinand, expresses the same wonder as does her attitude in the fifth act: “I might call him / A thing divine; for nothing natural / I ever saw so noble” (1.2.417-19). In view of the need to preserve this exalted idealism unmarred, so that Miranda remain “perfect and peerless … created / Of every creature's best” (3.1.47-48), Prospero's management of the courtship makes psychological sense. Indeed, not only does he note that “this swift business / I must uneasy make, lest too light winning / Make the prize light” (1.2.450-52), which gives both a dramatic and psychological basis for the extension of the courtship and the temporary harshness toward Ferdinand; but he is also much concerned that the act of love preserve its full dignity by being channeled untainted into marriage:

If thou dost break her virgin-knot before
All sanctimonious ceremonies may
With full and holy rite be minist'red,
No sweet aspersion shall the heavens let fall
To make this contract grow; …


The courtship, in this context, is not merely celebrated by the lovely masque of Ceres and Juno, but is actually part of that celebration itself. Ferdinand accepts his role as “patient log-man” (3.1.67), because he—and the audience—understands that

                                                                                some kinds of baseness
Are nobly undergone, and most poor matters
Point to rich ends.


His patience, and the obedience of Miranda, are possible because of the security of their sense of love, and their faith in their future's happiness. To Prospero's warnings about the need for preserving Miranda's virginity, Ferdinand replies: “As I hope / For quiet days, fair issue, and long life, / With such love as 'tis now, the murkiest den, / The most opportune place … shall never melt / Mine honour into lust” (4.1.23-28). For, as he says, “I / Beyond all limit of what else i' th' world, / Do love, prize, honour you” (3.1.71-73). So Prospero can tell him that “All thy vexations / Were but trials of thy love” (4.1.5-6); and the omniscient father secretly pronounces an early benediction on the lovers' hopes:

                                                                                          Fair encounter
Of two most rare affections! Heavens rain grace
On that which breeds between 'em!


The postponement of the sexual union of Ferdinand and Miranda, in short, is represented not as a denial of happiness, but as a game and rite of joy: a deliberate savoring and treasuring of the meaning and prospect of happiness. The courtship, like the masque that crowns it, proceeds with the deliberate dignity that only freedom from anxiety, harassment, and trouble can afford. It thus becomes a testament to the goodness of the island, and a counterpoise to the seething plots of evil that are hatching in its shadows. Even in the happiness of A Midsummer-Night's Dream, the lovers are represented as opposed to the authority of fatherhood. But here only evil is furtive and disharmonious: no antagonism mars the relationship of Prospero and Miranda, no selfish greediness or degrading haste distorts the courtship of Ferdinand and Miranda. In the brazen world of tragic reality, a Desdemona must hurt her father in order to please her lover, an Ophelia must hurt her lover in order to please her father; and Freud has spoken of these psychic facts as deep and fundamental wounds in human nature. In the Platonic opposites of the enchanted other realm of Prospero's island, however, even these age-old festerings are healed.

The masque confirms the deliberate and ceremonial dignity of these “two most rare affections,” and also perfumes the island with Arcadian evocations. The idea of contract is emphasized:

Come, temperate nymphs, and help to celebrate
A contract of true love; be not too late.


In the world of tragedy, Gertrude's selfish actions violate the meaning of contract: she commits “such a deed / As from the body of contraction plucks / The very soul, and sweet religion makes / A rhapsody of words” (Hamlet, 3.4.45-48). But comedy's aspiration, assisted here by religious parabolism, stresses the contractual dignity and lastingness of human society as symbolized by marriage. And the nymphs, along with the ancient goddesses, Iris, Ceres, and Juno, turn the play toward the classical matrix of the pastoral vision. The language of their pastoral evocation recovers once more the honeysuckle diction, gone so long from Shakespeare's art, that graces A Midsummer-Night's Dream:

Ceres, most bounteous lady, thy rich leas
Of wheat, rye, barley, vetches, oats, and pease;
Thy turfy mountains, where live nibbling sheep,
And flat meads thatch'd with stover, them to keep …
                                                                                the Queen o' th' sky,
Whose wat'ry arch and messenger am I,
Bids thee leave these; and with her sovereign grace,
Here on this grass-plot, in this very place,
To come and sport. …
Hail, many-coloured messenger, that ne'er
Dost disobey the wife of Jupiter;
Who, with thy saffron wings, upon my flow'rs
Diffusest honey drops, refreshing show'rs,
                                                                                … why hath thy Queen
Summon'd me hither to this short-grass'd green?
A contract of true love to celebrate. …


The images tumble out in pastoral profusion. In a consummate movement of dancing measures, comedy's coming together in marriage and pastoral's vision of an ideal environment merge with one another and are expressly hailed:

Honour, riches, marriage-blessing,
Long continuance, and increasing,
Hourly joys be still upon you!
Juno sings her blessings on you.
Earth's increase, foison plenty,
Barns and garners never empty,
Vines with clust'ring bunches growing,
Plants with goodly burden bowing;
Spring come to you at the farthest,
In the very end of harvest!
Scarcity and want shall shun you
Ceres' blessing so is on you.


The abundance poured forth from such a cornucopia of comic and pastoral benignity elicits from Ferdinand, as it must from all audiences everywhere, the judgment that “This is a most majestic vision, and / Harmonious charmingly” (4.1.118-19).

But the majestic moment cannot last. Prospero remembers “that foul conspiracy / Of the beast Caliban and his confederates,” and the “vision” fades and disappears like the masque, leading directly to Prospero's greatest speech:

This is strange; your father's in some passion
That works him strongly. …
You do look, my son, in a mov'd sort,
As if you were dismay'd; be cheerful, sir.
Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air;
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep. Sir, I am vex'd;
Bear with my weakness; my old brain is troubled;
Be not disturb'd with my infirmity.


This coincidentia oppositorum of human grandeur and human insignificance compresses the deepest paradox of man's existence into a burning focus of poetry. Coleridge once said that Shakespeare could achieve by dropping a handkerchief what Schiller could only approximate by burning up a whole town; to this we might add that in the words, “We are such stuff / As dreams are made on; and our little life / Is rounded with a sleep,” Shakespeare evokes the wonder, pathos, and mystery that Bossuet's orations and sermons require waves and organ tones of Baroque prose to communicate.

Prospero's great speech is full of opposed and blended meanings, which penetrate through the situation of the play into larger prospects beyond. Prospero, who seems dismayed, lightens his own dismay by a reflecting care for that of Ferdinand: “You do look, my son, in a mov'd sort, / As if you were dismay'd.” And his next utterance, “be cheerful, sir,” standing as a kind of absolute command and assurance, seems to counsel cheer not merely in the face of present dismay, but in the face of all experience of existence. It seems, indeed, to echo the mysterious words of Jesus: “be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). The statement, “Our revels now are ended,” speaks not only for the disappearance of the masque, but as has often been suggested, seems almost to be Shakespeare's own farewell to his career as a playwright, and even to his career on earth; and if the word “travails” be substituted for the word “revels”—a substitution that the evil portion of the play's action, as well as Prospero's past troubles, might seem to countenance—the meanings remain strangely unchanged: for in this play, and climactically in this passage, travails dissolve into revels, and revels into peace. The words, “this insubstantial pageant faded,” fuse in marvelous economy three realms: that of the spirit-masque within the play, that of the actual life of the theatre in which the man Shakespeare moved, and that of all human life everywhere. The diction of the whole speech diminishes and at the same moment elevates human aspirations: “the baseless fabric of this vision” is a statement of literal nihilism, but the words are of soaring affirmation. Words that indicate insubstantiality undermine but at the same time caress, the illusion of substantiality: “spirits,” “melted,” “air,” “thin air,” “baseless fabric,” “vision,” “dissolve,” “insubstantial,” “faded,” “dreams,” “sleep”—these are the units that combine to form the dreamy, airy mixture of exaltation and regret that characterizes the passage. By modifying the substantial “towers” with the insubstantial but elevated “cloud-capp'd,” the substantial is simultaneously made grander and dissipated.

And the concluding words, “Bear with my weakness; my old brain is troubled,” strangely contradict the established fact of Prospero's superhuman power. But they also render him, in his human frailty and age, somehow even more dignified and worthy of reverence than before. He descends from the isolated throne of power and rejoins, in the final meaning of comedy, the struggling family of humankind.

By doing so, he partakes of the dignity and pathos of that other old man, King Lear; the words, even, are almost the same. Purged alike of arrogance and madness, Lear says, “You must bear with me. / Pray you now, forget and forgive; I am old and foolish” (King Lear, 4.7.84-85). Divested alike of power and isolation—the two conditions of divinity—Prospero, in saying “Bear with my weakness; my old brain is troubled,” almost duplicates Lear's words and so for a pregnant moment abrogates the polar oppositions of comedy and tragedy.

Indeed, Shakespeare's crowning achievement in comedy, The Tempest, constantly recalls King Lear, his crowning achievement in tragedy. The relationships until now have seemed to be mostly those of contrast: the storm in The Tempest contrasts, as noted above, with the storm in Lear. Lear is pathetically powerless, while Prospero is omnipotent. Lear rejects Cordelia and scorns her marriage; Prospero's love for Miranda is never disturbed, and her marriage is not only approved but arranged by him. Lear stumbles about on a godless heath, while Prospero thrives on a lush island crowded with supernatural beings. But the similarities are what make the contrasts hold true: both plays have as their central figure an aged man; both plays emphasize the relationship of that aged man to a loved daughter; both plays explore the idea of human wrongs, especially familial wrongs perpetrated against reverend age.

Yet the figures of Lear and Prospero, coinciding in the moment of their recognition of age and weakness—of the need for mankind to bear with one another's infirmities—then begin to diverge. Drawn by the requirements of tragedy, Lear maintains his transcendent meanings in the face of death; and death it is that claims both Cordelia and Lear, as well as Goneril, Regan, Edmund, and Gloucester. The requirements of comedy, however, are different: Prospero does not die, although, having divested himself of divinity, his aged humanity is marked by the emphasis that “Every third thought shall be my grave” (5.1.311). Furthermore, The Tempest's new awareness is translated into a rebirth of social concord. Such concord is brought about by Prospero's forgiving the evil.

Throughout his comic work, Shakespeare has relied on the theological act of forgiveness to reclaim certain deviations too severe, or even criminal, to be laughingly dismissed as follies. Indeed, the theme is so pervasive that R. G. Hunter, in his Shakespeare and the Comedy of Forgiveness, has treated it as constituting a valid subgenre of Shakespeare's endeavor. As early as The Two Gentlemen of Verona, the near-criminal figure of Proteus is reclaimed by the device of forgiveness. And in both The Merchant of Venice and Measure for Measure the theological rationale of forgiveness and mercy is explicitly adduced. Portia utilizes the paradoxes of St. Paul:

The quality of mercy is not strain'd;
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven. …
'Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown. …
But mercy is above this sceptred sway; …
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God's
When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew,
Though justice be thy plea, consider this—
That in the course of justice none of us
Should see salvation; we do pray for mercy,
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy.

[The Merchant of Venice, 4.1.179-97]

And Isabella argues almost as does Anselm in his Cur Deus homo:

Why, all the souls that were were forfeit once;
And He that might the vantage best have took
Found out the remedy. How would you be
If He, which is the top of judgment, should
But judge you as you are? O, think on that;
And mercy then will breathe within your lips,
Like man new made.

[Measure for Measure, 2.2.73-79]

Such reasoning underlies Prospero's action of forgiveness; no such theological rationale, however, is overtly invoked to justify it. Indeed, rather as Christ, the Son of God, is referred to constantly in the gospels as the Son of Man, Prospero finds his reasons not in the divine analogy he shadows forth but in his participation in mankind:

Your charm so strongly works 'em
That if you beheld them your affections
Would become tender.
Dost thou think so, spirit?
Mine would, sir, were I human.
                                                                                                    And mine shall.

It is perhaps the most exquisite of the many wonderful moments in the play. Prospero continues:

Hast thou, which art but air, a touch, a feeling
Of their afflictions, and shall not myself,
One of their kind, that relish all as sharply,
Passion as they, be kindlier mov'd than thou art?
Though with their high wrongs I am struck to th' quick,
Yet with my nobler reason 'gainst my fury
Do I take part; the rarer action is
In virtue than in vengeance; they being penitent,
The sole drift of my purpose doth extend
Not a frown further. Go release them, Ariel;
My charms I'll break, their senses I'll restore,
And they shall be themselves.


In the all too human situations of Portia and Isabella, the rationale for forgiveness is argued upward: as man's attempt to imitate God's perfection. Prospero, conversely, already parabolically representative of the divine, argues downward, in terms of participation in humanity—of kindness arising from the sense of our kind—for that same mercy. And to confirm the argument, he follows the decision to forgive by, as it were, giving up his divine power and isolation:

                                                                                                                        I have bedimm'd
The noontide sun, call'd forth the mutinous winds,
And 'twixt the green sea and the azur'd vault
Set roaring war. To the dread rattling thunder
Have I given fire, and rifted Jove's stout oak
With his own bolt; the strong-bas'd promontory
Have I made shake. … But this rough magic
I here abjure; and, when I have requir'd
Some heavenly music—when even now I do—
To work mine end upon their senses that
This airy charm is for, I'll break my staff,
Bury it certain fathoms in the earth,
And deeper than did ever plummet sound
I'll drown my book.


Though the argument is different in its direction, the invocation of forgiveness fits the theological parabolism of The Tempest perfectly; indeed, mercy functions here more profoundly than it does in any other Shakespearean comedy. Its dramatic necessity is clear, for the “three men of sin,” like the “demi-devil” Caliban, are “unfit” for human society. Prospero says to Antonio:

You, brother mine, that entertain'd ambition,
Expell'd remorse and nature. … I do forgive thee,
Unnatural though thou art.


This is the most difficult act of forgiveness for Prospero, because Antonio, traitorous and murderous, is his own Claudius-like brother. Hence Antonio remains silent throughout the final act, except for two lines in response to the bedraggled entrance of Caliban and his confederates:

                                                                                Ha, ha!
What things are these, my Lord Antonio?
Will money buy 'em?
                                                                                Very like; one of them
Is a plain fish, and, no doubt, marketable.

But this brief and coarse exchange, so wonderfully in character for both speakers, is an invitation to the rebuked brother to join the new society, and also a sulky acceptance. To Sebastian Prospero says:

For you, most wicked sir, whom to call brother
Would even infect my mouth, I do forgive
Thy rankest fault—all of them. …


Less tainted than the others, Alonso complements the giving of grace by the asking of pardon:

Thy dukedom I resign, and do entreat
Thou pardon me my wrongs.


The dramatic necessity for forgiveness is clear, and so too is the positive affirmation of joy. Such an affirmation once before issued from a forgiving Shakespearean ruler. To reclaim the despicable Bertram in All's Well, his mother asks that he be forgiven:

                                                                                                    'Tis past, my liege;
And I beseech your Majesty to make it
Natural rebellion, done i' th' blaze of youth;
When oil and fire, too strong for reason's force,
O'erbears it and burns on.
                                                                                                    My honour'd lady,
I have forgiven and forgotten all;

[All's Well, 5.3.4-9]

And when Bertram himself then asks pardon, the King's answer conveys a sense of joy and restoration:

                                                                                                    All is whole;
Not one word more of the consumed time.
Let's take the instant by the forward top;
For we are old. …

[All's Well, 5.3.37-40]

The same joyous hushing of a troubled past pervades the forgiveness tendered by Prospero:

But, O, how oddly will it sound that I
Must ask my child forgiveness!
                                                                                                    There, sir, stop;
Let us not burden our remembrances with
A heaviness that's gone.


But the forgiveness of Prospero, though similar in tone to that of Bertram's king, is far more intricately connected with the whole meaning of its play than is the mercy offered in All's Well. For if forgiveness fits the dramatic requirements of the ultimate reconciliation in The Tempest, it also accords with the theological overtones of the play. Mercy, in Portia's words, is “an attribute to God himself.” That Prospero, the anthropomorphic figure of the divine, should offer it, is simply to authenticate his role as defined from the beginning of the drama. And that role channels the conclusion of The Tempest to a unique coalescence of the aims of comic reconciliation on the one hand, and the mysteries of religion on the other. Indeed, on the rarefied comic level to which The Tempest attains, religion no longer stands above comedy, but is actually its other face. As O. B. Hardison contends, in Christian Rite and Christian Drama in the Middle Ages, the Christian Mass itself “is comic in structure,” having “a joyful resolution,” exhibiting, as does The Tempest, “a movement from tristia to gaudium” (p. 83).

The final scene of this exalted play is bathed, therefore, in the unmistakable and specific language of religion. “A most high miracle,” says the formerly cynical Sebastian (5.1.177). “Holy Gonzalo, honourable man,” says Prospero in his greeting to his old friend (5.1.62). “Look down, you gods,” says Gonzalo, “And on this couple drop a blessed crown” (5.1.201-2). And Alonso blesses this blessing: “I say, Amen, Gonzalo!” (5.1.204). Then Alonso says, “Give me your hands. / Let grief and sorrow still embrace his heart / That doth not wish you joy!” (5.1.213-15). And Gonzalo in his turn speaks with sacred words: “Be it so. Amen!” (5.1.215).

So does this most holy of betrothals confirm the shared aims of comedy and religion. And so does the entirety of this most mysterious and elevated testament of Shakespeare's comic understanding, as it melts into the thin air of its conclusion, leave in our minds, as symbol of its unique gladness, the words of Gonzalo:

Was Milan thrust from Milan, that his issue
Should become Kings of Naples? O, rejoice
Beyond a common joy, and set it down
With gold on lasting pillars. …


For, set down in the golden harmonies of Shakespeare's language, upon the lasting pillars of his dramaturgic representations, The Tempest rejoices in a majestic vision of the final oneness of all comic, pastoral, and religious meanings.


  1. Purchas his Pilgrimes (Glasgow, 1905-7), 19:6-7.

  2. Ibid., pp. 8, 32.

  3. “In Search of Goethe from Within,” in The Dehumanization of Art: and Other Essays on Art, Culture, and Literature, trans. Helene Weyl (Princeton, 1968), pp. 145, 136-37.

Ronald B. Bond (essay date July 1978)

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Last Updated on February 4, 2016, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 5722

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 pastoral with its literary antecedents and its sometimes etiolated conventions to the sturdier form of romance, which, though no less traditional in some senses, carries with it the baggage of fewer associations and is thus a freer, less confined mode of the creative imagination.1 But despite these explanations of its pastoral elements, The Tempest remains a play revealing few of the topographical features of the pastoral landscape, few of the topoi of the pastoral genre. Ubi sunt? we might well ask, when trying to align the traditional view of the play as a species of pastoral with the characteristics of the pastoral mode. The atmosphere of the play impels us to ask where is innocence, where is the carefree, where the blissfully and unabashedly erotic? Where, on this “enchanted” island, is there freedom from the tyranny of Time? Where does Nature offer its bounty, unaided and unsolicited by man? True, the play does centre on a dislocation having some similarities with the movement from court to country in conventional pastoral; it does deal with exile and return, and thus corresponds to a pattern evident not just in As You Like It, A Midsummer Night's Dream, and other later plays, but in Virgil's eclogue book;2 it does manifest a concern with learning and purging that is a preoccupation of traditional pastoral, if we recognize the mode as providing cognitive as well as affective experience for those placed in a pastoral landscape or mindscape.3 But we sentimentalize the play if we attempt to foist upon the world entered by Alonso and his party or the world inhabited by Prospero and those in his charge many of the attributes peculiar to the “never-never” land of pastoral. When Northrop Frye identifies romance as a form “in which the themes of shipwreck, pirates, enchanted islands, magic, recognition, the loss and regaining of identity, occur constantly,” we see the macrocosmic literary world of which The Tempest is a part.4 No similar definition of pastoral can explain the radical impulse of the play.

That the province of pastoral in the play is carefully demarcated is suggested by Shakespeare's handling of the two most emphatically pastoral moments in it. Consider first Gonzalo's magnificent vision of the Golden Age in Act II. Taken from its context, the speech describes an ideal commonwealth, which is, in spite of Shakespeare's specific debt to Montaigne, traditional in most of its details. As Frank Kermode reminds us, however, the speech is “more appropriate to pastoral poetry which takes a ‘soft’ view of Nature” than it is to the play.5 It gains its effect by being such an obvious contrast to the island and to what, as far as the court party is concerned, is happening on it, and this effect is enhanced by the scoffs and jeers of Antonio and Sebastian, whose sardonic commentary cannot be discredited simply because they are discredited in the course of the action.6 We must see surely that Gonzalo's “merry fooling” while talking “nothing” to Alonso is simply an attempt to cheer him up and “to minister occasion” to those whose plight seems so uncompromising that it renders his artful fantasy absurd and pretentious. The second version of pastoral in the play is, of course, the masque of Iris, which no less than Gonzalo's speech is distinguished clearly from its surroundings. If the island seems almost a Paradise to Ferdinand when under the spell of this living drollery, it is a paradise soon to be lost: the revels end abruptly, and Prospero's art is elegiacally revealed as an epistemological and ontological vanity. Prospero, unlike Gonzalo, has the means to enact his fancies, but he too is brought to the realization that nothing gold can stay. Reality replaces reverie; labour supplants leisure.

The emphasis the play places on labour is, in fact, a major deviation from the pastoral tradition, which is informed by a contrast between otium and negotium. The retreat from normal existence—that is, existence full of care, work, business, and solicitude—is what makes the classical pastoral poets extol the irresponsible lot of the shepherd whose flocks seem always to tend themselves. When the protagonist of Virgil's first eclogue takes up his bucolic sojourn in exile, he encounters Tityrus living in otium so idyllic and so venerable that it appears to be the gift of a god.7 Similarly, Horace perceives the happy man as one who is far removed from the business of Rome: “Beatus ille qui procul negotiis / ut prisca gens mortalium” (Epodes, II, 1-2).8 As a formula often imitated, procul negotiis becomes a conspicuous detail in the pastoral mode. Thomas Lodge, to cite one of Shakespeare's contemporaries, expatiates thus on Horace:

Most happie blest the man that midst his countrie bowers
Without suspect of hate, or dread of envious tongue
May dwell among his owne: not dreading fortunes lowres
Farre from those publique plagues that mightie men hath stoong:
Whose libertie and peace is never sold for gaine,
Whose words do never sooth a wanton princes vaine.(9)

As K. W. Gransden has pointed out, moreover, classical otium involves more than a reaction against the turmoil of city life, for it actively promotes the virtues of carelessness and content with one's lot.10 This aspect of pastoral ease becomes important in Spenser's description of the hermit in Book VI of The Faerie Queene:

And weary of this worlds unquiet waies,
He tooke him selfe unto this hermitage,
In which he liv'd alone, like carelesse bird in cage.


A reiteration of the idea occurs later in Canto ix, when Melibee, Pastorella's father, tells his life's story to Calidore. The court forsaken, Melibee now lives in a bucolic paradise where “The litle that I have growes dayly more / Without my care” (VI.ix.21). As Calidore notes, he dwells

                                                                                                                                  at ease,
Leading a life so free and fortunate
From all the tempests of these worldly seas,
Which tosse the rest in daungerous disease.

(F.Q. VI.ix.19)

The purpose of introducing these connections between otium and the pastoral form is epitomized in Calidore's image for the life of negotium, that is, dis-ease. Most men, he says enviously, simply cannot remove themselves procul negotiis, “from all the tempests of these worldly seas.” When he himself tries to do so, his sojourn in the pastoral oasis of Melibee's kingdom becomes a shirking of his heroic quest, an abnegation of responsibility: in effect, a truancy.12 To submit to the charm of Gonzalo's speech or Iris' masque would be likewise a mistake, for The Tempest, as we can now infer from its title, is a play about work and civic engagement, about “all the tempests of these worldly seas, / Which tosse the rest in daungerous disease.”13

The dramatic impact of the first scene serves well as an introduction to this theme. Whether or not we regard the tempest itself as symbolic,14 what we see on stage is the intense activity which the storm generates among the boatswain and his men. The scene is full of urgency and imperatives, as the sailors attempt to surmount the difficulties imposed by the storm. The real tension, however, derives from the difference between the busy and the busybodies, the difference between those who perform their offices and those who are merely officious. When Alonso comes upon the hustling and bustling mariners, he does nothing but criticize: “Good boatswain, have care. Where's the master? Play the men” (I.i.9-10). Having seen the master, the boatswain, and the mariners join in trying to save the ship, we can only regard his reproofs as indelicately superogatory. “You mar our labour: keep your cabins: you do assist the storm,” snaps the boatswain to the meddling Antonio (ll. 13-14). If you “Work the peace of the presence, we will not hand a rope more” (ll. 22-23), he says to Gonzalo, chafing at the mixture of authority and inactivity in the counsellor. “Work you, then,” he exhorts Sebastian and Antonio, when they do nothing but curse at him. Consequently, the scene is more than a humorously realistic framing device for the wonderfully unreal events to follow; it is an image of activity, of men doing their proper duty. It is an image of negotium, where the real not the putative gubernator is in control.

We later learn, of course, that the storm itself is Prospero's doing, his “present business” (I.i.36). Indeed the play underscores over and over the fact of work in human existence and the necessity of action in achieving good ends. “Toil,” “take pains,” “work,” and “business” itself recur constantly, usually in conjunction with Prospero's endeavours.15 Rather than “fleet the time carelessly as they did in the golden world” (As You Like It I.i.110-11), Prospero spends time preciously (I.ii.240-41). According to Douglas L. Peterson, the tempest itself offers Prospero the opportunity to use time fruitfully. Destiny consorts with occasion to provide Prospero with a test of his ability to manage time, others, and himself. He does not fail the test, as did the idler Richard II, who learns too late that he had wasted time and now time wastes him. Instead, he is like Prince Hal, the man who casts off a life of ease and insouciance in order to redeem time. “In the course of the play,” says Peterson, “Prospero will recover what through his former negligence he has lost. He will also release time from its captivity through the vigorous prosecution of duty.”16

Prospero's negligence, his lack of solicitude for “worldly ends, all dedicated / To closeness and the bettering of my mind” (I.ii.89-90), is the error which precipitated his removal to the island. In relinquishing his civic duties, he had created in Milan a contemplative, careless, “pastoral” existence exclusively for himself; now on the island, he diligently employs the bookish learning that he had once used to divorce himself from reality to effect changes in the men under his aegis and to restore the rightful social order.17 His contemplative propensities subserve the greater task of redeeming others: he synthesizes gnosis with praxis, otium with negotium. When his project nears its end, he, like the similarly negligent Vincentio in Measure for Measure, returns fully to the worldly affairs he had earlier repudiated and even drowns his beloved book in a gesture of farewell not just to his art, but once and for all to the life of careless abandonment that had once made art possible. This gesture can perhaps be glossed by reference to Colin's decision at the end of the Shepheardes Calender to hang up his pipe and to Spenser's beginning The Faerie Queene, a poem whose end is virtuous action, with the displacement of oaten reeds by stern trumpets. The efficacy of Prospero's business and the success of his “industrious” servant, Ariel, enable Prospero to see the value of a selfless life committed to “worldly” affairs.

It might be objected that Prospero does not really work, that Shakespeare differentiates him from Caliban, Ariel, and Ferdinand, characters who get their hands dirty with varieties of manual labour. Harry Berger, in fact, in an extremely provocative reading of the play, has articulated this objection with considerable élan:

the ex-Duke of Milan has a fairly unhealthy attitude toward labor—toward good clean manual work. We hardly expect him, as an aristocrat, to wash his own dishes and light his own fires. But he seems to have an ethical as well as a practical and social aversion to labor: Caliban and Ferdinand do not simply do his chores for him; he makes it clear that they are doing it as punishment and as an ordeal of degradation. Work is the evil man's burden, and I find this cavalier attitude consonant with Prospero's general lack of interest in the active and common life, consonant also with his neoplatonic preference for the more refined labors of the contemplative life.18

At stake in accepting Berger's claim are two issues: whether Shakespeare's contemporaries would think enterprises of the mind inferior to “good clean manual work”—the lack of commas is suggestive of Berger's proletarian assumptions—and whether Prospero can legitimately be accused of subjecting Caliban and Ferdinand, not to mention Ariel, to demeaning and belittling tasks for his own unworthy gratification.

If we accept Berger's proposition that Prospero should be denigrated because he is not himself a “worker,” we have to dismiss the play's language for what he is doing; we have to forget Elizabethan concepts of the social order, where each has his status, each his appointed job to do; most important, we have to ignore the belief held by many of Shakespeare's contemporaries that mental activity is ethically as good as other kinds of work. The homilist “Against Idlenesse” maintains unequivocally, for instance, that since there are “divers sorts of labours, some of the mind, and some of the body, and some of both … whosoever doeth good to the commonwealth and societie of men with his industrie and labour … by what … meanes soever hee bee occupyed, so that a profit and benefit redound thereof unto others, the same person is not to be accounted idle.”19 Similarly, Lyly's Euphues proclaims that “if this active life be without philosophie, it is an idle life … if the contemplative lyfe be separated from the Active, it is unprofitable.”20 Prospero surely has rid himself of the tendency to separate his contemplative and active exertions: when the play begins, they are the same. If, as mage, he strikes some as godlike, it is partly because his actions are mindful and his mind is active. As Jove puts it in Giordano Bruno's Lo spaccio de la bestia trionfante,

the gods had given intellect and hands to man and had made him similar to them, giving him power over the other animals. This consists in his being able not only to operate according to his nature and to what is usual, but also to operate outside the laws of that nature, in order that by forming or being able to form other natures, other paths, other categories, with his intelligence, by means of that liberty without which he would not have the above-mentioned similarity, he would succeed in preserving himself as god of the earth. That nature certainly when it becomes idle will be frustrative and vain, just as are useless the eye that does not see and the hand that does not grasp. And for this reason Providence has determined that he be occupied in action by means of his hands, and in contemplation by means of his intellect, so that he will not contemplate without action and will not act without contemplation.21

The arduous activity that Prospero undertakes is certainly different from Caliban's or Ferdinand's, but it does not, as Berger suggests, smack of distaste for true work. Instead, it substantiates Prospero's rededication of himself to the offices of dukedom, as he allies art with civic duty.

Berger also concludes that Prospero degrades Caliban and Ferdinand by demanding they carry logs. This assertion pays scanty attention to the parodic elements in the play and to the patent contrast between Prospero's motivation in each case. Caliban is a slave not because Prospero wants him to be a slave, but because he is uneducable, because he tried to rape Miranda, because he is a threat to the commonweal, incapable as he is of acknowledging the differences between service and servitude. Were Prospero to allow Caliban the fulfillment of his desires, liberty would pluck justice by the nose and Prospero's reassertion of authority would become a mockery. Caliban's actions have proved that liberty in a savage nature unreformed by nurture is sheer license; his existence in the play betrays its “hard” primitivism.

When this carnal man complains about the penance Prospero sets for him, he merely corroborates what the “Homily Against Idlenesse” says about men of “sensuall affection”: “all labour and travaile is diligently avoyded, as a thing painefull and repugnant to the pleasure of the flesh.”22 Yet Prospero, the man of voluminous mind, must acknowledge this thing of darkness as his, if he is wisely to rule, if he is fully to dissociate himself from arrogant solitude. In other words, Prospero must learn from Caliban, just as he learns from Miranda and Ferdinand, and from Ariel. In each case, the knowledge gained represents an increase in Prospero's humanity: in Miranda and Ferdinand's delight with each other, he is impressed with an image of human spontaneity incompatible with his magical prescience (III.i.92-94); from Ariel's compassion for the distracted court party, he derives insight into his own passion, conceding that fury and vengeance have almost usurped the place “nobler reason” and “virtue” ought to occupy in him (V.i.23-28). But his final anagnorisis emerges from his realization that he has a bond with Caliban: at the end of the play when he acknowledges Caliban as his own, Prospero sees fully the extent of the ruler's responsibility for his subject, sees how head and foot are connected, and, most remarkably, sees that the subtle knot which makes him man is composed, in part, of darkness, the flesh, and mortality. Preparing for death (“Every third thought shall be my grave” [V.i.311]), Prospero sues at the end for freedom from fault and pardon from crime, just as Caliban, his version of an earthly paradise unattained, seeks for the grace which his depravity has resisted throughout the play. When Prospero “punishes” Caliban, then, he is not so much putting him through an ordeal of degradation as he is restraining and chastening the wilfullness which the wise ruler must quell in the body politic and the wise man must subdue in himself.

Ferdinand's task, on the other hand, is imposed upon him not as a penance for lusting after Miranda, but as a pledge of his love for her. The form of the pledge—submission to Prospero's wishes and to travail—reflects Prospero's revaluation of himself as ruler and of work as a necessary and useful pastime. He must make the “swift business” of their love “Uneasy” (I.ii.453-54) since he has learned to cherish negotium and since he sees its compatibility with goodness and happiness. Moreover, when Miranda makes Ferdinand's labours pleasures—when thoughts of her make the yoke easy and the burden light—we see a new and important concept entering the play. Work, however painful, becomes sport when done in the proper spirit, when done to promote love. The psychology of the play proclaims the transforming power of love and intellect; it celebrates the victory of mind over matter, of nomos over physis. The concord, therefore, which Prospero's efforts evoke is analogous to the love between Ferdinand and Miranda: their love anticipates the union of disparate factions in Act V (a union also figured in the meeting of earth and water, sprites and reapers, in the masque), when the commonwealth is joyfully restored and the orderly past, thought dead, is exhumed. Work and love, then, become surrogates for each other in the play, which seems virtually to conflate two Virgilian sententiae: “labor omnia vincit” (Georgics I) and “omnia vincit Amor” (Eclogues X).23

If Caliban's perturbing attitude toward work is an exception to this syndrome, so too are the excursions of Antonio and Sebastian, Stephano and Trinculo. These plots mirror each other of course, but they also parody the actions of Prospero. Antonio and Sebastian first conceive of usurpation when the other members of the court party fall asleep. On the one hand, this is a parody of seizing occasion by the forelock, as Prospero has done in trying to regain a position of lost authority; on the other, it is a parody of action, as opposed to sloth and idleness. “I'll teach you how to flow,” says Antonio. “Do so: to ebb / Hereditary sloth instructs me,” replies Sebastian (II.i.217-18). Thinking that the sleeping men—the idle men—are at their mercy, Antonio and Sebastian conjure up empires predicated on hatred and murder, not love. In trying to gain what is not rightfully theirs, moreover, they are the true idlers: engaged in vain and trifling activity, they correspond to the men in Bruno's Lo spaccio who confirm “that in the house of Leisure there is leisure as regards active life” and whose work is castigated by Sophia as “those busy idlenesses that have thrown the world into greater troubles and travails than any employment could ever have done.”24 Along with Alonso, who is in fact guilty of usurpation, these men of sin contribute nothing “to the commonwealth and society of men with their industrie and labour.” Rather, they act like the busybodies described by St. Paul and scorned by the homilist, the busybodies who try to partake of other men's banquets, but shall be denied:

S. Paul hearing that among the Thessalonians, there were certaine that lived dissolutely and out of order, that is to say, which did not worke, but wer busibodies: not getting their owne living with their owne travaile, but eating other mens bread of free cost, did command the said Thessalonians not onely to withdraw themselves, and abstaine from the familiar company of such inordinate persons, but also that if there were any such among them that would not labour, the same should not eate, nor have any living at other mens hands.25

When Ariel removes the banquet from the schemers, their forced abstention is nicely ironic and entirely appropriate.

Stephano and Trinculo in the company of Caliban are also busybodies.26 They serve the belly-gods, not Prospero; they struggle manfully to carry the bottle, not wood. Idlers in their work, they are least busy when they attempt to oust Prospero from his appointed place as ruler. Like the banquet that is prepared for the court party, the distractions offered them are apposite to their condition. The foul lake, the “filthy-mantled pool” (IV.i.182) in which Ariel plunges them for a time, is an icon for their sloth and their unworthy business: it is akin to Spenser's Idle Lake, that “griesy,” “sluggish sourse,” “thicke as troubled mire”; it is reminiscent of the swamp of Styx, that region of hell where Dante places the indolent.27 Similarly, the frippery which even Caliban recognizes as an impediment to business is an inducement to and corroboration of their idleness. As Dame Ydelnesse says in Lydgate's Pilgrimage, one of her duties is to

Studye ffor to ffynde off newe
Devyses mad off many an hewe,
ffolk to make hem fresh & gay
And hem dysguyse in ther array:
Thys myn offys, yer by yere.

(II. 11667-71).28

Stephano, Trinculo, and Caliban leave the stage at the end of Act IV pursued by spiritual hounds and struggling under the encumbrance of their new-found wardrobe in striking visual contrast to Ferdinand, the man we have last seen with a burden, a burden made light by love.

In Act V, as Prospero announces at the outset, the “project gathers to a head”: labours end, and burdens are cast off as “time / Goes upright with his carriage” (V.i.3).29 The painful, careful exertions of Prospero, the negotium which he has avoided only during the wedding masque, yield finally to otium, as Prospero rests himself content (V.i.144), and “to content” Alonso shows him Ferdinand and Miranda not at work, but at recreation, love having reduced wrangling for kingdoms to a matter of inconsequence. Even the business of remembering, in which Ariel had occupied Alonso and his colleagues, is a burden no longer necessary: “Let us not burthen our remembrance with / A heaviness that's gone” (V.i.199-200). The holiday won by the reapers who come to the nuptials of Ferdinand and Miranda has been strenuously earned, and so too has the holiday won by Prospero, who will waste some time that night and anticipates other moments of picked leisure. His work has been successful; he has created the otium which, according to Cicero, it is the duty of principes optimatium to create, “‘public tranquillity born of an undisturbed political order.’” an otium associated not with pastoral ease, but with pax and concordia.30

Although The Tempest is a play replete with humour and imbued with marvellous equivocation about states of dreaming, the nature of Prospero's magic, and the allegorical possibilities of Caliban and Ariel, its airy edifice rests on the foundation of civic duty and social responsibility. The Virginia pamphlets were unanimous in decrying “the difficulties experienced in setting up a colony in Virginia as due to ‘dissension and ambition’ among the leaders and ‘the Idlenesse and bestial slouth of the common sort,’”31 and Shakespeare's emphasis on toil in the play may reflect the influence of the pamphlets on him. But it is also possible that he wanted, without writing an overtly Christian play, to give dramatic expression to the medieval idea that work is a virtue, antidote to one of the Deadly Sins—an idea resurrected during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries by incipient Christian “capitalists,” with their emphasis on vocation and calling in a sanctified life.32 When Harry Levin observes that some sixteenth-century commentators on the Golden Age accommodated work in that paradise, envisioning the sweat of man's brow as a sign of virtue, his effort less a curse than a token of the felix culpa, he provides the only context conceivable for viewing The Tempest as a “pastoral” romance.33 For Shakespeare calls upon us to view human experience from a post-lapsarian perspective, although the vehicle for this call is a singularly secular scripture, and he virtually demands that we share the realization of Milton's Adam:

                                                                                          On mee the Curse aslope
Glanc'd on the ground, with labor I must earn
My bread; what harm? Idleness had been worse;
My labor will sustain me.

(P.L., X, 1053-56).34

The Tempest, then, tempers the facile sentimentalism of ancient pastoral with the puritanical conviction that sloth is sinful, and exults not in the pleasures accruing to otium, but in the satisfactions of tasks well done. It is a play which, however wonderful, is set in a workaday world full of briars; however strange, exotic, and dreamlike, it fronts unflinchingly “all the tempests of these worldly seas, / Which tosse the rest in daungerous disease.”


  1. See Thomas McFarland, Shakespeare's Pastoral Comedy (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1972) and David Young, The Heart's Forest: A Study of Shakespeare's Pastoral Plays (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1972). These works, which take up the lead supplied by Edwin Greenlaw, “Shakespeare's Pastorals,” SP, 12 (1916), 112-54, have assimilated the ideas of important twentieth-century commentators on pastoral, notably Empson and Poggioli. Both McFarland and Young, however, while recognizing Shakespeare's affinities to Sidney and Greene and to writers of Greek romance such as Longus and Heliodorus, set his plays occasionally in the broader context of Renaissance pastoral poetry. This context stems, of course, from Virgil and Theocritus, and flowers during the Renaissance in Mantuan, Barclay, and Spenser. We do not need Polonius to remind us that hybrid forms existed, but we should be wary, as this article suggests, of too easily grafting distinct traditions: pastoral romance and pastoral poetry. Pastoral drama is indebted almost exclusively to the first, while the Sixth Book of The Faerie Queene is a true hybrid—pastoral poetry indebted to pastoral romance.

  2. Young says that the striking feature of Shakespeare's pastoral plays is “a story concerned with the exile of some of its central characters into a natural setting, their sojourn in that setting, and their eventual return” (p. 27).

  3. As Eleanor Winsor Leach asserts, after reviewing criticism on pastoral since Empson, “we have moved from a theory that was almost entirely emotional, or affective, to one that is highly cognitive.” See Vergil's ‘Eclogues’: Landscapes of Experience (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1974), p. 33.

  4. Northrop Frye, The Secular Scripture: A Study of the Structure of Romance (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1976), p. 15.

  5. Frank Kermode, ed., The Tempest, Arden Edition (London: Methuen, 1964), pp. xxxvii-xxxviii. Arden Editions are used throughout for quotations from the plays.

  6. While it may, as Kermode says, be “over-simple to assume that [Gonzalo's] perennial theme is destroyed by the cheap jeers of Antonio and Sebastian” (p. xxxviii), it is equally simplistic to assume that our response to his vision is unaffected by them. On the dramatic balance here achieved by Shakespeare, see James Smith's Shakespearian and Other Essays ([Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1974], p. 255). McFarland, apparently uncomfortable with the fact that Gonzalo's speech does not ring true, distinguishes the “pastoral” projection of the play from the “utopian” projection of Gonzalo's speech (p. 43). If useful at all, these designations, it seems to me, should be reversed.

  7. Michael Putnam points out the importance of Tityrus' god-given leisure in Virgil's Pastoral Art: Studies in the Eclogues (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1970), p. 25.

  8. In The Myth of the Golden Age in the Renaissance (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1972), Harry Levin emphasizes the sentimental artifice of this quotation and claims that the paradoxically urbane attitude it promulgates is characteristic of the pastoral impulse (pp. 5-7).

  9. “In Praise of the Countrey Life,” one of the poems in Scillaes Metamorphoses; see Thomas Lodge, The Complete Works, ed. Edmund Gosse (1883; rpt. New York: Russell and Russell, 1963), I, 34.

  10. K. W. Gransden, “The Pastoral Alternative,” Arethusa, 3 (1970), 105.

  11. The text used is The Complete Poetical Works of Spenser, ed. R. E. N. Dodge (Cambridge, Mass.: Houghton Mifflin, 1936).

  12. Although critics are divided on the significance of Calidore's pastoral interlude, two are particularly effective in demonstrating that he forsakes his knightly duty while staying with Pastorella: J. C. Maxwell, “The Truancy of Calidore,” ELH, 19 (1952), 143-49, and Richard Neuse, “Book VI as Conclusion to the Faerie Queene,ELH, 35 (1968), 329-53.

  13. Note that the pun on “rest” sharpens the dichotomy between otium and negotium in these lines.

  14. G. Wilson Knight's contention that tempests in Shakespeare are fraught with symbolic nuances has been recently reaffirmed by Douglas L. Peterson, who specifies what many of these meanings are in Time, Tide and Tempest: A Study of Shakespeare's Romances (San Marino: Huntington Library, 1973), passim.

  15. For a short list of references confirming this statement, see Tempest I.i.135-37; I.ii.238; I.ii.255; I.ii.317; I.ii.356; I.ii.368-69; I.ii.409; I.ii.453-55; III.i.94-96; IV.i.34; IV.i.189-90; IV.i.263; V.i.52-53. Throughout the play, “business” is to be understood in part as “busyness.”

  16. Peterson, p. 223.

  17. The reclamation of a lost kingdom in The Tempest, a reclamation parodied in Caliban's abortive insurgence against Prospero, is a theme that shows Shakespeare's continuing interest in issues handled in Measure for Measure, the history plays, and several of the tragedies.

  18. Harry Berger, “Miraculous Harp: A Reading of Shakespeare's Tempest,Shakespeare Studies, 5 (1969), 257.

  19. Certaine Sermons or Homilies, introd. Mary Ellen Rickey and Thomas B. Stroup (1623; facsimile rpt. Gainesville: Scholars' Facsimiles & Reprints, 1968), p. 250.

  20. Quoted by Frank Davidson, “The Tempest: An Interpretation,” in Shakespeare, ‘The Tempest’: A Casebook, ed. D. J. Palmer (London: Macmillan, 1968), p. 216.

  21. Giordano Bruno, Lo spaccio de la bestia trionfante, trans. Arthur D. Imerti (New Brunswick, N. J.: Rutgers Univ. Press, 1964), p. 205. Although Bruno's biographer, Vincenzo Spampanato, may be wrong in thinking Shakespeare had read Bruno, it is certain that Bruno, friend of Sidney and Greville, had an audience in England. Lo spaccio is dedicated to Sidney.

  22. Certaine Sermons, p. 249.

  23. As recorded here, the phrase from the Georgics perpetuates a textual corruption commonplace in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. The phrase should read “labor omnia vicit.”

  24. Bruno, Lo spaccio, pp. 210 and 214.

  25. Certaine Sermons, p. 250. Gonzalo urges the others to eat with his conscience clear because he is not one of the “three men of sin.” As R. G. Hunter remarks, “what occurs when the sinners approach the banquet is not the capitulation of weak men to the blandishments of sensuality, but the prevention of unworthy men from partaking of good things.” See Shakespeare and the Comedy of Forgiveness (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1965), p. 234.

  26. Corin, from As You Like It, is a revealing contrast to the group composed of Antonio, Sebastian, Caliban, Stephano, and Trinculo: “Sir, I am a true laborer; I earn that I eat, get that I wear, owe no man's hate, envy no man's happiness, glad of other men's good, content with my harm” (III.ii.69-71).

  27. The Faerie Queene, and 20; Inferno, VII, 121-24. On the latter, see Siegfried Wenzel, The Sin of Sloth: Acedia in Medieval Thought and Literature (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1967), pp. 200-202.

  28. Quoted by Wenzel, p. 153.

  29. The play has gained that repose which King Lear is seeking when he divests himself of his kingship, hoping to “Unburdened crawl toward death.” It is significant that Lear's burdens become heavier the moment he repudiates his duty, whereas Prospero's become lighter as he re-establishes his mandate as ruler.

  30. Cicero, Pro Sestio, pp. 96 ff. See Chaim Wirszubski, “Cicero's cum dignitate otium: A Reconsideration,” Journal of Roman Studies, 44 (1954), 1-13, and Putnam, p. 75. When Putnam defines Ciceroniam otium as “the order requisite for happiness, the subtraction of guile and innocence from the world, the unification of opposites, and the harmonization of all elements of nature” (p. 184), he provides unwittingly a splendid summary of The Tempest's dénouement and Prospero's achievement.

  31. See Geoffrey Bullough, ed., Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1975), VIII, 238.

  32. Wenzel demonstrates that “toward the end of the Middle Ages the sin of acedia came to include failure in the performance of worldly duties and activities” (p. 91); earlier, acedia had referred almost exclusively to spiritual lassitude. For modern enquiry into Tawney's contention that protestantism was the seminary of the capitalist ethic and for excerpts from some relevant texts, see Capitalism and the Reformation, ed. M. J. Kitch (London: Longman, 1969).

  33. Alexander Barclay and Antonio de Guevara are two of the writers cited by Levin, pp. 29-30.

  34. John Milton, Complete Poems and Major Prose, ed. Merritt Y. Hughes (New York: Odyssey Press, 1957).

Richard Studing (essay date 1982)

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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, dances, rustic foolery, and rustic lovemaking, has often been idealized as an Arcadia, an Eden of love, friendship, and good will. Edwin Greenlaw considers it to be “the most exquisite and satisfying pastoral in Elizabethan literature.” Much in the same spirit, G. Wilson Knight believes the Pastoral Scene “sums up and surpasses all Shakespeare's earlier poetry of pastoral and romance.”1

More specifically, much consideration has been given to the simple nobility and virtue of country life, which are thought to outshine vigorously the woe and destruction bred in Sicilia's court. The natural piety and conduct of the old Shepherd and his son, for instance, have been singled out as somewhat naive but nevertheless virtuous exempla eclipsing the uncharitable deeds committed by King Leontes. Perdita has been frequently cited as the most profound symbol and promise of rebirth in the pastoral world. She is looked upon as a fertility goddess who, along with the movements of nature, will bring the spring of new life out of the wintry barrenness ushered in by Leontes' passion. Perdita's frank, innocent relationship with Florizel, contrasted with the sinfully infected love of her parents, is viewed as further assurance that her symbolic role will be fulfilled spontaneously and naturally. Moreover, because of her noble birth and country nurture, Perdita is thought of as the natural bond between Sicilia and Bohemia. Therefore, she is seen as an integral part of the court-country theme, symbolizing the union of the two kingdoms. Florizel, too, is said to take on mythic qualities that complement Perdita's symbolic stature. He is associated with the folklore figure of the lover prince who possesses the innate ability to recognize immediately the real character of his rustic queen. And he is, in the words of S. L. Bethell, prepared “to sacrifice royalty for love.”2

However, this highly idealized approach praising the prettiness, congeniality, and morality of Shakespeare's pastoral is only one side of the story. And, in actuality, not a very strong side at that. It is true, as Philip M. Weinstein suggested, that in this scene Shakespeare has departed far from pastoral conventions and that the realism of the scene exposes the inadequacy of the idealism it attempts to convey.3 But what of pastoral convention and realism in The Winter's Tale—how do they work? I suggest that the pastoral mode is really used not as convention but, rather, as a vehicle to develop and forward the story. It is convention only in that it serves as a traditional scenic contrast to life at court. Act IV, Scene iv can be viewed as antipastoral in that the pastoral tradition (including realism) is subordinated to and submerged in dramatic exigency. Instead of pastoral convention or conventions, we have pastoral devices that function to mirror courtly values and echo Leontes' sinful passion. Especially in context of the first three acts of the play, the situations of pastoralism often cast a negative aura on country life.

In the structure of The Winter's Tale, no one and no place are exempt from the passion of “that fatal country Sicilia.” In Bohemia, Polixenes is overcome by an egocentric, tyrannic passion akin to Leontes'. Perdita endures a fate similar to Queen Hermione's when Polixenes learns of her relationship with Florizel, and like the Queen, she is forced to flee royal wrath. Florizel's departure from paternal tyranny parallels the death of Mamillius who, unlike his counterpart, did not possess the years nor the strength to survive his overwhelmingly tragic environment. The shepherds, too, by succumbing to the riches of court are victims of Sicilia's corruption. These and other “pastoral” echoes and reflections of courtly life cannot be ignored. The general pastoral formula of posing a serious “value-contrast” between the pastoral world and another kind of society does not work out satisfactorily in the drama.4 The objective of my essay is to examine the pastoral scenes of the play in light of their dramatic value, with particular reference to structure and theme, and to show, as Harold Jenkins says of As You Like It, that “In city or country, all ways of life are at bottom the same.”5

The immediate connection between Leontes and the Bohemian countryside occurs in the first time sequence of the play with the appearance of the Shepherd in Act III, Scene iii, just after Antigonus has exposed the infant Perdita to the elements and he is pursued and destroyed by the bear. The Shepherd's opening lines (59-67)6 before discovering Perdita are revealing:

I would there were no age between ten and three-and-twenty, or that youth would sleep out the rest; for there is nothing in the between but getting wenches with child, wronging the ancientry, stealing, fighting—Hark you now! Would any but these boiled-brains of nineteen and two-and-twenty hunt this weather? They have scared away two of my best sheep, which I fear the wolf will sooner find than the master.

Suggestively, the references to “youth,” “getting wenches with child,” “stealing,” and “fighting” point to the complexities of the Leontes-Polixenes conflict. In this context, “wronging the ancientry” recalls Leontes' violation of kingship by his tyrannic impositions on his aged counselor, Camillo, and, for that matter, the entire court. Even the plight of the Shepherd's two best sheep, who have been scared away and are now lost and liable prey for the wolf, brings to mind Leontes' treatment of Mamillius and Perdita;7 at the same time, it forecasts the oncoming danger of Florizel and Perdita at the hands of Polixenes. When the Shepherd finds the deserted infant, he gives an accurate appraisal of the situation: “This has been some stair-work, some trunk-work, some behind-door work” (III.iii.73-75). The Shepherd's remarks are reflective of past action: the jealous suspicions of Leontes; his devious plot for revenge; the escape of Polixenes and Camillo; the abandonment of Perdita; and retrospectively, they suggest Paulina's grand clandestine plan of Hermione's concealment. In a contracted statement, the Shepherd has recapitulated, by indirection, the core of events of the first three acts. But the emphatic warning of the antipastoralism of the Bohemian setting comes when the Shepherd, joined by the Clown, discovers the “bearing-cloth” accompanying the infant. Here we learn that rural Bohemia is a fallen world, “a world of corruption” that will live “out an immense fraud.”8 The optimistic and humanitarian aspect of the discovery of the founding, which is often referred to, is clouded by an excessive concern with “fairy gold”: “look thee here; take up, take up, boy; open't. So, let's see: it was told me I should be rich by the fairies” (III.iii.115-16). Furthermore, the Shepherd discards his lost sheep, the staple and symbol of pastoral life, in favor of rushing off to the cottage with the riches of court: “Let my sheep go: come, good boy, the next way home” (III.iii.124-25). From this point on, the corrupted pastoral becomes a dominant theme in Act IV.

Like Act III, Scene iii, the first two scenes of the fourth act are transitional; although Act IV, Scene i is a bridge and introduction to the pastoral world in the drama's new time sequence and Act IV, Scene ii actually begins that sequence. The awkwardly structured first scene does, in its own way, look forward to new action, and it reflects on activities during the sixteen-year time lapse as well. In his cryptic manner, Time says that he tries “all” with “both joy and terror / Of good and bad, that makes and unfolds error” (IV.i.1-2). Time has already tried Leontes, the breeder of error, and in consequence the innocent Mamillius has been taken by the scythe of death. Right at the moment of Time's appearance, both Leontes and Hermione are suffering in reclusive existence, deprived of the fruits of marriage. Also, Time's speech can be directed at Bohemia: the country swains who get “wenches with child,” the shepherds enthralled by wealth, and the future tyrannic outbursts of Polixenes, for example. Of course, Time does, by spanning “that wide gap,” fulfill his obligation by telling us of Leontes' penitential seclusion, bringing us to “fair Bohemia,” and informing us of the status and maturity of Perdita.

Besides placing us in the new time sequence in Bohemia, Act IV, Scene ii has an expository function. And, concomitantly, the scene echoes some of the themes we have previously encountered, giving dramatic coherence to the play in spite of the time gap. As exposition, both Polixenes and Camillo declare, and certainly with much emphasis, that Florizel (recalling Prince Hal) is delinquent from his filial and princely obligations and that he is involved with “a most homely shepherd” who has “a daughter of most rare note” (IV.ii.39, 42-43); this naturally introduces the Florizel-Perdita episodes to come. Dramatically, the delinquency of Florizel is a restatement of the theme of separation between parent and offspring. On the level of romance, Florizel's absence and involvement in “happier affairs” are neatly explained by his mythic role of the lover prince who pursues the disguised princess, wins her, flees with her from parental opposition, and after much complication attains felicity. However, this explanation oversimplifies and perhaps confuses the more complex structure of the play. For Polixenes must, out of dramatic necessity, enact the part of tyrant in order to generate the drama to resolution in Sicilia. As shown in the sheep-shearing scene, Polixenes' attack on Florizel and Perdita is closer to the tyranny of Leontes than the conventional senex figure of New Comedy. Thus, the restatement of the separation theme in Florizel's absence from court should be considered in the same light as the Leontes-Mamillius and Leontes-Perdita relationships. Finally, Act IV, Scene ii emphasizes rustic wealth. We are informed that the Shepherd has assumed courtly values and risen to high estate in rural Bohemia. Polixenes himself is astonished when he speaks of a “man, they say, that from very nothing, and beyond the imagination of his neighbours, is grown into an unspeakable estate” (IV.ii.39-41). Structurally, the ornamented rusticity of the Shepherd's cottage becomes the focal point of the main action and complication of Act IV, and therefore attracts and gathers the principal characters for movement back to Sicilia and denoument of the play at Leontes' court.

Critics have considered Act IV, Scene iii a bridge to the sheep-shearing festival and observed that, by means of farce, this scene affords the playwright an opportunity to introduce Autolycus into his dramatic scheme. Aside from its excellent farce, the scene, because of its comic sophistication, becomes an ironic commentary on the characters and situations in the play. Indeed, when Autolycus enters the rustic world, he dupes and even robs the gullible Clown in what has been said to be a parody of the Good Samaritan Parable; but Autolycus does not enter a world of innocence. In view of his hilarious comic spirit and genial corruption, the rogue has been associated with Falstaff and called the Lord of Misrule of The Winter's Tale. Virtually, misrule has governed the drama long before his arrival. It might be said that Autolycus, like the old Shepherd, is a realist who, as best he can and in the only way he can, takes advantage of what opportunity offers him.

Autolycus' opening lines, including his two songs, establish him as a linking character between court and country. From the bits of information concerning his history, we see that he is another embodiment of courtly sophistication and corruption invading the Bohemian countryside; this time the corruption comes from the quarter of Polixenes' court. We hear, for instance, that Autolycus is an ex-courtier who has fallen from court favor and degenerated to the ranks of thievery and roguery. Now, he tells us, he is “out of service” (IV.iii.14) and has been “whipped out of court” (IV.iii.87)—undoubtedly because of vice. The most startling thing is that he was in the service of Florizel, and we wonder if the prince ousted the rogue. This, of course, relates Autolycus to Polixenes and Camillo and even the infant Perdita, all of whom have been, so to speak, whipped out of the Sicilian court by Leontes. Surely, Florizel can be added to this consort when he leaves his father's court for the refreshing affairs of the country. Very clearly, Bohemia and its rural regions have become a haven for exiles and outcasts.

The comic encounter of Autolycus and the Clown at lines 32-120 obviously prepares us for the climax of Act IV at the country festival. More than this, it brings to the foreground a variation on the theme of rustic wealth. On his appearance, the Clown is engrossed and preoccupied with an extraordinary list of items which Perdita desires for the celebration: sugar, “five pound of currants, rice … saffron to colour the warden pies,” and spices. To augment this fantastic list, an extravagant musical entertainment is planned. The Clown, not as dull-witted as we might imagine, is quick to remark that his sister “lays it on” (IV.iii.40). This excessive, if not ostentatious, show of finery tightens the bond between court and country even more.

Act IV, Scene iv, with its festive splendor and colorful spectacle, comes closer to courtly grandeur and extravagance than to the rustic simplicity of a rural feast.9 The elaborate preparations, dances, songs, and performers, three of whom, we are told, “hath danced before the king” (IV.iv.337-38), indeed, give the impression that rusticity has been overwhelmed by aristocratic artifice. In fact, the natural world has been so converted that Florizel succumbs to its seductiveness by calling it “a meeting of the petty gods.” The artificiality of the sheep-shearing scene is extended to the characters, who, like performers in a play within a play, act out their roles in disguises and false identities. Perdita is the glorious queen allied with Flora, “Most goddess-like prank'd up,” and Florizel is her lowly swain. Polixenes and Camillo, too, play their parts as disguised mock visitors. As the prince states, the gods have undergone a metamorphosis: they “have taken / The shapes of beasts upon them” (IV.iv.26-27). Autolycus' singing entrance with his pack of disguises and cosmetics is a comic remark on the whole situation. Later, Autolycus and Florizel switch costumes, and the old Shepherd and Clown are transmuted into courtiers in the final act.

The conscious artifice of the festival and Perdita's prominent role as its queen incite us to believe that the Shepherd has designed this feast for the sake of Florizel—to impress and enchant him. For Perdita is well aware of his royal station and the Shepherd knows him “To have a worthy feeding” (IV.iv.171) and offers to match Florizel's “portion” with an equal dowry for his daughter (IV.iv.385-87). Perdita herself displays élan and a great seductive power. Her rustic beauty not only wins the adoration of the prince, but it also charms Polixenes and Camillo. Camillo, after receiving flowers from her, says:

I should leave grazing, were I of your flock,
And only live by gazing.


And Polixenes is taken with this “prettiest low-born lass” that “smacks of something greater than herself, / Too noble for this place” (IV.iv.156, 158-59). Florizel is intoxicated by the loveliness of Perdita, and he is caught up in the movement and sweep of festival. Although the “year [is] growing ancient” (IV.iv.79), the prince views his queen as “Flora / Peering in April's front” (IV.iv.2-3). Most certainly, she is his goddess, and for her, he, like a Proteus, transforms and humbles himself as an obscure swain.

There has been a good deal of commentary on the art-nature “debate” between Perdita and Polixenes (ll. 79-103) and its relationship to Renaissance theories of art. The center of the various critical discussions of the “debate” has been the contrast of Perdita's argument favoring the purity of nature over the false, mimetic quality of art, and Polixenes' belief that art improves nature. Moreover, it has been recognized that there is irony in Polixenes' position. In opposing the union of Florizel (“gentler scion”) and Perdita (“wildest stock”), he contradicts the application of his own theory to produce a “nobler stock” by means of grafting. The irony is much deeper and dramatically organic than this, because it strikes at the heart and foundation of the fusion of court and country. Considering Polixenes' viewpoint, and he is not aware of it, the values and artifice of courtly life have already been fused or grafted with the “wildest stock” of Bohemia. Later in the scene, to cite another instance, we witness the country girls, Mopsa and Dorcas, hovering about Autolycus' wares of “Masks for faces,” necklaces, and “Perfume for a lady's chamber” (IV.iv.223-25); the maidens are eager to embrace the sophistication of the city. When Perdita says to Polixenes:

                    … the fairest flowers o' th' season
Are our carnations and streak'd gillyvors,
Which some call nature's bastards: of that kind
Our rustic garden's barren; and I care not
To get slips of them


she, as rustic goddess and queen, somewhat violates her own argument. Like the flowers she finds distasteful, Perdita is herself a misfit, who stands out radiantly and extraordinarily in her environment. Perdita realizes her behavior and attire exceed her position and expresses this self-consciously on two occasions: first to Florizel,

                                                                                                                                            Your high self,
The gracious mark o' th' land, you have obscur'd
With a swain's wearing, and me, poor lowly maid,
Most goddess-like prank'd up


and, again, after Polixenes' rage, when she will “queen it no inch farther, / But milk [her] ewes, and weep” (IV.iv.450-51). What she does not realize, however, is that, in her desire to consummate her love for Florizel in marriage, she is taking Polixenes' stand in the “debate”; both she and the prince are attempting to complete the grafting process suggested by Polixenes. At this point, neither lover is aware of Perdita's royal birth.

From the “debate” up to Polixenes' tyrannic destruction of the feast at lines 419-42, the pagan, festive tempo of the scene increases: music, dance, love, and sensual rhetoric are highlighted. Once again, we are reminded that the Bohemian festival has become a spectacle far beyond the compass of rural pleasure. Perdita, who has been transformed from goddess and queen to an innocent flower maiden, now assumes the role of a risqué May Queen. In an enticing rhapsody, she praises the joys of sexual fulfillment and is aggressive in her display of love to her prince. Reminiscent of the poetry of Herrick, Perdita laments the growing maidenheads of youth and the fact that she has no “flowers o' th' spring”—flowers that symbolize fertility and youthful potency—for either Florizel or the rustic maidens. And in sexual language, she recalls Juno, Cytherea, and the flowers of the early year:

                                                                                … pale primroses,
That die unmarried, ere they can behold
Bright Phoebus in his strength (a malady
Most incident to maids).


Perdita's expression of love overpowers Florizel: she would “strew him o'er and o'er” with garlands and flowers “like a bank, for love to lie and play on” (IV.iv.129-30), and would have him “quick, and in [her] arms” (l. 132). Her direct erotic statements and Florizel's enthusiastic response:

                                                            When you speak, sweet,
I'd have you do it ever: when you sing,
I'd have you buy and sell so, so give alms,
Pray so, and, for the ord'ring your affairs,
To sing them too: when you do dance, I wish you
A wave o' th' sea, that you might ever do
Nothing but that, move still, still so,
And own no other function


culminate in a dance of shepherds and shepherdesses, a dance of fertility symbolizing their sexual union.

Following this entertainment and the songs of Autolycus and the rustic girls, a group of carters, shepherds, neatherds, and swineherds enters disguised as “men of hair” to perform a dance of twelve satyrs. Beyond its contribution to the festive spirit of the scene, this dance, too, has significance. Traditionally, the satyr figure, with its lascivious nature and repulsive aspect, represented disruption of order and the basic struggle between the two parts of man: body and spirit. Regarding theme and motif, the appearance of the satyrs embodies and amalgamates all the overt and suggestive expressions of lust and bawdy which have appeared in the drama up to now. As we know, lust first originated as a germ in the fantasy and diseased psyche of Leontes. It was then manifested in his dream of jealousy and unfounded bawdy rhetoric, and it has appeared intermittently ever since. Perhaps it is dramatically appropriate to conjure up, in this extremely histrionic fashion, the play's motif and link the satyr figure to Leontes. In connection with the Bohemian countryside, the dance of the satyrs is further indication of the imposition of court on country. The dance itself is a property of court values and entertainment,10 and it is King Polixenes who, with gusto, welcomes the wild dancers: “You weary those that refresh us: pray, let's see these four threes of herdsmen” (IV.iv.335-36). Dramatically, the dance signals the destruction of the feast and the attempted destruction of the love of Florizel and Perdita. Immediately after the dance, Polixenes states to Camillo: “Is it not too far gone? 'Tis time to part them” (l. 345), a preface to his reenactment of Leontes' tyranny.

The tyranny of Polixenes replicates in several ways Leontes' passionate outbursts earlier in the play. Most obviously, Polixenes attempts to destroy love, and he therefore violates the natural potential of procreation. In the case of each king, the love to be destroyed is closely related to the tyrant himself. Upon unmasking himself from his disguise, Polixenes attacks Perdita in the same vindictive, hostile manner Leontes employed against Hermione. Both kings view the female as seductive and promiscuous. Leontes sees his wife as a playful “adultress,” a “bed-swerver,” who is big with Polixenes' child (II.i.88, 93); and Polixenes calls Perdita a “fresh piece / Of excellent witchcraft” and “enchantment,” who has opened “these rural latches” to royalty (IV.iv.423-24, 435, 439). His bawdy language surely echoes Leontes' jealous speeches. Further, Polixenes' threats to have Perdita's “beauty scratch'd with briars and made / More homely than [her] state” (IV.iv.426-27) and his belligerent treatment of the old Shepherd bring to mind Leontes' terrible plans for his family and friend. At this moment of dramatic crisis in the pastoral world, Polixenes has transformed himself into a personification of the grotesque satyr figure which he had enthusiastically welcomed to the festival.

The splendor, extravagance, and dream texture of the sheep-shearing festival have been shattered. And all the characters are awakened to the reality of sin and its destructive force. The youthful dreams of love and marriage, the dreams of enlarged rustic wealth, and the “courtly illusion” of rural Bohemia are reduced to the coarseness of Polixenes' act. For salvation, the inhabitants of the green world must make flight, must “make for Sicilia,” and confront the seat of original sin.

The festive beauty and dramatic energy of Shakespeare's pastoral are undeniable, and it is an appropriate prelude to the incredible statue scene in Act V. Also, there is no question that Act IV, Scene iv foreshadows a regeneration and rebirth of the old Sicilian world. However, “pure symbolic rebirth” and pastoral idealism are blemished by realism; it is not so much the realism of E. M. W. Tillyard's view of country life “given the fullest force of actuality,”11 but dramatic realism: the realism of a pastoral world which has inherited the values and fallibilities of court, a pastoral world that needs regeneration and resolution itself. For dramatic coherence, the pretenses and conflicts of Bohemia must, like Sicilia, be unmasked and resolved. These pretenses and conflicts are what John P. Cutts sees as an “immense fraud” and what Philip M. Weinstein means by Bohemia's “vivid and conflict-breeding realism (so unexpected in pastoral).”12 From this standpoint, Act IV, Scene iv and the other country scenes counter the nature of pastoralism. Bohemia is not a refuge offering a serious value contrast to another society. In The Winter's Tale, the tensions of court and country must completely unwind, which occurs in the final act when Hermione “awakens.” This kind of resolution is demanded by the play's structure and themes. Certainly, readers and viewers who insist upon highly idealized interpretations of the Bohemian pastoral run a risk, like the characters themselves, of being lulled into idyllic dreams.


  1. Edwin Greenlaw, “Shakespeare's Pastorals,” Studies in Philology, 13 (1916), 146; G. Wilson Knight, The Crown of Life: Essays in Interpretation of Shakespeare's Final Plays (London: Methuen, 1948), p. 102.

  2. S. L. Bethell, “The Winter's Tale”: A Study (London: Staples Press, 1947), p. 73.

  3. Philip M. Weinstein, “An Interpretation of Pastoral in The Winter's Tale,Shakespeare Quarterly, 22 (1971), 102. In his study of the romances, Howard Felperin points out that “naturalness” in Bohemia is not to be equated with “virtue,” Shakespearean Romance (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1972), p. 233. For a survey of the history of the pastoral tradition (including pastoral realism) from the Theocritan idylls to The Winter's Tale, see Jerry H. Bryant, “The Winter's Tale and the Pastoral Tradition,” Shakespeare Quarterly, 14 (1963), 387-98.

  4. See Weinstein, p. 101. Here he deals with this matter in reference to W. W. Greg's study, Pastoral Poetry and Pastoral Drama (New York: Russell & Russell, 1959).

  5. Harold Jenkens, “As You Like It” in Pastoral and Romance: Modern Essays in Criticism, ed. Eleanor Terry Lincoln (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1969), p. 115.

  6. All references to the play are from J. H. P. Pafford, ed., The Winter's Tale, New Arden Edition (London: Methuen, 1963).

  7. Thematically, the death of Mamillius is as significant as Leontes' rejection of Perdita. At II.iii.13, Leontes extends his passion and error to Mamillius by stating that his son's illness is caused by “the dishonour of his mother.” Leontes further remarks that in his sickness Mamillius “Threw off his spirit, his appetite, his sleep, / And downright languish'd” (II.iii.16-17). Earlier, Leontes had separated the boy from his mother (II.i).

  8. John P. Cutts, Rich and Strange: A Study of Shakespeare's Last Plays (Pullman: Washington State Univ. Press, 1968), p. 73.

  9. For an examination and interpretation of the spectacular elements of the play, especially the pastoral scene, see my article, “Spectacle and Masque in The Winter's Tale,English Miscellany, 22 (1970), 55-80.

  10. See Pafford, ed., The Winter's Tale, p. 110, for background and scholarship regarding the dance of the twelve satyrs.

  11. E. M. W. Tillyard, Shakespeare's Last Plays (London: Chatto & Windus, 1962), p. 43.

  12. Cutts, p. 73, and Weinstein, p. 97.

Michael Taylor (essay date 1983)

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Last Updated on February 4, 2016, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 6370

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 (induced by Dr Cornelius' box of drugs) to the sight of what appears to be her decapitated husband sprawled alongside her. Et in Arcadia ego, with a vengeance! Until this rude awakening, Imogen had imagined herself to be safe in her pastoral sanctuary, far from the corruption of Cymbeline's court, secure in the immediate and excessive affection displayed for her by Arviragus and Guiderius who, despite her male disguise, and despite the fact that they have never met her before, have instinctively and conventionally responded to the ties of blood between them. Horrified now by this change in her situation, Imogen at first concludes that she must be dreaming:

                              I hope I dream,
For so I thought I was a cave-keeper
And cook to honest creatures.


The desired diminution of status from princess to pastoral skivvy has become mysteriously transformed into a nightmare degradation in which the honest creatures of her waking hours have vanished, leaving behind in their place a headless changeling whose reality can be only fleetingly doubted in those blurred moments 'twixt sleep and wake.

Imogen's enumeration of Posthumus' Herculean parts as she then inches her way up to the corpse's headlessness has shaken many critics; as Bernard Harris observes, the whole scene has a ‘comic menace and near-demented ingenuity’.2 ‘Dramatically inexcusable’ for Harley Granville-Barker,3 Imogen's final confrontation with Cloten is a notoriously difficult one to bring off in the theatre without arousing a defensive risibility in an audience alarmed by the extent to which Shakespeare has already subjected his heroine to the unspeakable. In remorseless fashion, Imogen's lamentations over the body include a fortiori a prolonged outburst against the callous despoliation that makes the spectacle so remarkably uncomfortable for us:

                              Damned Pisanio
Hath with his forgèd letters—damned Pisanio—
From this most bravest vessel of the world
Struck the maintop. O Posthumus, alas,
Where is thy head? Where's that? Ay me, where's that?
Pisanio might have killed thee at the heart
And left this head on.


These last three lines in particular must be very troublesome for any actress to make properly affecting, even though the construction ‘might have killed thee’ need not entail the petulant delivery it so frequently calls for in modern usage. Shakespeare seems determined to invest Cloten's remains with a more remarkable potency than their owner ever managed when alive, while still maintaining his essential absurdity even when the cause of it has been so unceremoniously removed. Brainless while alive, Cloten's fate is grim poetic justice: his headless carcass a bizarre rebus for the conduct of his life. In death, his absurdity is infectious. In all the previous confrontations between Cloten and Imogen, Cloten has come halting off, his precarious intellect no match for Imogen's sarcastic tongue and unshakeable dignity; now, in mute triumph, his body, about which he had been so absurdly arrogant (that ‘arrogant piece of flesh’ (4.2.127) as Guiderius describes him), raises up a storm of emotion in Imogen's breast. The fact that she believes the body to belong to Posthumus makes the experience even more damaging to her dignity, especially when, in an excess of grief, she throws herself upon it in an action ironically—dementedly—almost farcically—precipitated by the name of the person (did she but know it) with whose blood she now daubs herself:

This is Pìsanio's deed, and Cloten. O,
Give colour to my pale cheek with thy blood,
That we the horrider may seem to those
Which chance to find us. O my lord, my lord!


In a superfluous piece of commentary, the play's Arden editor cannot conceal his distaste for the extravagance of Imogen's conduct: ‘There seems no escape from the gruesome conclusion that she smears her face with his blood, or is about to do so.’4

There is no escape from this gruesome conclusion except at the text's expense. And however much as civilized readers we would like to spare Imogen and ourselves her necrophilic embrace, we can hardly fail to notice that it seems in some respects no more than fitting that she should suffer such an indignity, the like of which would be unimaginable for Marina and Perdita even during Marina's humiliation in the brothel at Mitylene. Although we may flinch from its painful accumulation of detail, in a powerful way the indignity to Imogen satisfies expectations aroused in us during the course of Shakespeare's treatment of the wager story in Cymbeline, bringing to a suitably grotesque climax an element of punitive behaviour in relationships and towards the self that is more fugitively intimated in Pericles and The Winter's Tale. While it may be true (as so many critics insist) that there has been something of an ‘uneasy conflation’5 of history and romance in Cymbeline, or that the play as a whole fails to come together entirely satisfactorily, it is demonstrably true that in the story of Imogen, Iachimo, and Posthumus Shakespeare achieves a potent coherence in which the violation of Imogen's dream of pastoral innocence has an important role to play, as it also has in the play's action as a whole, making it one of those events of special significance in a work of art around which interpretation inevitably clusters.6 After some forty lines or so of wild address over the decapitated body, Imogen falls into an exhausted sleep from which she wakens to another, more promising reality as attendant on her civilized Roman master, Caius Lucius. After Imogen's grotesque experience, malicious energy in the play as a whole flags—the scenes which follow act 4, scene 2 record a progressive amelioration: in act 4, scene 3, news of the Queen's fatal illness (we never see her again); in act 5, scene 1, Posthumus' repentance even before he knows Imogen to be guiltless; in act 5, scene 2, Iachimo's similar repentance following his defeat in battle by the disguised Posthumus; in the play's last three scenes, the military triumph of the Britons over the Romans, Posthumus' vision of Jupiter, Cymbeline's refreshed state of mind and his voluntary return to the pax romana.

In structural and emotional terms Imogen's degradation in act 4, scene 2 marks a watershed in the play's action; after it, with almost every wink of the eye some new grace will be born. Pivotally placed, Imogen's experience captures much of the play's accumulated significance, and the greater the interpretative burden the more daring Shakespeare's choice of the grotesque as an appropriate vehicle for this climax to the play's pastoral activity, in which an original dream of innocence—Imogen's—expressed in explicitly pastoral terms, undergoes such a savage assault. Earlier, in Cymbeline's court, with Posthumus banished, and pursued by the preposterous Cloten, Imogen had dreamt of a life exempt from courtly haunt and princely responsibility:

                    Would I were
A neatherd's daughter, and my Leonatus
Our neighbor shepherd's son.


Instead of finding herself in a pastoral setting where she might play Flora to Posthumus' Florizel, Imogen finds herself in one where she must play a much more demandingly operatic role in a mad burlesque of sexual passion and shattered idyllic expectations. When Imogen clutches the decapitated body to her, daubs herself with its blood, and falls into an exhausted, dreamless sleep—the sleep of an emotional satiety—the coital sequence suggested by these responses supplies an equivocal, parodic answer to the earnest prayer of Guiderius and Arviragus: ‘Quiet consummation have, / And renowned be thy grave’ (4.2.280-1).7

Why at this important juncture does Shakespeare choose to subject his heroine (a heroine as militantly chaste, incidentally, as any in the late plays) to such a literal and symbolic besmirching? Any adequate answer has to take into account the extent to which Cymbeline has from the beginning played fast and loose with the narrative conventions normally governing the lives of young lovers in the romances, especially the one that insists on the narrative sequence that leads them through a troublesome unmarried state to a blissfully married one.8 Not for Posthumus and Imogen (or so it seems) the traditional comedic role of their counterparts in the other romances and romantic comedies whose marriage prospects remain conventionally dim until the final scenes, their consummations impeded by a society that Northrop Frye characterizes as ‘irrational or anti-comic’:

The normal action [of Renaissance comedy] is the effort of a young man to get possession of a young woman who is kept from him by various social barriers: her low birth, his minority or shortage of funds, parental opposition, the prior claims of a rival. These are eventually circumvented, and the comedy ends at a point when a new society is crystallised, usually by the marriage or betrothal of hero and heroine.9

In the case of Cymbeline, Frye's various social barriers seem already to have been hurdled by the lovers' impetuous marriage—consummated despite Posthumus' low birth, shortage of funds, the opposition of Imogen's father and step-mother and the rival claims, prior or otherwise, of Cloten, the Queen's son and Imogen's step-brother. Just as iconoclastically, however, Cymbeline and his supporters act in shocking defiance of both dramatic and social convention; they refuse to accept the validity of the lovers' contract, using all the arguments mentioned by Frye (with the exception of the hero's minority), as though the marriage itself—usually the holy grail in Shakespearian comedy—were nothing but a minor impediment to Cloten's more authentic courtship. In the enormity of its casualness, Cymbeline's advice to his step-son perfectly conveys this important aspect of his court's aristocratic perversity:

The exile of her minion is too new;
She hath not yet forgot him. Some more time
Must wear the print of his remembrance on't,
And then she's yours.


Not much spirit of noblesse oblige here: stripped of its fatuity (if that were possible) Cloten's version of what it is to be a nobleman (the obsession later of Belarius' moral reflections)—‘it is fit I should commit offense to my inferiors’ (2.1.26-7)—epitomizes the values of Cymbeline's court.

Cymbeline begins then in the manner of Pericles; both plays open with the unsavoury spectacle of wayward kings disregarding moral or social norms, victimizing representatives of the younger generation, committing offences to their inferiors. (The general resemblance is made keener by the suggestion of incest in Cloten's courtship of his step-sister.) In vivid contrast, the marriage of Imogen and Posthumus institutionalizes (or seems to do so) the larger virtues each possesses; yet even before we experience Posthumus' later weakness on his banishment to Italy—even (for that matter) before we meet either Imogen or Posthumus—the sense we have of the abnormality of the situation, of there being something posthumous about the action of a romance beginning where most end, infects even the play's opening conversation, a piece of explicatory dialogue between the two Gentlemen in which the First Gentleman—for the benefit of his conventionally ignorant colleague (and of ourselves)—extols the superior virtues of the newly married couple at the expense of the King's party. He does so in a verse typical of Cymbeline—one that has a ‘hard corrugated texture … [caused by] the persistent recreation of feelings of a particular kind of physical pain’.10 The play's opening lines, ‘tantalizingly elliptical’ in Nosworthy's phrase,11 make only tortuous sense, but are then followed by the crystal-clear exposition that the First Gentleman provides for the Second, as though he were at the same time mocking his own introductory style:

                              She's wedded,
Her husband banished, she imprisoned. All
Is outward sorrow, though I think the King
Be touched at very heart.


To swing from one linguistic extreme to the other within the space of a few lines seems appropriate for a play throughout blown stylistically between the opposing winds of fairy-tale and case-history. If the semantic complexity of the First Gentleman's opening speech reflects the moral difficulty of living in a court so Janus-faced, then his later use of the hyperbole of punishment in his description of Posthumus reveals a more subtle difficulty; like the other courtiers, the First Gentleman cannot mould his language to the disposition of his subject without the use of punitive metaphor:

I do extend him, sir, within himself,
Crush him together rather than unfold
His measure duly.


This is the first of several instances in the play where the extreme worth of an object—something or someone beyond beyond, as Imogen says (3.2.56)—forces the eulogizer beyond (or rather beneath) conventional hyperbolic expression to draw extravagance from a darker area of the mind. If Cloten is ‘a thing / Too bad for bad report’ (1.2.16-17) then Posthumus and Imogen often seem to be things too good for good report, hence their superiority can only be conveyed in a strange hyperbolic exploitation of the vocabulary of bad report dominated by the imagery of forcible restraint—merit crushed in order to be unfolded duly. The lovers express their love for each other in terms equally punitive: Posthumus will drink down the words of Imogen's letters ‘Though ink be made of gall’ (1.1.101); rather than marry again were Imogen to die before him (itself a morbid notion) he would ‘cere up my embracements from a next / With bonds of death’ (1.1.116-17); in his eyes, the bracelet he gives Imogen on parting from her ‘is a manacle of love; I'll place it / Upon this fairest prisoner’ (1.1.122-3). Imogen is similarly afflicted. She can afford to ignore her father's anger, she says, because ‘a touch more rare / Subdues all pangs, all fears’ (1.1.135-6)—‘a touch more rare’ is a fine phrase meaning (as Dowden tells us) ‘a more exquisite pain’, the pain, that is, of the enforced absence of her new husband whom she later describes as ‘My supreme crown of grief’ (1.6.4). Later still, she talks of the ‘med'cinable’ griefs that ‘physic love’ (3.2.34); and it is she who has to drink the gall of Posthumus' letter. ‘The paper / Hath cut her throat already’ (3.4.32-3) Pisanio observes in a typical metaphor. Love's affliction becomes self-infliction for Imogen—or imagined self-infliction—when she responds to Pisanio's description of Posthumus' embarking for Italy with

I would have broke mine eyestrings, cracked them but
To look upon him till the diminution
Of space had pointed him sharp as my needle.


Lovers in Shakespeare's plays do not usually talk of love's experience in this way except in problem comedies like Troilus and Cressida or tragedies of love like Romeo and Juliet. Do the lovers in Cymbeline linger in punitive terms over their love for each other simply because they have been forced to undergo the punishment of separation at that point in their lives when their counterparts in the other romances begin their hard-won freedom together? It hardly seems an adequate explanation. When Imogen describes Posthumus as ‘My supreme crown of grief’ (which follows the interesting ambiguity of her ‘a wedded lady / That hath her husband banished’ (1.6.2-3)), the phrase is a metonym not so much for Posthumus himself as for the punishment he cannot avoid inflicting on her by his banishment from Cymbeline's court—the ‘pangs of barred affections’ (1.1.82) in the Queen's hypocritical words. Yet Imogen's elliptical construction gives the phrase the force of an accusation (or even self-accusation), especially as it follows ‘O, that husband’, the traditional resigned or despairing cry of long-suffering wives of neglectful husbands (a class Imogen is about to join).

Neither the perilous situation in which Imogen and Posthumus find themselves at the beginning of the play, nor the irony of subsequent events, justifies the extravagant language each uses to and about the other, each the other's supreme crown of grief more mysteriously than can be explained by the circumstances of their separation. And as in The Winter's Tale, Shakespeare allows us the occasional fleeting insight into his characters' pasts to suggest more complicated psychic disturbances than at first seems to be the case. The impression we have of something hyperbolically and unnaturally over-ripe, where (as the First Gentleman says of Posthumus) spring has become autumn, and where value can be expressed only in punitive terms, suggests a deeper malaise, hinted at perhaps by Imogen when surprised by Iachimo's description of Posthumus' frivolous behaviour in Rome:

                              When he was here
He did incline to sadness, and ofttimes
Not knowing why.


Shakespeare begins The Merchant of Venice with a better-known and more elaborate confession of the same mysterious ailment. Antonio rejects the explanations for his melancholy suggested by his friends, Salerio and Solanio; he suffers neither from unrequited love nor from a fear for his argosies at sea. As far as we can determine, like Jaques in As You Like It, he suffers obscurely from the melancholy of being human—it is Antonio he grieves for. It may well be Posthumus Posthumus grieves for (if ‘sadness’ here goes beyond the merely serious); as Imogen has indicated, his inclination to it pre-dates Cymbeline's harsh verdict on their marriage. What Imogen remembers about Posthumus has an ironically lurid light thrown on it by what Posthumus remembers about Imogen in parallel circumstances an act later (act 2, scene 5). Both memories surface under the pressure of Iachimo's accusations, both seem spontaneous and involuntary, each tells us something unexpected about the person concerned:

Me of my lawful pleasure she restrained
And prayed me oft forbearance—did it with
A pudency so rosy, the sweet view on't
Might well have warmed old Saturn—that I thought her
As chaste as unsunned snow.


These lines come in the middle of a soliloquy of great power and subtlety; one that George Steiner in After Babel chooses as his paradigm for the untranslatability of the ‘complete semantic event’12 in great poetry. To exhaust the significance (the meaning even) of such a complex speech, he argues, would involve us in ever-widening circles of legitimate application up to and including what he calls the ‘informing sphere of sensibility’ (p. 7) with the problem of ‘infinite series’ (p. 7) becoming an increasingly daunting one. We do not have to journey too far down the road to infinity, however, to notice how Posthumus' memory of Imogen exposes her innocence in an equivocal manner peculiar to Cymbeline. As opposed, say, to the sinless sensuality of the lovers in The Winter's Tale,13Cymbeline makes much of the treacherous eroticism of its lovers' innocence, with Imogen cast as the play's Isabella whose ‘modesty may more betray our sense / Than woman's lightness’ (Measure for Measure, 2.2.169-70). Posthumus couches his recollections of Imogen's modesty in words that convey how dangerous to itself it is: ‘pudency so rosy’ suggests the erotic image that warms old Saturn far more readily than, in this context, the more paradoxical one of a chastity as cold as unsunned snow. Posthumus remembers Imogen in terms that recall Iachimo aroused by her erotic vulnerability as she lies sleeping before him, whose encomium on her beauty comes to a climax with a description of the intimate detail which for Posthumus will clinch the argument for her betrayal of him:

                                        On her left breast
A mole cinque-spotted, like the crimson drops
I' th' bottom of a cowslip. Here's a voucher
Stronger than ever law could make. This secret
Will force him think I have picked the lock and ta'en
The treasure of her honor.


Nosworthy remarks: ‘In the French versions of the wager-story the mole is likened to a rose and to a violet, but Shakespeare's flower analogy is almost certainly coincidental.’14 Coincidental it may be, but Shakespeare's choice here of a flower more simple and demure than either the rose or the violet emphasizes the corresponding delicacy and demureness of Imogen's sensuality, and hence her power to more betray men's sense than woman's lightness. Iachimo's fervid response to the charms of innocent abandonment is followed by its vulgar counterpart in the next scene (act 2, scene 3) where Cloten calls for an aubade from the musicians to awaken Imogen—in his greasy terminology, ‘If you can penetrate her with your fingering, so; we'll try with tongue too’ (2.3.13-14). He sees the performance of the song's words and music as a sexual invasion though, unlike Orsino, he would not want the appetite to sicken and so die as a result (except in the punning sense that Orsino probably did not have in mind). The song's lyrics, however, are as remote from Cloten's intentions as the cowslip from Iachimo's arousal:

Hark, hark, the lark at heaven's gate sings,
          And Phoebus gins arise,
His steeds to water at those springs
          On chaliced flowers that lies;
And winking Mary-buds begin
          To ope their golden eyes.
With every thing that pretty is,
          My lady sweet, arise,
          Arise, arise!


The song's conventional pastoralism hardly squares with Cloten's lubricious expectations of its effect on Imogen; for that matter, it barely corresponds to Cloten's introduction of it as ‘a wonderful sweet air with admirable rich words to it’ (2.3.16-17). His fanciful transfiguration of its nature does square, however, though on a far more moronically brutal level, with similar transformations of innocence on the parts of Iachimo and Posthumus and is one of the ways in which Shakespeare builds up a network of associations between them in our minds.

‘Pudency so rosy’, ‘crimson drops / I' th' bottom of a cowslip’, ‘chaliced flowers’: images to warm the libidos of old Saturn, Iachimo, Posthumus, and Cloten. And Posthumus is not as much the odd man out on this list as he ought to be, considering that, until his banishment, he has had every reason to expect the provocative image to give way to the reality it advertises. Between wedding and banishment, however, the image retains its provocation for him because of the frequency with which Imogen restrains him from his lawful pleasure—she ‘prayed me oft forbearance’. Appropriately enough, Iachimo squeezes the final equivocation out of Imogen's attitude in the last scene of the play: ‘He spake of her as Dian had hot dreams, / And she alone were cold’ (5.5.180-1). Exploiting yet another ironic parallel with Cloten, Britain's absurd, bungling Iachimo, Posthumus' experience seems to confirm Cloten's vulgar opinion of love-making in which ‘a woman's fitness comes by fits’ (4.1.5-6). The inclination to sadness that Imogen remembers about Posthumus may therefore not be unconnected with what Posthumus remembers about Imogen's chaste behaviour, no matter how rosily managed (a management, by the way, that Pisanio describes as ‘More goddess-like than wife-like’, 3.2.8). Such an inference need not go beyond the complete semantic event, even though it may go beyond the more usual interpretation of the lovers' recollections which sees them as having only a limited application—Imogen's rosy pudency functioning simply as a kind of pathetic fallacy emphasizing Posthumus' savagery. Yet well within the informing sphere of sensibility lies the important connection that we make between Posthumus' prurient recollection of Imogen's sexual attractiveness and the relative ease with which he believes Iachimo's account of her fallen condition. As Geoffrey Hill says: ‘there is a kind of naivete which asks to be devoured and a natural partly unconscious collusion between the deceived and the deceiver: between, for instance, Posthumus and Iachimo, Imogen and Iachimo, Cymbeline and the Queen.’15

Homer Swander has shown that Posthumus asks insistently (and deserves) to be devoured by Iachimo:16 the collusion (if that is the right word) between Imogen and Iachimo is far more problematic. According to Angelo in Measure for Measure, no blame can possibly be attached to Isabella for the fact that her superior virtue has ensnared his lust. Angelo recognizes the injustice of calling someone a temptress who all unknowingly tempts; besides, a virtuous man, as he says (2.2.166-8), should be fortified in his virtue by Isabella's example, not carnally stimulated. But the play—Isabella herself—clouds the issue:

That is, were I under the terms of death,
Th' impression of keen whips I'ld wear as rubies,
And strip myself to death as to a bed
That longing have been sick for, ere I'ld yield
My body up to shame.


Isabella's militant defence of her purity does not escape the Viennese obsession with the carnal—no one in the play does (as the Duke himself discovers in his demeaning encounters with Lucio)—and in this quotation Isabella is obviously overwhelmed by what F. R. Leavis calls the ‘sensuality of martyrdom’17 which as much reveals the imperfect submergence of the woman in the ecclesiastic as encourages the concupiscence of Angelo's thoughts.

In Cymbeline imperfect submergences abound. However innocent the lovers, we cannot help but see them as sexual objects designed to provoke the conspiracy of suggestiveness that gives them their ambivalent and attractive power. How much more attractive (and no less ambivalent) must be Imogen's appeal for us, when we hear not only from Iachimo how beautiful she is, but share with him in the actual vision of her loveliness, the naked extent of which will be determined only by the tact or bravado of the particular production in which she appears.18 The moral precariousness of the moment is heightened when Iachimo bends to kiss her: ‘But kiss, one kiss! Rubies unparagoned, / How dearly they do't!’ (2.2.17-18).19 Her lips in fact ‘do’ nothing, as she is asleep, but it is difficult to keep this in mind given the whispered fervour of Iachimo's remarks, all of which, incidentally, stress the magnetic power of Imogen's unconscious form—drawing the taper's flame to it—exuding a heady perfume. When Iachimo reports back to Posthumus, his description of Imogen's bedroom not only cruelly prolongs and as cruelly substantiates the claim made by his narrative, but recaptures the erotic cosmopolitanism of the trappings we have already seen with our own eyes: the tapestry of ‘silk and silver’ depicting Cleopatra's meeting with Antony where, in a mamillary image, ‘Cydnus swelled above the banks’ (2.4.71); the andirons shaped like ‘winking Cupids’ (turning thereby a blind eye on the proceedings); the cherubim sporting wantonly on the ceiling; and, in the near-oxymoron of the voyeur, the carving of ‘Chaste Dian bathing’ on the chimney over the fireplace. Typical of the ‘naïvety that asks to be devoured’ (as well as, more obviously, of the irony of the event) is the detail that Iachimo does not bother to repeat to Posthumus (it does not help to prove his presence in the bed-chamber), the fact that Imogen has fallen asleep while reading Ovid's account in the Metamorphoses of Tereus' rape of Philomela: fallen asleep over the very page ‘Where Philomel gave up’ (2.2.46). And, as we have seen, in the centre of all these seductive trappings, the cynosure, the goddess Imogen herself, whom Iachimo (like Milton's Satan) has already worshipped in his hushed recitation of her lovely parts, a devotional exercise we may well recall when listening to Imogen's catalogue of the headless corpse's Herculean ones.

In the light of this eventful history, it would be more accurate to view Imogen's grim experience with Cloten's body as a manifestation of a particular kind of symbolically appropriate pastoral reckoning than as the climax of a destructive counter-movement to the pastoral tradition as such. In recent years, Shakespeare's treatment of the pastoral convention has received much critical attention, most of it concentrating on the innovative and unconventional in his handling of traditional literary attitudes. But by Shakespeare's time, the pastoral experience itself in literature had lost much of its traditional sweetness; beneath its ‘superficial loveliness ranked the wretchedness of man’,20 its nostalgia and idealization in the service of satire and moral allegory. In the opening chapter of The Oaten Flute, Renato Poggioli observes that Shakespeare and Cervantes are typically more complex in their response to the pastoral tradition than any of the other writers with whom he more centrally deals. In As You Like It, for instance, Poggioli notes that Corin's inability to provide the hospitality sought for in Arden by Rosalind and Celia ‘is unique in the whole bucolic tradition’, and that As You Like It as a whole and this episode in particular ‘show that there are Arcadias where man may be as churlish as the wind’.21 Although Poggioli confuses Corin with Corin's master (Corin actually says ‘But what is, come see / And in my voice most welcome shall you be’; As You Like It, 2.4.81-2), he nonetheless places the emphasis correctly on Shakespeare's unsentimental version of a traditional idyllic setting. Even though the pastoralism of the last plays is similar to that of the romantic comedies in its stress on the therapeutic function of a benign environment, it is clear that, to use Poggioli's terminology, the emphasis in the romances is on the pastoralism of innocence rather than on the pastoralism of happiness. The pastoral experience in Cymbeline and The Tempest is particularly harsh: innocence (rather than happiness) has to be renewed on a daily basis in a spirit of absorbed self-abnegation in a more formidable landscape than the traditional locus amoenus of Greek pastoral. Of this landscape in Cymbeline, Rosalie Colie writes: ‘it is unmitigated hard pastoral, a rocky difficult terrain training its inhabitants to a spare and muscular strength sufficient to wrest their nutriment from its minimal, ungenerous, exiguous resources.’22

It is to this frugal landscape which makes ‘tanlings’ of her abducted brothers in the summer and ‘shrinking slaves’ (4.4.29-30) of them in the winter that Imogen comes in her traditional search for a pastoral sanctuary. She finds it—or thinks she does—in Belarius' ‘pinching cave’ (3.3.38), that ‘cell of ignorance’ (l. 33) in Guiderius' contemptuous words, whose symbolically low threshold ‘bows’ the brothers each morning ‘To a morning's holy office’ (l. 4). Despite the love that Imogen wins instinctively from her unknown brothers, she must share with them the life of ‘hardness’ that ‘ever / Of hardiness is mother’ (3.6.21-2). We might contrast, at this point, the different kinds of preparatory tutelage offered in similar circumstances in As You Like It and Cymbeline. In As You Like It, Rosalind encourages Celia at the beginning of their journey to Arden with jocular references to the necessity for her as the taller of the two to disguise herself as a man whereby her ‘hidden woman's fear’ (1.3.15) will be overlaid by a ‘swashing and a martial outside’ (1.3.115-16). In Cymbeline, Pisanio also urges Imogen to ‘forget to be a woman’ (3.4.155); but his lengthy exhortation on the importance of her transvestism for her survival substitutes the doleful for the jocular. He seems overwhelmed by the inevitable degradation of her experience:

                                        Nay, you must
Forget that rarest treasure of your cheek,
Exposing it—but O, the harder heart!
Alack, no remedy—to the greedy touch
Of common-kissing Titan, and forget
Your laborsome and dainty trims, wherein
You made great Juno angry.


In a manner typical of Cymbeline, Pisanio views Imogen's exposure to the elements as yet another sexual violation in which the sun becomes some hulking commoner intent on defiling a refined aristocrat, one who, typically again, has in all innocence angered Juno with her ‘laboursome and dainty trims’. (We may see at times, incidentally, some faint justification for Cloten's angry dismissal of Imogen as ‘this imperceiverant thing’, 4.1.13.) If Imogen follows Pisanio's grim prescription she should, he believes, ‘tread a course / Pretty and full of view’ (3.4.147-8). The naïve pastoralism of this metaphor, like Cloten's aubade and Iachimo's cowslip, contrasts vividly with Pisanio's extended description of the sexual degradation Imogen first has to suffer. And this too, as we have seen, is typical of Cymbeline. As soon as Imogen discovers Posthumus' murderous intentions towards her she leaps naïvely to be devoured. Convinced that Posthumus has been ‘betrayed’ by ‘some jay of Italy’ (3.4.49), ‘some Roman courtesan’ (l. 124), she offers herself up to Pisanio's sword in an ecstasy of sacrifice:

I draw the sword myself. Take it, and hit
The innocent mansion of my love, my heart.

(ll. 66-8)

A little later she says: ‘The lamb entreats the butcher’ (l. 97).

In Cymbeline the lovers' renewal of innocence is completed only after a rigorous purging of their sexual frailty. Imogen's grotesque experience with Cloten's body is therefore part of a pattern of erotic punishment in which both lovers suffer for the naïvety of their expectations. In an ambiguous manner peculiar to Cymbeline, Imogen, in Pisanio's words, is ‘punished for her truth’ (3.2.7); and part of that punishment—as Imogen herself half realizes—entails ‘peril to my modesty, not death on't’ (3.4.153). The lovers' punitive behaviour towards each other is brought to an appropriate climax in the play's last scene in a manner reminiscent of Pericles' initial rejection of his daughter, Marina. Imogen, still disguised as Fidele, attempts to interrupt another (this time the last) of Posthumus' outbursts of self-detestation and lamentation over Imogen's fate. Making the opposite of Imogen's mistake over Cloten, Posthumus spurns Imogen's intervention:

Shall's have a play of this? Thou scornful page,
There lie thy part.
                              [Thrusts her away; she falls]


The stage direction here is from the Pelican edition; Nosworthy in the new Arden edition has ‘[Striking her: she falls]’ which seems to me closer to the savage spirit of the sequence. That blow brings to a climax and to an end the thwarted relationship between the lovers, the naïvety that asks to be devoured, the collusion between the deceived and the deceiver. When Posthumus next speaks some thirty or so lines later (apart from his Cymbeline-like bewilderment ‘How come these staggers on me?’, 5.5.233), he uses the play's most famous pastoral metaphor as the lovers embrace: ‘Hang there like fruit, my soul / Till the tree die’ (5.5.263-4). So this reconciliation is also part of the play's pastoral reckoning. Posthumus is now mature enough—and Imogen too—for him to be able properly to fulfil Jupiter's prediction: ‘He shall be lord of Lady Imogen’ (5.4.107).

Jupiter's way of putting it—courtly and zestful—anticipates a future for the lovers purged of all their sexual misconstructions and hesitancies. Posthumus' dense arboreal metaphor, however, goes beyond the assertion of mere swaggering lordship to provide us with a vision of married life as an entwining mutuality in which the spiritual (Imogen as Posthumus' soul) and the erotic and fructuous (Posthumus as the tree and Imogen as the fruit of it) merge in a complicated, slightly ambiguous union. The density of the metaphor matches the subtleties of the lovers' history. Some 150 lines later, when Posthumus next speaks, his last words in the play measure the extent to which he has achieved the authoritative maturity erroneously thrust upon him by the First Gentleman in the opening scene. All traces of that corrugated verbal texture have now vanished: like Leontes in the final scene of The Winter's Tale Posthumus has earned the right to speak with compelling clarity. Confronted with a penitent, kneeling Iachimo, Posthumus provides Cymbeline with his model for bringing the conflict between the Romans and the British and the play itself to an end:

                              Kneel not to me.
The pow'r that I have on you is to spare you;
The malice towards you to forgive you. Live,
And deal with others better.


Cymbeline is suitably impressed:

                              Nobly doomed!
We'll learn our freeness of a son-in-law:
Pardon's the word to all.


Pardon to all and the new harmony between Britain and Rome mark the happy outcome envisioned in pastoral terms by the Soothsayer in which the ‘majestic cedar’ (5.5.456) of Britain is made whole. The play's pastoral reckoning, therefore, embraces not only the lovers' punishment and reward but also the British failure and recovery on the political and diplomatic fronts in which, as the appropriate last word for a pastoral vision, the play's last, lingering word—peace—is the word to all.


  1. References to Shakespeare are from The Complete Pelican Shakespeare, general editor Alfred Harbage (Baltimore, 1969).

  2. ‘“What's past is prologue”: Cymbeline and Henry VIII’, in Later Shakespeare, ed. John Russell Brown and Bernard Harris, Stratford-upon-Avon Studies, 8 (1966), p. 225.

  3. Prefaces to Shakespeare, second series (1930), p. 340.

  4. James Nosworthy (ed.), Cymbeline, the new Arden Shakespeare (1955), p. 143.

  5. See Howard Felperin, Shakespearean Romance (Princeton, 1972), p. 178.

  6. See Frank Kermode's discussion of such events in his Genesis: On the Interpretation of Narrative (Cambridge, Mass., 1979), pp. 15 ff.

  7. Although ‘consummation’ meaning ‘ending’ has by far the longer history, the OED records the first use of ‘consummation’ as the ‘completion of marriage by sexual intercourse’ in 1530.

  8. The Comedy of Errors and Othello are the only other plays by Shakespeare to begin in this way—one a tragedy of sexual jealousy, the other an untypical early comedy that presents the unromantic marriage between Adriana and Antipholus of Ephesus with cool and disdainful objectivity.

  9. Northrop Frye, A Natural Perspective (New York, 1965), p. 72. The phrase ‘an irrational or anti-comic society’ occurs on p. 74.

  10. F. C. Tinkler, ‘Cymbeline’, Scrutiny, 7 (1938-9), 6.

  11. New Arden Cymbeline, p. 3.

  12. 1975, p. 7.

  13. The phrase is S. L. Bethell's in The Winter's Tale: A Study (1947), p. 31.

  14. New Arden Cymbeline, p. 53.

  15. ‘“The True Conduct of Human Judgement”: Some Observations on Cymbeline’, in The Morality of Art. Essays Presented to G. Wilson Knight by His Colleagues and Friends, ed. D. W. Jefferson (1969), p. 25.

  16. See his two important articles, ‘Cymbeline and the “Blameless Hero”’, ELH, 31 (1964), 259-70, and ‘Cymbeline: Religious Idea and Dramatic Design’, in Pacific Coast Studies in Shakespeare, eds. W. F. McNeir and Thelma N. Greenfield (Eugene, Oregon, 1966), pp. 248-62.

  17. ‘The Greatness of Measure for Measure’, in The Common Pursuit (1952), p. 169.

  18. The first paperback edition of the new Arden Cymbeline featured Iachimo on its cover, notebook in hand, an insouciant feather in his cap, taking down Imogen's particulars as she lies in an abandoned manner, sleeping half naked, just behind him. The illustration is an engraving from Bell's 1774 edition of Shakespeare.

  19. Some critics have argued that ‘how dearly they do't’ refers to how beautifully Imogen's lips kiss each other. This seems to me a strained interpretation.

  20. S. K. Heninger, Jr., ‘The Renaissance Perversion of Pastoral’, Journal of the History of Ideas, 22 (1961), 254.

  21. The Oaten Flute: Essays on Pastoral Poetry and the Pastoral Tradition (Cambridge, Mass., 1975), p. 38.

  22. Shakespeare's Living Art (Princeton, 1974), p. 295.

Kevin Pask (essay date fall 2002)

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Last Updated on February 4, 2016, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 6685

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 remains a powerful if underappreciated critique of this association. Writing in response to the report of a lecture in which Coleridge described Caliban as “an original and caricature of Jacobinism, so fully illustrated at Paris during the French Revolution,” Hazlitt responded with some heat:

Caliban is so far from being a prototype of modern Jacobinism, that he is strictly the legitimate sovereign of the isle, and Prospero and the rest are usurpers, who have ousted him from his hereditary jurisdiction by superiority of talent and knowledge. “This island's mine, by Sycorax my mother,” and he complains bitterly of the artifices used by his new friends to cajole him out of it.

Rather than Coleridge's envious Jacobin, Caliban is in fact much more like “the bloated and ricketty [sic] minds and bodies of the Bourbons.”1 Hazlitt is obviously attacking Coleridge from the left, even if his position is one hardly recognizable to more recent attempts to read The Tempest in a historical and political register. Coleridge's association of Caliban with the Jacobins was not a complimentary one, but his relatively conservative reading of Caliban turned out to be considerably more influential than others for the New Historical and Postcolonial readings of the play.

Hazlitt understands the “radical” content of the play to be aligned with Prospero rather than Caliban, and this reading reflects the influence of Milton's engagement with The Tempest. In Milton's early revision of the masque form, A Masque Presented at Ludlow Castle generally known as Comus, the enchanter and tempter Comus first appears to the Lady as a shepherd, but, as the representative figure of the aristocratic pastoral, his counsel to the Lady is to spend rather than to hoard her erotic energy. The Attendant Spirit (also dressed like a shepherd) later informs her brothers that Comus is of divine birth, son of Bacchus and Circe, and he also leads a “monstrous rout” who “are heard to howl / Like stabbed wolves, or tigers at their prey.”2 Comus is both libertine aristocrat and leader of a plebeian mob, and the association of Comus with bestial release puts him in the lineage of Caliban.3 Still, Milton's Masque does not fail to reveal the genuine temptation Comus offers the Lady, a temptation at least partly Shakespearean in character.4

Milton provides us with the terms to re-inflect the critical disagreement between Hazlitt and Coleridge: Caliban as both Hazlitt's “rickety Bourbon” and Coleridge's revolutionary Jacobin. Such a reading of pastoral necessarily relies on William Empson's expansive version of pastoral as the literary mode whose characteristic “trick of mind” is to imply “a beautiful relation between rich and poor.”5The Tempest hardly seems to bring off this trick; rather, it is something more akin to the photographic negative of the Renaissance pastoral, even Shakespeare's own ironic playfulness with the genre. Prospero himself appears to associate Caliban with a narrower understanding of pastoral when his own wedding masque for Ferdinand and Miranda produces the pastoral dance of nymphs and reapers. In watching this conventionalized pastoral, however, what Prospero actually seems to see is Caliban, producing the play's most dramatically unsettling moment in Prospero's sudden dissolution of his own masque: “I had forgot that foul conspiracy / Of the beast Caliban and his confederates / Against my life.”6 I shall return to this moment in the play, but only after elaborating a double plot, Miranda's courtship and Caliban's rebellious claim to the island, that makes it so resonant in the play. “What is displayed on the tragic-comic stage is a sort of marriage of the myths of heroic and pastoral,” writes Empson with Robert Greene's Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay in mind, “a thing felt as fundamental to both and necessary to the health of society.”7The Tempest, on the other hand, puts the tragicomic double plot through its usual paces, but in order to reveal the dynastic Realpolitik that produces it. The play's double plot thus insists on the divorce of the aristocratic myths of heroic and pastoral in what is effectively Prospero's counter-pastoral.8 His island, that is, becomes a pastoral retreat associated with the repression of pastoral in its traditional guise: otium and erotic release.9


Caliban's claim to the island—his first extended speech in the play—is not, as Hazlitt recognized, a utopian one:

This island's mine by Sycorax my mother,
Which thou tak'st from me. When thou cam'st first,
Thou strok'st me and made much of me, wouldst give me
Water with berries in't, and teach me how
To name the bigger light and how the less,
That burn by day and night; and then I loved thee,
And showed thee all the qualities o'th'isle,
The fresh springs, brine pits, barren place and fertile—
Cursed be I that did so! All the charms
Of Sycorax, toads, beetles, bats light on you!
For I am all the subjects that you have,
Which first was mine own king, and here you sty me
In this hard rock, whiles you do keep from me
The rest o'th' island.


“Thou most lying slave,” Prospero responds immediately, but the force of his rebuttal is directed to the latter part of Caliban's speech and the accusation of mistreatment:

                                                                                                              Thou most lying slave,
Whom stripes may move, not kindness, I have used thee—
Filth as thou art—with humane care, and lodged thee
In mine own cell, till thou didst seek to violate
The honour of my child.


Caliban's original—and dynastic—claim to the island remains undisputed; he is, like Prospero himself, a usurped ruler. Regal language (“mine own king”) belongs to Caliban as much as to Prospero.10 David Norbrook has noted the use of the familiar “thou” in the first part of Caliban's speech, arguing that it “takes on the overtones of a recollected solidarity and mutuality.”11 In the context of Caliban's dynastic claim to the island, it is also Caliban's aristocratic punctilio, his insistence on the equality of his status with Prospero's.

Caliban's dynastic claim comes from his mother Sycorax—a claim founded on Sycorax's magic. Prospero's new claim is based no less on magic. It is simply the case that his magic is stronger, a fact that becomes abundantly clear when Caliban invokes “all the charms of Sycorax”—nothing more than toads, beetles, and bats. All that remains of Sycorax's power is Caliban's knowledge of the island: “the fresh springs, brine pits, barren place and fertile.” This sort of knowledge is the basis of Caliban's “earthiness,” a favorite appellation of Romantic criticism of the play. Prospero, on the other hand, characteristically controls the climate and spirits of the air, including Ariel. Still, there are obvious connections between Prospero and Sycorax. Sycorax imprisoned Ariel in a tree trunk; Prospero threatens Ariel with the same punishment. A potential aristocratic alliance between the families of Sycorax and Prospero haunts the play, even if one that subordinates the maternal lineage represented by Sycorax: aerial magus, terrestrial sorceress, step-brother and step-sister (Caliban and Miranda). It seems that Prospero had previously recognized something of that relationship by taking Caliban into his dwelling. Everything about Prospero's present control of the island is designed to prohibit such a symbolic alliance, but, as Stephen Orgel notes, Sycorax remains “insistently present in [Prospero's] memory—far more present than his own wife—and she embodies to an extreme degree all the negative assumptions about women that he and Miranda have exchanged.”12

Prospero's rebuttal of Caliban's claim to sovereignty, as we have already seen, is largely the explosive counter-charge of Caliban's attempted rape of Miranda: its force such that Caliban's dynastic claim is almost obliterated. The charge remains, even in readings sympathetic to Caliban, powerful and resonant. The later history of English colonialism—a particularly intensified mobilization of anxieties concerning rape and miscegenation—makes Caliban's status as a proto-colonized subject of Prospero especially difficult to modify. The narrative design of The Tempest, however, suggests other possibilities, including the unsettling one that Caliban's illicit lust is much closer to the play's normative world of aristocratic alliance than the reading of Caliban as plebeian or colonized subject allows us to appreciate fully.

The “abhorrèd” Caliban is exchanged for Ferdinand—Caliban's exit staged at the same moment as Ferdinand's entrance (l. 2.373)—and a quasi-divinized language of love replaces Caliban's caricature of lust. “Most sure, the goddess” (l. 2.422) exclaims Ferdinand on first seeing Miranda. The words are doubly surprising. The allusion to The Aeneid (Aeneas's words upon seeing Venus after the Trojan shipwreck) wrenches us out of a world that seems to look forward to Atlantic exploration and incipient colonization and places us in the oldest of Old Worlds: the central epic of Mediterranean imperium. The deification of Miranda, meanwhile, hardly accords with the general treatment of love in Shakespearean comedy, where such deification usually is produced in order to be mocked and tempered (and this is especially true of plays with strong female lovers: Beatrice, Rosalind). Nothing in this play, however, ever seems to question the idealized terms of Ferdinand's love for Miranda—unless it is his increasing devotion to his future father-in-law. At the conclusion of the play, Alonso refers to her as “the goddess that hath severed us, / And brought us thus together” (5.1.187-88). If Ferdinand can now allow Miranda's mortality, it is only in comparison to Prospero's redemptive powers:

                                                                                Sir, she is mortal;
But by immortal providence, she's mine.
I chose her when I could not ask my father
For his advice—nor thought I had one. She
Is daughter to this famous Duke of Milan,
Of whom so often I have heard renown,
But never saw before; of whom I have
Received a second life; and second father
This lady makes him to me.


Over the course of the play, Ferdinand increasingly inserts himself into an extraordinarily idealized homosocial relationship to Prospero. The result, interestingly, is one of the most purely dynastic alliances in the Shakespeare canon, where some form of rebellion against or freedom from the wishes of the father is the norm. Miranda herself had first misrecognized Ferdinand as a “spirit” (l.2.410-12)—something, that is, controlled by her father's magic—and it appears that she was largely correct. Prospero introduces Ferdinand to his daughter and to us as a “gallant” whose grief for his apparently lost father is “beauty's canker” (l.2.414, 416). In the BBC television version of the play directed by John Gorrie, Ferdinand is quite rightly a soulful teen angel right off the covers of the old Tiger Beat magazine.

In exchanging Caliban for Ferdinand, the play exchanges a form of raw dynastic lust—and Caliban's ultimate desire, after all, is to people “This isle with Calibans” (l.2.350)—for something apparently very different, an idealized form of dynastic alliance. If Ferdinand's first words recall Aeneas, his own imperial destiny—to be the ruler of both Naples and Milan—avoids the tragic dilemma represented by Aeneas: the choice between love (Dido) and empire. The central action of the play celebrates the marriage of Ferdinand and Miranda as the instrument of dynastic restitution that accords with their desires.

Still, the “specter” of Dido haunts late sixteenth- and seventeenth-century heroic narrative, and its presence is remarkably strong for such an apparently celebratory version of dynastic marriage.13 The period was in many respects more sympathetic to Dido than twentieth-century literary criticism has been. Montaigne, whose “Of the Caniballes” was an important source for The Tempest, writes in the essay “Of Diverting and Diversions”:

So do the plaints of fables trouble and vex our mindes: and the wailing laments of Dydo, and Ariadne passionate even those, that beleeve them not in Virgill, nor in Catullus: It is an argument of an obstinate nature, and indurate hart, not to be moved therewith.14

Claribel, sister of Ferdinand forced to wed the “King” of Tunis (and thus the indirect reason for the court party's arrival in Prospero's sphere of influence), seems to be introduced largely in order to elaborate the legend of Dido as the backdrop to the courtship of Ferdinand and Miranda. Gonzalo, in his gauche humanist enthusiasm, makes the connection between Claribel and Dido legible by recalling the “widow Dido” as the previous “paragon” (2.1.73-75) of Tunis (a few miles from the site of Carthage). Antonio and Sebastian miss Gonzalo's learned reference to the older Greek legend of the Dido who founded Carthage as a widow and later killed herself rather than be married to the local chieftain, Iarbas:

Widow? A pox o'that. How came that widow in? Widow Dido!
What if he had said “widower Aeneas” too? Good lord, how you take it!


If Antonio and Sebastian display their “indurate” hearts, Gonzalo's fulsome praise of Claribel inadvertently identifies the tragic context of her marrige.

Never present on the stage, Claribel haunts the play as the imperial tragedy apparently evaded by the imperial comedy of Ferdinand and Miranda. Alonso's shipwreck, Orgel reminds us, “interrupts a voyage retracing Aeneas', from Carthage to Naples.”15 The world she inhabits is thus an updated version of Virgil's Mediterranean, but also one with a strong resemblance to the notorious world in which Europeans were enslaved and ransomed along the Barbary Coast, Algiers and Tunis.16 Claribel's marriage simply instances this form of “trade” at the highest possible level. Children of nobility, of course, functioned as the aristocratic means of exchange, shoring up or creating domestic or international alliances, and King James certainly treated his own children as instruments of international diplomacy.17

In this context, it is possible that Shakespeare's use of the name Claribel recalls a “Claribell” of The Faerie Queene who plays a brief but significant role in the conclusion of Spenser's romance epic. Unlike Shakespeare's Claribel, she rebels against her father's attempt to use her as a political and economic pawn:

          Her name was Claribell, whose father hight
          The Lord of Many Ilands, farre renound
          For his great riches and his greater might.
          He through his wealth, wherein he did abound,
          This daughter thought in wedlock to haue bound
          Vnto the Prince of Picteland bordering nere,
          But she whose sides before with secret wound
          Of loue to Bellamoure empierced were,
By all means shund to match with any forrein fere.(18)

The arranged marriage Spenser's Claribell escapes reminds us of the wedding plans of Scots princes, and such a connection might have triggered Shakespeare's memory as well. Subsequently, Pastorella is revealed to be the offspring of her secret marriage with Beallamoure, a revelation that suddenly ennobles the socially hazardous bond between the shepherdess Pastorella and the courtly Calidore. Spenser's Claribell is thus closer to The Winter's Tale's Perdita than to The Tempest's Claribel, who is able to perform no such social harmonization.

The shadow story of Claribel seems to establish Miranda's alliance as a positive one, but the larger specter of Dido restlessly complicates Prospero's contradictory promotion of his daughter's marriage. Since Ferdinand's first words on seeing Miranda are also a Virgilian allusion, we are reminded of the imperial quality of Miranda's own marriage and its almost desperate centrality to Prospero's plans and his control of the island. “Miranda's virginity,” Peter Hulme writes, “is an important political card for Prospero, in some ways his only one.”19 We are never allowed to witness the relationship of Miranda and Ferdinand without Prospero's paternal monitoring of their interactions, and Orgel notes the Virgilian undercurrent in this anxiety: “[I]n so far as the play's Virgilian overtones encourage us to see Ferdinand as another Aeneas, Prospero's anxiety will strike us as justified.”20 Nevertheless, her choice is first his choice, and he introduces Ferdinand to Miranda in highly theatrical terms: “The fringed curtains of thine eye advance, / And say what thou seest yond” (1.2.409). Prospero forces Ferdinand to do Caliban's work, gathering logs, which forces the compliant Miranda into her first act of disobedience. Ferdinand's “enslavement” adds a jarring note to the effort to distinguish the alliance of Ferdinand and Miranda from Caliban's desires, but it also seems to be important in Prospero's staging of the relationship: partly to protect her virginity, which she, as a “natural” woman, might be inclined to give up too easily, but also in order to advance the intensity of their relationship by obligingly playing the role of blocking father.


Prospero's plans have nothing to do with future sovereignty over the island, and it is partly for this reason that he neglects to dispute Caliban's claim to the island. No attempt at social harmonization marks his control of the island, indicating something of the great distance between the play and Shakespeare's own earlier comedies (and reprised in The Winter's Tale). The force of comic harmonization is almost entirely directed toward that continuation of the Virgilian voyage: Carthage (Tunis) to Naples. The Mediterranean, Virgilian world of the play is one in which commerce is translated into a marriage market, much as it was previously in Antonio's bankrolling of Bassanio in order to win Portia in The Merchant of Venice. The first words of the court party on the island reinforce their connection with the commercial world:

                                                                                Our hint of woe
Is common: every day some sailor's wife,
The masters of some merchant, and the merchant
Have just our theme of woe; but for the miracle—
I mean our preservation—few in millions
Can speak like us.


Shakespeare, moreover, grafts the activities of the expansion of English commerce in the Mediterranean onto dynastic alliance for a potential critique of dynastic and commercial operations much more pointed than those to be found in Merchant. As Richard Wilson has persuasively argued, “to sail in the Ottoman Regencies of Algiers, Tripoli and Tunis, was to traffic in an entire economy driven by the corso (or lottery) of the slave market.” The Tempest, likewise, amplifies Portia's marriage lottery to the extent that the marriage market looks remarkably similar to a slave market. In this system, Caliban and the Italian court party become indistinguishable. “This was the cycle,” remarks Wilson, “into which Shakespeare's Neapolitans traded ‘the King's fair daughter Claribel,’ to be one of the wives of the Dey of Tunis; and out of which came Caliban, bastard of Sycorax, a ‘blue-ey'd’ Algerine slaveholder.21 In this cycle, the juxtaposition of Claribel's forced marriage to both Miranda's idealized dynastic alliance and Caliban's attempted rape—and his apparently continuing desire to rape Miranda—reveals Caliban in the colors of the degenerate aristocrat as much as African slave. He shares as much with Cymberline's Cloten as with any of Shakespeare's low-born characters. Claribel's forced marriage can thus appear as an officially sanctioned version of what Caliban wants to do.

Warding off such continuities, Prospero strenuously separates himself and his island from the Mediterranean system that surrounds it: (colonial) counter-pastoral.22 As a site of reforming opposition to the European dynastic states, Prospero's island has more in common with English activity in the Atlantic than with its simultaneously growing presence in the Mediterranean. The play's minimal explicit references to the Atlantic world are associated with the magical control of the island: Ariel's memory of fetching dew from the “still-vexed Bermudas” (l.2.229) and Setebos, Sycorax's god and the name of a Patagonian deity in the accounts of Magellan's travels. While the Mediterranean world around it allows Sycorax initially to claim the island and Claribel to be packed off to Tunis, Prospero's control of the island establishes the political economy instantly recognizable to us if still novel in Shakespeare's time: the enslavement of the African Caliban and the servitude of the “native” Ariel. Prospero's magic appears to make it possible for a colony from the Atlantic world to stray into the Mediterranean.23

It is, however, Prospero's almost exclusive interest in metropolitan politics that provides his strongest link to the colonizing aristocrats of Shakespeare's London. At the time of The Tempest, colonization claimed the attention of a conservative but increasingly oppositional “country” interest developing among the aristocracy, including Shakespeare's one-time patron, the earl of Southampton. If New Historical critics of the play have been sensitive to the play's colonialist aspect, they also have too easily assimilated it to the power of the Stuart state. Norbrook, on the other hand, has persuasively established this oppositional subtext in the play's use of Italian dynastic politics, including an illuminating statement in the 1614 Parliament that the Virginia colony would become a bridle for the Neapolitan courser if the youth of England were able to sit him.24 John Fletcher and Philip Massinger's The Double Marriage (1621) celebrates an exiled duke's assassination of the tyrannical king of Naples, but Shakespeare's Prospero represents no such explicitly radical program. His use of his island is not designed to topple Naples and Milan but to reform them through political marriage. Prospero is an inherently unstable combination of Puritan reformer and absolutist ruler of the island.25 As counter-pastoral, meanwhile, the island everywhere shows signs of negotium—the enforced labors of Caliban, Ariel, and Ferdinand, as well as what appears from his exhaustion at the end of the play to be Prospero's own investment of significant energies on the management side—where we might expect otium.


The contradictions of Prospero's counter-pastoral converge on the courtship of Ferdinand and Miranda. Miranda's virginal purity distinguishes the island from the Mediterranean cycle surrounding it even while it serves as Prospero's most important “political card” in returning to the negotium of dynastic alliance. Prospero's mode of reform remains typically aristocratic: a masque-like education of the court party leading to marriage.26 The two modes of reform are most expansively conflated in the wedding masque of Ferdinand and Miranda, and it is there that we behold Prospero's own celebration of his success in isolating a purified and virginal political marriage. Prospero introduces the masque by twice insisting on Miranda's status as his “gift” to Ferdinand (4.1.8, 13), along with a fulsome warning about the dire effects of breaking her “virgin-knot before / All sanctimonious ceremonies” (4.1.15-16). This almost parodic “traffic in women” reveals an anxious reassertion of patriarchal authority, perhaps in response to the extraordinary moment in the previous scene between Miranda and Ferdinand in which her innocence allows her to seize control of the courtship:

                                                                                                                        But this is trifling,
And all the more it seeks to hide itself,
The bigger bulk it shows. Hence, bashful cunning,
And prompt me, plain and holy innocence!
I am your wife if you will marry me;
If not, I'll die your maid.


Analogizing any attempt to hide her desire to the vain attempt to hide a pregnant belly, Miranda aligns herself with disingenuous sexuality. Prospero's masque, on the other hand, excludes Venus and Cupid from its celebration of the match. John Pitcher argues that it is in fact designed to “recode” Dido's tragedy as a properly constituted and lawful marriage.27 This reformation of the story of Dido and Aeneas in terms of a perfectly chaste marriage resonates with Prospero's larger political project of a kind of counter-absolutism, counterpoised to the passion of Dido and Aeneas on the one hand and the political marriage of Claribel and the Dey of Tunis on the other: empire, but a now reformed empire.

The wedding masque, however, also appears to be the weak link in Prospero's plans. His recollection of Caliban's conspiracy prompts his sudden dissolution of the masque, an elegiac farewell to theater, and a transformed sense of himself as old and weak: “Sir, I am vexed. / Bear with my weakness, my old brain is troubled” (4.1.158-59). Ernest R. Gilman has suggested that Caliban's conspiracy plays the role of the antimasque to Prospero's wedding masque. Arriving at the end of the masque, Caliban and his fellows effectively invert the form of the Jonsonian masque and with it Prospero's ability to control the terms of the marriage.28 Caliban seems to represent the return of the libidinous sexuality that Prospero sees himself as controlling through the wedding masque. Caliban's threat, however, is not simply a threat from below: the return of the repressed as both sexual and political uprising.29 He is, as we have already seen, aristocratic libertine as well as plebeian rapist.

This overdetermined sexuality is at least partially cued by the masque itself, despite the fact that its narrative celebrates the absence of Venus and Cupid. After the spectacular special effects of the masque's opening introduction of Juno, it proceeds towards an increasingly pastoral vision. Iris calls forth nymphs and then, to dance with them, georgic reapers (as is appropriate to the general character of Prospero's counter-pastoral): “sun-burned sickle-men, of August weary” (4.1.134). Iris invites these laborers to “holiday” release:

Come hither from the furrow and be merry;
Make holiday; your rye-straw hats put on,
And these fresh nymphs encounter every one
In country footing.


Richard Wheeler has elaborated the sexual undercurrent of the lines. The “encounter” on “country footing” evokes the French foutre (“to copulate with”) as well as the very English “cunt” (as in Hamlet's “country matters”).30 Chaste marriage turns into its opposite through the apparently innocent means of pastoral. Sexuality here also hints at death: the sickles of the reapers. Prospero's first words after his dissolution of the masque indicate the presence of death in his thinking:

I had forgot that foul conspiracy
Of the beast Caliban and his confederates
Against my life.


Prospero had to some extent controlled time (the Latin tempus) through his control of nature (the tempest itself, the winterless year of the wedding masque). This control suddenly reveals itself to be merely theatrical effects, “this insubstantial pageant” (4.1.155). The suffusion of death through the final scenes of the play seems to be directly related to his recognition of the inevitable failure to administer his daughter's sexuality in perpetuity. This, he anticipates in Lear-like fashion, will coincide with the moment of his redundancy in the dynastic system:

                                                                                                                        … and so to Naples,
Where I have hope to see the nuptial
Of these our dear-belov'd solemnized,
And thence retire me to my Milan, where
Every third thought shall be my grave.


Caliban is for Prospero the embodiment of this combination of sexuality and death. Caliban, as I have argued, is the photographic negative of the pastoral, his sexuality both aristocratic and plebeian. It is appropriate that Prospero seems to be reminded of Caliban at the moment of viewing the nymphs and reapers in pastoral holiday. Pastoral was the genre of erotic exploration in the Renaissance. More broadly, C. L. Barber famously associated the seasonal cycle of festivity with a pattern of “release” and “clarification” in Shakespearean comedy, one as important for aristocrats as for plebeians.31 This is the pleasurable space in Shakespearean theater in which a figure such as Oberon can engage, however temporarily, the sexuality of the comically monstrous Bottom or in which the aristocratic Rosalind seems to require the presence of the bawdy Touchstone to experience fully the possibilities of Arden.32 Aristocratic marriage remains the order of the day, but not without a significant alteration of feeling produced by the pastoral engagements of aristocrats and clowns.

Caliban's form of release, on the other hand, represents both an abject version of Prospero's own dynastic impulse and insurrection from well beneath Prospero: “Freedom, high-day [holiday]! High-day, freedom! Freedom, highday, freedom!” (2.2.181-82). Meredith Skura convincingly locates Prospero in a line of Shakespearean rulers who lash out at figures who embody qualities they have rejected in themselves: Antonio to Shylock in The Merchant of Venice, Duke Senior to Jacques in As You Like It; Duke Vincentio to Lucio in Measure for Measure, Henry V to Falstaff in 2 Henry IV.33 Prospero's most rhetorically inflated denunciation of Caliban occurs shortly after his dramatic recollection of the conspiracy and dissolution of the masque:

A devil, a born devil, on whose nature
Nurture can never stick; on whom my pains,
Humanely taken, all, all lost, quite lost;
And as with age his body uglier grows,
So his mind cankers.


“The charge,” remarks Orgel in his note on the passage, “may be less straightforward than it appears: Prospero has just become conscious of his own advancing age, and has expressed fears for his own mind.” Caliban then enters, significantly accompanied by the fool Trinculo, himself little more than a seedy reminder of Shakespeare's great fools and forms of festivity. The return of Caliban is the return of repressed sexuality to the wedding masque, but in generic terms it is also the return of a repressed form of pastoral to Prospero's island. The demonized Caliban (“a devil, a born devil”) is the uncanny reminder of pastoral forms that Prospero's Puritanical control of the island has repressed.

Tremendously shaken by his sudden recollection of Caliban, Prospero nevertheless proceeds to complete the insertion of Miranda into the dynastic system of alliance, his overriding political and personal goal all along. This event, to which we shall now turn, allows us to take the full measure of Prospero's counter-pastoral. Prospero has effectively reshuffled the key ingredients of Shakespearean comedy, the symbolic union of high and low and the relative freedom of daughters and lovers, such that both now appear particularly jaundiced. Rather than a “romance,” we perhaps have here a particularly aggravated version of one of Shakespeare's “problem comedies.”

Miranda herself is significantly altered at the end of the play, having effectively lost her symbolic insularity—her distinction from the Italian metropole. In the final act, Prospero can “discover” Miranda and Ferdinand in masque-like fashion to the astonished members of the court party. They are playing chess, the game of aristocratic power:

Sweet lord, you play me false.
                                                                                No, my dearest love
I would not for the world.
Yes, for a score of kingdoms you would wrangle,
And I would call it fair play.


Chess is here linked to Ferdinand and Miranda's knowingness—at least Miranda's, who can now seem considerably worldlier than Ferdinand. The alliance in which the happy lovers are engaged is simply diplomacy: war by other means. At a more intimate level, chess represents the strategic struggle for Miranda's virginity as the everyday “battle of the sexes”—and in a form no longer associated with the youthful freedom of Shakespeare's earlier heroines.34 Miranda's affectionate cynicism is an extraordinary change from her previous erotic frankness. It produces what is, despite its apparent attractiveness, perhaps the most dispiriting moment in the entire play, as Miranda projects her own name, “wonder,” onto the assembled nobility:

                                                                                                              O wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world
That has such people in't!


“'Tis new to thee,” Prospero responds, ironically marking her accession to “old world” protocols. Miranda appears to have thoroughly absorbed the nature of Prospero's political project and her role in it.

The moment is of course an ambivalent one for Prospero. The maintenance of Miranda's purity was the symbolic key to his difference from the Mediterranean dynasties, and it is this symbolic difference that is lost at the moment of his triumph. It requires the ever incautious and idealizing Gonzalo to drive home the point:

Was Milan thrust from Milan that his issue
Should become kings of Naples? O rejoice
Beyond a common joy, and set it down
With gold on lasting pillars! In one voyage
Did Claribel her husband find at Tunis,
And Ferdinand, her brother, found a wife
Where he himself was lost. …


In case the audience might have forgotten the relatively spare mention of Claribel earlier in the play, Gonzalo here equates her marriage with the union of Ferdinand and Miranda. If Miranda, unlike Claribel, gives her enthusiastic assent to the marriage, the form of her assent changes as she moves closer to the court party: innocent sexual desire to the gamesmanship of erotic courtliness. If Miranda has escaped the immediate clutches of Caliban, she has entered Claribel's world with enthusiasm.


  1. The Romantics on Shakespeare, ed. Jonathan Bate (London and New York: Penguin, 1992), 536-37.

  2. John Milton (The Oxford Authors), ed. Stephen Orgel and Jonathan Goldberg (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), lines 533-34.

  3. David Norbrook, on the other hand, interprets Milton's masque as a revision of The Tempest that identifies and highlights the play's utopian aspect: “The libertarian impulse in the play is doubtless why it appealed so strongly to Milton, who rewrote it in Comus, transferring Caliban's less attractive qualities to the aristocratic Comus, giving a more rigorous utopian discourse to the lady, and assigning the agency of the resolution not to the aristocrats but to the Ariel-figure and a nature goddess” (“‘What Cares These Roarers for the Name of King’: Language and Utopia in The Tempest,” in The Politics of Tragicomedy: Shakespeare and After, ed. Gordon McMullan and Jonathan Hope [London and New York: Routledge, 1992], 21-54, citation 21).

  4. See John Guillory, Poetic Authority: Spenser, Milton, and Literary History (New York: Columbia University Press, 1983), 68-93; Mary Loeffelholz, “Two Masques of Ceres and Proserpine: Comus and The Tempest,” in Re-membering Milton: Essays on the Texts and Traditions, ed. Mary Nyquist and Margaret W. Ferguson (London and New York: Methuen, 1987), 25-42; Christopher Kendrick, “Milton and Sexuality: A Symptomatic Reading of Comus,” in Re-membering Milton, 43-73.

  5. William Empson, Some Versions of Pastoral (1935, reprinted New York: New Directions, 1974), 11.

  6. William Shakespeare, The Tempest, ed. Stephen Orgel (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), act 4, scene 1, lines 139-41. Further references to the play are from this edition and are included in the text.

  7. Empson, 30-31.

  8. Raymond Williams uses the term “counter-personal” to describe the realist impulse behind George Crabbe's The Village (1783). See The Country and the City (St. Albans, England: Paladin, 1975), 23. I had forgotten Williams's use of the term when I first applied it to The Tempest, but it seems to me that my forgetful use of the term usefully complicates Williams's own tendency to portray Renaissance pastoral as an “enamelled” world in which “living tensions are excised” (29).

  9. Most readings of pastoral in The Tempest have seen Prospero's appropriation of its myths as relatively unproblematic. See Thomas McFarland, Shakespeare's Pastoral Comedy (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1972), 146-75; David Young, The Heart's Forest: A Study of Shakespeare's Pastoral Plays (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1972, 146-91.

  10. See David Scott Kastan on this exchange, Shakespeare after Theory (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999), 186. Kastan's reading of the play, like my own, insists on the centrality of European dynastic politics.

  11. Norbrook, 42.

  12. Stephen Orgel, “Introduction,” The Tempest, 19-20. Orgel's list of the parallels between Sycorax and Prospero is instructive: “She, too, was a victim of banishment, and the island provided a new life for her, as it did literally for her son, with whom she was pregnant when she arrived. Like Prospero, she made Ariel her servant, and controlled the natural spirits of the island” (19).

  13. See John Watkins, The Specter of Dido: Spenser and Virgilian Epic (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995).

  14. Montaigne's Essays, John Florio's Translation, ed. J. I. M. Stewart (London: Nonesuch, 1931), vol. 2, 230; cited by Gail Kern Paster, “Montaigne, Dido and The Tempest: ‘How Came that Widow In?’” Shakespeare Quarterly 35 (1984): 91-94, citation 93-94. Orgel is, on the other hand, uncharacteristically harsh on the Virgilian Dido: “[T]here are many sympathetic readings of the Virgilian episode in the period, but there was not getting around the fact that Virgil's Dido ends as a fallen woman, conscious of her sin, betrayed and abandoned” (42).

  15. Orgel, 40.

  16. See Richard Wilson, “Voyage to Tunis: New History and the Old World of The Tempest,ELH 64 (1997): 333-57, esp. 335-36.

  17. Wilson intriguingly argues that Claribel's match would have possessed topical significance for an English audience watching The Tempest while simultaneously following the negotiations for the marriage between the Medici heiress and the Prince of Wales. The match, however, was “generally loathed” in England, and some (Wilson shows that the Venetian ambassador was one) might have suspected the extent to which the proposed match was in effect an attempt to gain commercial concessions and to regain plunder from Robert Dudley's (the natural son of the Earl of Leicester) commercial operations in Leghorn (346-47). This would have implicated Stuart politics in what in the play is clearly a corrupt system.

  18. Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene, VI.xii.4. D. C. Kay, “A Spenserian Source for Shakespeare's Claribel?” Notes and Queries 229:2 (1984): 217.

  19. Peter Hulme, Colonial Encounters: Europe and the Native Caribbean, 1492-1797 (London and New York: Methuen, 1986), 126.

  20. Orgel, 42.

  21. Wilson, 336.

  22. See Leo Marx, “Shakespeare's American Fable” (1960, reprinted in The Machine in the Garden: Technology and the Pastoral Ideal in America [New York: Oxford University Press, 1964], 34-72).

  23. Scholarship of the past few years has returned to an interest in the Mediterranean context of the play, challenging the previous assimilation of the play to colonialist discourse. I have already indicated my own use of Wilson and Kastan. See also Barbara Fuchs, “Conquering Islands: Contextualizing The Tempest,Shakespeare Quarterly 48 (1997): 45-62; Jerry Brotton, “‘This Tunis, sir, was Carthage’: Contesting Colonialism in The Tempest,” in Post-colonial Shakespeares, ed. Ania Loomba and Martin Orkin (London and New York: Routledge, 1998), 23-42. Peter Hulme's Colonial Encounters, however, remains the best reading of the relationship between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic in The Tempest, arguing that the play is a palimpsest in which an Atlantic text not yet fully legible on its own terms reinscribes the original Mediterranean text (108-09).

  24. Norbrook, 34-35, 50-51 (fn. 40). For the importance of this political formation on Shakespeare's immediate followers, see Philip J. Finkelpearl, Court and Country Politics in the Plays of Beaumont and Fletcher (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990). Robert Brenner's Merchants and Revolution: Commercial Change, Political Conflict, and London's Overseas Traders, 1550-1653 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993), argues that the colonizing aristocrats of Shakespeare's time were eventually displaced by interloping “new-merchants,” but Brenner also notes intriguing counterexamples, including the Earl of Warwick's use of the “still vexed Bermudas” as a base for parliamentary opposition from 1628 onwards (149).

  25. The “Puritan” Prospero is not a staple of recent criticism, but it was once generally assumed to be crucial to his identification with British imperialism. See, for example, G. Wilson Knight, The Crown of Life: Essays in Interpretation of Shakespeare's Final Plays (London: Methuen, 1948), 255.

  26. Recent scholarship has revised earlier assumptions that identified the politics of the masque solely with the interests of the monarch. See the essays in The Politics of the Stuart Court Masque, ed. David Bevington and Peter Holbrook (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998).

  27. John Pitcher, “A Theatre for the Future: The Aeneid and The Tempest,Essays in Criticism 34 (1984): 193-215, esp. 204-05.

  28. Ernest R. Gilman, “‘All Eyes’: Prospero's Inverted Masque,” Renaissance Quarterly 33 (1980): 214-30.

  29. Richard P. Wheeler has associated Caliban at this moment with the return of the repressed (“Fantasy and History in The Tempest,” [1995, reprinted in The Tempest: Critical Essays, ed. Patrick M. Murphy (New York and London: Routledge, 2001), 293-324, citation 316]). Wheeler's reading is more fully psychoanalytic than my own, and he argues that Caliban represents Prospero's own repressed desire for Miranda.

  30. Wheeler, 315-16; David Sundelson, “So Rare a Wonder'd Father: Prospero's Tempest,” in Representing Shakespeare: New Psychoanalytic Essays, ed. Murray M. Schwartz and Coppélia Kahn (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980), 33-53, esp. 49.

  31. C. L. Barber, Shakespeare's Festive Comedy: A Study of Dramatic Form and Its Relation to Social Custom (1959, reprinted Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1972).

  32. Douglas Bruster intriguingly connects Caliban with Will Kemp, clown of the Lord Chamberlain's Men (“Local Tempest: Shakespeare and the Work of the Early Modern Playhouse,” Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies 25 [1995]: 33-53).

  33. Meredith Skura, “Discourse and the Case of Colonialism in The Tempest,Shakespeare Quarterly 40 (1989): 42-69, esp. 60-65. Harry Berger, Jr. similarly reads Prospero's “pastoral kingdom” as requiring a scapegoat—Caliban—in order to sustain its magical sense of its own power and virtue (“Miraculous Harp: A Reading of Shakespeare's Tempest,Shakespeare Studies 5 [1969]: 253-83, citation 261).

  34. See the discussion of Bryan Loughrey and Neil Taylor, “Ferdinand and Miranda at Chess,” Shakespeare Survey 35 (1982): 113-19. Shakespeare's interest in the symbolic conflation of love and war is, they point out, a consistent one (115).

Nancy R. Lindheim (essay date 1974)

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Last Updated on February 4, 2016, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 6335

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 various parallels between that play and King Lear,1 and recently Maynard Mack has suggested Lear's relation to pastoral romance. In Professor Mack's assessment, King Lear alludes to the patterns of pastoral romance only to turn them upside down: ‘It moves from extrusion not to pastoral, but to what I take to be the greatest anti-pastoral ever penned.’2 What I wish to suggest instead is that King Lear makes no apologies for taking its pastoral ‘straight,’ and that pastoral is relevant to its germinating impulses. King Lear derives its resemblance to As You Like It and to pastoral romance from something which is basic to its conception. We have only to reflect upon what the past thirty-five years or so have taught us about the nature of pastoral—its vision and the questions it implies—to see why Shakespeare could have considered the combination of pastoral and tragedy a viable paradox.

The combination is viable because pastoral too deals with fundamental questions about man. By asking what is natural for man, pastoral consciously and normatively explores man's relation with civilization, with nature, and even with the cosmos. For the Renaissance writer pastoral was clearly associated with the major poetic themes. Spenser, for example, turns to pastoral to examine time, death, and the natural order in the Shepheardes Calender, or to explore the roots of civilization and social cohesion in Book VI of The Faerie Queene.3 Milton, too, conceives pastoral in this way, not only in the Eden of Paradise Lost but earlier in Lycidas, where tragic questionings implicit in pastoral elegy are insisted upon.4 If for the moment we accept Frank Kermode's thesis that all serious pastoral is concerned with the contrast between art and nature,5 this too has relevance to King Lear, for it lies at the core of Lear's discoveries about unaccommodated man: ‘there on's are sophisticated; thou art the thing itself’ (3.4.108-9). One of the thematic chains to which these words belong, the concern with gorgeous clothing and ‘superfluity,’ is in fact a traditional topos of the kind of pastoral Hallett Smith describes as extolling the values of the good life:

Oh happy who thus liveth,
          not caring much for gold:
With cloathing which sufficeth,
          to keep him from the cold.(6)

The muted generalities of these lyrics are wildly magnified and intensified in the storm scenes of King Lear, but certain themes in both can be identified: the concern for man stripped of all the accountrements of society, the evils of that society itself when seen from the perspective of a man somehow purified, and finally the needs basic to all men that permit one to define what is minimally necessary for a genuinely human existence.

In Lear's anguished comments on the society he once ruled we meet a tragic satire that thus has its roots in pastoral as well. The connection between social or political commentary and pastoral, available at least since Virgil's First Eclogue, was one that Shakespeare apparently found useful. In As You Like It, for example, virtually an examination of pastoral conventions, Shakespeare introduces two satiric figures, Jaques and Touchstone, and a formal discussion of a satiric problem: the distance necessary for effective moral judgment. Among the questions opened in this interchange between Jaques and the Duke (2.7.44-86) is whether Jaques' libertine past disqualifies him from practising satire. In King Lear, all such considerations of personal infection (which remain relevant to tragic satire in Hamlet) disappear in the wake of the play's demand for feeling and experience. Lear's awareness of his responsibility for injustice in his kingdom (‘O! I have ta'en / Too little care of this’ [3.4.32-3]) is felt to lend even greater authority to his criticism of society. Jaques envies the Fool his motley, which he sees as a badge of his difference from ordinary people and his licence ‘To blow on whom I please’ (49); Lear's speeches are wrung from his newly awakened sense of identity with ordinary mankind (‘Off, off, you lendings!’). King Lear may not rest in the equation of humanity with ‘unaccommodated man,’ but the identification seems logically necessary to substantiate Lear's discoveries. Though we may say that Lear is approaching a pastoral position by recognizing himself as an ‘everyman’ who is uninvolved in society's scramble for wealth and position,7 nevertheless, his ‘unaccommodated man’ remains qualitatively different from the traditional shepherd who earns his authority as commentator by his purity and harmony with nature. It is an index of the kind of pastoral Shakespeare is working towards that this stripped figure should be defined not in terms of his moral purity, but as a forked animal who suffers and has suffered.

In As You Like It these perceptions (in so far as they are recognized) are held in disjunction; that is, they are strung along sequentially to make up the action. Jaques is a ridiculous figure, not, to be sure, because he is disqualified from making moral judgments by his libertine past, but because throughout the play he refuses to be fully human. And insufficient humanity, manifested doubly in his opposition to love and his inability to undergo the ‘education and rebirth’ offered by the pastoral experience,8 is in this play a cardinal failing. The point is made beautifully in the very scene in which Jaques and the Duke discuss effective moral judgment (2.7) because Shakespeare will not underwrite Jaques' cynicism or pat formulations. Nor, indeed, will he underwrite the audience's expectations of pastoral. We begin with what seems another aspect of the contrast between court (city) and country; Jaques' desire to ‘Cleanse the foul body of th' infected world’ suggests the immense vulnerability of civilization and especially of the city, since he takes aim at ‘the city woman’ and him ‘of basest function’ who (illegally, immorally) wears gorgeous clothes. Yet this speech gives way to Orlando's entrance, and the terms of discourse suddenly alter, so that ‘civility’ and being ‘inland bred’ become signs of moral probity and the guarantors of humane behaviour:

If ever you have looked on better days,
If ever been where bells have knolled to church,
If ever sat at any good man's feast,
If ever from your eyelids wiped a tear
And know what 'tis to pity and be pitied,
Let gentleness my strong enforcement be.


We may protest that this is merely Orlando's misunderstanding of pastoral life—the first seven lines of the speech (106-12) assume ‘savagery’ from those who live in a ‘desert inaccessible’ and who ‘Lose and neglect the creeping hours of time’—but the Duke repeats these very words when he responds to Orlando's needs. The scene in fact unfolds within an extraordinarily civilized context, reflecting, it seems to me, the filtered influence of Æneas' entrance into the temple of Dido's Carthage (Æneid I. 446ff). The significant echo occurs between the most important lines: Dido's ‘non ignara mali miseris succurrere disco’ (630) and Æneas' famous ‘lacrimae rerum’ speech form the basis of Orlando's ‘If ever from your eyelids wiped a tear / And know what 'tis to pity and be pitied’ (cf. also the Duke's ‘Thou seest we are not all alone unhappy’ [136]). Virgil's emphasis on the founding of Carthage, on the city as symbol of the desired end both of personal trial and communal suffering, is also part of the ambience of this exchange in As You Like It.10 The Virgilian echoes contribute to the decidedly urban, ‘nurtured’ cast of this statement of values—which forms what is in effect the doctrinal heart of the pastoral examination in As You Like It. Thus, even in a play that we may consider an example of pastoral, Shakespeare's handling of the relevant themes is extremely complex, oriented towards action rather than contemplation, so that impulses like pity, which are normally pastoral expressions of purified human nature, find their root justification as well in more complex civilization. Shakespeare presents a similar ambivalence toward traditional pastoral motifs in Cymbeline 3.3 (which also begins with a clear reference to the Æneid, to Evander's ‘aude, hospes’ speech of VIII.364f), where the two rusticated princes do not refute old Morgan's statements about the corruption inherent in court and city life, but insist that it is necessary for a fully human—meaning heroic—existence: the princes complain, ‘We have seen nothing / We are beastly …’ (39-40).

It is perhaps in what I have suggested is its ‘doctrinal heart’ that As You Like It shows its most important resemblance to King Lear—in the insistence that the human condition requires one ‘to pity and be pitied,’ to respond sympathetically to another person's suffering or to an outrage against one's sense of human value. The first of these alternatives is more prevalent in As You Like It, where repeated offers of sympathy or help to someone who is in need form a central pattern of action in the play. The motif is usually expressed in terms of some bond or tie which impels it: Adam's decision to help Orlando because of loyalty to his old master, Celia's flight from the court with Rosalind because of their friendship, Orlando's determination to find food for the dying Adam (because of gratitude, honour, the reciprocal nature of the bond of service?), Orlando's rescuing of Oliver from the lion because they are brothers, Phebe's pity for Sylvius once she too knows the pains of love, etc. All these acts are generalized and epitomized in the central gesture with which the Duke responds when he is conjured to pity another, not because of particular attachment, but on the grounds of his civilized humanity.

One can, I think, scarcely overemphasize the importance of this same motif or gesture to King Lear, since it is the focus for Shakespeare's explorations concerning man and the minimally ‘ideal’ society. Shakespeare's strategy in the play seems two-fold: the first thrust is towards drastic reduction, towards the thematic word ‘nothing’; the second is towards establishing the minimal essential ‘something’ that allows one to define man normatively, namely, feelings of pity and love. King Lear envisions possibilities of justice, equality, opulence which we may justifiably consider part of a maximally ideal society; yet the play, like pastoral, is really concerned with the basic and minimal. But paradoxically, what in political or social terms is only minimally ideal turns out to be, in personal terms, a kind of perfection: the love that obtains between father and child is sufficient to transform prison into something that the gods themselves throw incense on. However much the play makes of the theme of social justice, the ‘minimally ideal society,’ then, is not a political construct of any sort: its essence is the love between father and child, Cordelia reconciled to King Lear, Edgar reunited with Gloucester. In its fullest form the essential element is this special kind of purified love, but for purposes of ‘definition,’ the element that distinguishes man seems to be his capacity for pity. ‘… It is especially humane (and humanity is the virtue most peculiar to man) to relieve the misery of others …’: the authority is Sir Thomas More in his Utopia.11

The drive to reduce man to ‘nothing,’ to a state just below what we would accept as human, materializes in the figure of poor Tom, who is an objective embodiment of Lear's anguished imagination: ‘Allow not nature more than nature needs, / Man's life is cheap as beast's’ (2.4.268-9); ‘Is man no more than this? … unaccommodated man is no more but such a poor, bare, forked animal as thou art’ (3.4.105, 109-11); ‘I' th' last night's storm I such a fellow saw, / Which made me think a man a worm’ (4.1.32-3). But Shakespeare wants to do more than merely isolate this supremely negative figure; Edgar's decision ‘To take the basest and most poorest shape / That ever penury, in contempt of man, / Brought near to beast’ is taken apparently in part so that he may go through villages and ‘Enforce their charity. Poor Turlygod! poor Tom! / That's something yet: Edgar I nothing am’ (2.3.7-9, 20-1). The ‘something’ that poor Tom is, on the one hand, is a role (in contrast to which, Lear has lost his roles of king and father and Edgar is no longer a son), but on the other hand, more important for this discussion, it is an object of pity, a means by which other people are enabled to discover or manifest their humanity. Human reduction, the first motif, thus leads naturally to the second motif of pity. Lear's radical discovery about unaccommodated man follows such a moment of awareness of another person's suffering: ‘Thou wert better in a grave than to answer with thy uncover'd body this extremity of the skies’ (3.4.103-5). We recognize this as a statement about himself as well as about poor Tom; he too has been ‘reduced’ to a mere man. These perceptions of others are wrung from his own suffering: ‘How dost, my boy? Art cold? / I am cold myself … Poor Fool and knave, I have one part in my heart / That's sorry yet for thee’ (3.2.68-9, 72-3). The mad speeches play variations on our sense of this identification: ‘What! has his daughters brought him to this pass? … nothing could have subdu'd nature / To such a lowness but his unkind daughters’ (3.4.63, 70-1). Lear's inability to distinguish himself from other people is the mad counterpart of his new openness to feelings of pity and concern for others, and it culminates in his recognition of himself in the figure of ‘man’ he has just discerned: ‘Off, off, you lendings! Come; unbutton here’ (111-12).

The idea of compassion is so strong in King Lear that it seems to determine certain technical aspects of the play, one rhetorical in the large sense of the term, the other in the narrower stylistic sense. That the play ‘notoriously overwhelms and exhausts us’12 is Shakespeare's conscious intention, the result of an unprecedented insistence that the audience actively participate in the emotional experience of his characters. He does this by having the characters on stage constantly express their own emotional reactions, which calls attention to what the audience feels and certifies its response as proper before it can be stifled as ‘unmanly.’ On some such grounds we may account for Edgar's frequent remarks to the effect that ‘My tears begin to take his part so much, / They mar my counterfeiting’ (3.6.60-1) and ‘I would not take this from report; it is, / And my heart breaks at it’ (4.6.142-3), or Albany's ‘If there be more, more woeful, hold it in; / For I am almost ready to dissolve, / Hearing of this’ (5.3.202-5).13 It might be possible to attribute this emphasis on emotional participation both to the general rhetorical or affective bias of Renaissance poetic theory which had as its chief aim the moulding of audience response, and to the specific description that the Donatan tradition gave to tragedy: ‘the primary effect of tragedy is sorrow or woe, of which pity is a species.’14 Yet no other Shakespearean tragedy is so insistent in its allegiance to the theory—because in no other play is the concern with pity so central thematically.

The basis of the rhetorical scheme characterizing the expression of these themes is an implicit comparison of an extreme and an extremely negative character. Shakespeare restricts his usage of this rhetorical pattern to the Lear story, probably because the physical outrage of the Gloucester subplot makes any heightening of our responses there unnecessary. We hear it first in the very opening scene of the play, in Lear's assertion that

                                                  The barbarous Scythian,
Or he that makes his generation messes
To gorge his appetite, shall to my bosom
Be as well neighbour'd, pitied, and relieved,
As thou my sometime daughter


where the comparison is still confined to human beings, though the Scythian is felt to be only marginally human, a figure who is morally ‘nothing’ to weigh along with the materially deprived figures who will later haunt the play. We hear it last just before the reconciliation scene, where it works in its more characteristic form, with animals:

                                                                                          Mine enemy's dog,
Though he had bit me, should have stood that night
Against my fire.


In Albany's confrontation with Goneril the comparison becomes linked to the idea of filial bonds and the borderline dividing man, beast, and ‘monsters of the deep’:

Tigers, not daughters, what have you perform'd?
A father, and a gracious aged man,
Whose reverence even the head-lugg'd bear would lick,
Most barbarous, most degenerate! have you madded.


A ‘head-lugg'd bear,’ tortured to wildness, would show more pity—and piety—than Goneril and Regan have shown. The purpose of the rhetorical scheme is to help us realize the extent of the moral depravity, of the falling away from humanity, that is at the core of these actions. And in this play, ‘to show the extent’ of anything means to drive to the uttermost limits and then perhaps beyond, not just intellectually but emotionally. Gloucester's great speech condemning the sisters' behaviour most fully explores the hyperbolic tendency implicit in the scheme. He has disobeyed their order not to help Lear

Because I would not see thy cruel nails
Pluck out his poor old eyes; nor thy fierce sister
In his anointed flesh rash boarish fangs.
The sea, with such a storm as his bare head
In hell-black night endur'd, would have buoy'd up,
And quench'd the stelled fires;
Yet, poor old heart, he holp the heavens to rain.
If wolves had at thy gate howl'd that dearn time,
Thou should'st have said ‘Good porter, turn the key.’


Humanity has exceeded its upper and lower limits in the line containing ‘anointed flesh’ and ‘boarish fangs,’ just as the description of the sea suggests that the sufferings of this finite old man have exceeded what illimitable Nature could have endured without breaking her own laws. The wolves offer us a tonic return to the kind of rhetorical scheme we have been tracing; the extremity of the outrage it implies becomes underlined by association with the hyperbolic description of the sea. Most uses of the scheme point to the cruelty of the offence; here in Gloucester's speech Shakespeare gives equal emphasis to the magnitude of the suffering.

The affective mechanism of the rhetorical scheme itself contributes to the emotional exhaustion one experiences with this play. It is on the one hand powerfully expressive, yet it also points to a failure of expression because the tendency towards hyperbole implies that the speaker is without an adequate vehicle to convey the indignation he feels. In its full form it gives voice to the audience's sense of the enormity of the behaviour, the emotional and moral incomprehensibility of such personal yet cosmic evil. The expressiveness offers us some satisfaction at having recognized and condemned the outrage; the inexpressiveness keeps us tense and frustrated because ultimately it eludes our power as well as our intellectual grasp. It is exhausting too because it is pitched to such a key in order to evoke our astonishment as much as our pity or indignation; that is, Shakespeare is working with both halves of the Donatan formula and is trying simultaneously for woe and wonder, as the Renaissance thought tragedy should.

Shakespeare's desire to elicit the audience's emotional involvement and to keep passion at its apex is promoted by the way that the pure evil of the two sisters is manifested. Lear himself talks frequently of their stony hearts—one never forgets the question he hurls at the gods in the mock-trial scene, ‘Is there any cause in nature that make these hard hearts?’ (3.6.78-9)—and we are to follow this lead, I think, to understand their place in the economy of the whole. William Hazlitt's assessment is just: ‘that which aggravates the sense of sympathy in the reader, and of uncontrollable anguish in the swoln heart of Lear, is the petrifying indifference, the cold, calculating, obdurate selfishness of his daughters.’16 What shocks us most about them is their total lack of human feelings, especially pity. Lear is too complexly conceived to be defined by the single quality of his passion, but Goneril and Regan, and, later, Cordelia, are in fact largely determined by the quality of their feeling. (So that Lear's original question, ‘Which of you shall we say doth love us most?’ remains ironically central to the play, though the chamber in which it echoes changes from fairy tale to apocalypse.) The elaborate description of Cordelia in 4.3 reveals primarily a creature capable of feeling. She represents, if I may simplify, a middle term between the emotional outbursts of Lear and the absolute dearth of feeling in her sisters:

Did your letters pierce the queen to any demonstration of grief?
Ay, sir; she took them, read them in my presence;
And now and then an ample tear trill'd down
Her delicate cheek; it seem'd she was a queen
Over her passion; who, most rebel-like,
Sought to be king o'er her.


Shakespeare's imagination dwells most lavishly on the paradoxical play of feeling and restraint, making the balance also a transcendence:

                                                                                patience and sorrow strove
Who should express her goodliest. You have seen
Sunshine and rain at once; her smiles and tears
Were like, a better way; those happy smilets
That play'd on her ripe lip seem'd not to know
What guests were in her eyes; which parted thence,
As pearls from diamonds dropp'd.


This is surely a great deal of attention to give to a few tears in a play that encompasses so much and such violent action. Thematically, however, this is a moment of revelation, an outpouring of pity and love, but tempered by the quality of strength implied in ‘queen’ and ‘patience.’ It would seem to be an answer to the problem of absolutes set up in the play's opening scene, where Cordelia's unbending allegiance to Truth is almost inhumanly ‘stoic.’ The solution is not a compromise with Truth, but an infusion of human feeling—of pity for another's suffering as well as of love. An analogous change takes place in the theme of ‘service’ or loyalty. In 1.1 Kent's Platonic notion of service manifests itself as absolute fidelity to Truth (as does Cordelia's understanding of her filial bond), but in the course of the play the manifestations are all gestures of compassion, emphasizing human response rather than abstract principle: Cornwall's servant outraged by his master's attack on Gloucester, Gloucester himself seeking to aid the king, Kent's ministrations in the storm, Gloucester's servants who help him after he has been blinded, etc. Edgar's case binds the three motifs together because he becomes his father's servant and ‘saves’ him, not through truthfulness, but through the stratagem of pretending that Gloucester has survived a leap from the Dover cliffs. The ‘good’ characters of the play are defined by their capacity for this kind of human feeling; it is ultimately what makes Lear ‘More sinn'd against than sinning.’

The followers of the wicked sisters, in turn, interpret ‘pity’ according to their own values. Regan tells the just-blinded Gloucester that Edmund is ‘too good to pity’ him; in a later speech to Oswald she reveals her Machiavellian understanding of feeling as only a factor—real or feigned—in political manipulation:

It was great ignorance, Gloucester's eyes being out,
To let him live; where he arrives he moves
All hearts against us. Edmund, I think, is gone,
In pity of his misery, to dispatch
His nighted life; moreover, to descry
The strength o' th' enemy.


With Edmund we have the most telling statement of the evil camp's relation to pity. In asking his captain to murder the imprisoned king and Cordelia, he defines the new regime:

                                                            know thou this, that men
Are as the time is; to be tender-minded
Does not become a sword …


The officer's willing assent ironically hearkens back to the pastoral definition of basic man that the play has been concerned with:

I cannot draw a cart nor eat dried oats;
If it be man's work I'll do't.


The two groups of people surrounding the king move in precisely opposing directions. Those in the evil camp move from a hypocritical profession of feeling (the sisters' declarations of love, Edmund's feigned compassion for Edgar and loyalty to his father) to a revelation of their coldness and Machiavellian opportunism; the good people are more complexly arranged, but they generally follow the pattern set by the king in moving from a relatively inflexible understanding of their roles to a new understanding based on or manifested by compassion (Cordelia and Kent as outlined above; Gloucester and Albany away from a kind of ‘formalism’ by which their allegiance for a while is given to wife or to constituted legal power; for Edgar the pattern seems to be increasing intensity of feeling rather than a qualitative change in direction). One of Shakespeare's methods in effecting these transitions is to fuse the metaphoric idea of knowledge frequently implied in sight imagery with the idea of suffering that potentially underlies ‘feeling.’ The best known of the fusions is probably Gloucester's ‘I see it feelingly’ (4.6.150), which echoes his earlier prayer,

Let the superfluous and lust-dieted man,
That slaves your ordinance, that will not see
Because he does not feel, feel your power quickly.


These are expressions of the theme that explicitly connect sight (knowledge) and feeling (pity, suffering, touch); several other speeches work overtly with only one of the parts, but link it firmly to the other motifs of the play. The closely related prayer uttered by Lear during the storm, for example, works with ‘feeling’ and has its own reverberations in what we have seen to be pastoral motifs concerned with social justice and unaccommodated man:

Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel,
That thou mayst shake the superflux to them,
And show the Heavens more just.


Even as Edgar's disguise as poor Tom answered the needs of the Lear plot by offering the reductive image of ‘Man's life [as] cheap as beast's,’ his statement of identity to Gloucester asserts the differentiating element which the play has been seeking:

Now, good sir, what are you?
A most poor man, made tame by Fortune's blows;
Who, by the art of known and feeling sorrows,
Am pregnant to good pity.


The fusion in this passage has suppressed the element of sight altogether and joined suffering directly with knowledge. That the tendency of the play in all its aspects is to insist upon the primacy of feeling has long been hidden by traditional interpretations of its dominant sight imagery which equate sight with insight. The reassessment offered in Paul J. Alpers' ‘King Lear and the Theory of the “Sight Pattern”’ seems to me a much more accurate and sensitive reading of Shakespeare's use of sight and eyes in the play. Professor Alpers' argument is that references to the eyes in King Lear ‘constantly draw our attention not to the perception of moral obligations, but to the actual human relationships that give rise to moral obligations’; eyes ‘are characteristically represented as the organs through which feeling toward other people is expressed.’18 He aptly quotes the final lines of Gloucester's ‘I stumbled when I saw’ speech—‘Might I but live to see thee in my touch, / I'd say I had eyes again’ (4.1.23-4)—to affirm that ‘what is important for Gloucester is not insight but a relationship for which the only possible metaphor is physical contact.’19 Feeling in the play means not only emotion or suffering, but the actual sense of touch, just as seeing is often made more ‘sensory’ by being linked with the sense of smell (for example, Regan's ‘Go thrust him out at gates, and let him smell / His way to Dover’ [3.7.92-3]).20 The double drive towards reduction and then differentiation discussed earlier is therefore contained within the double use of these words, for in addition to making use of overtones that suggest higher forms of apprehension (insight, compassion), Shakespeare employs the two key words ‘see’ and ‘feel’ to insist upon man as animal or creature, never letting his audience escape from the physical reality that underlies what is experienced in the play.

The slight possibility of relief offered by Gloucester's lines quoted above—that is, that embracing his son again would heal the anguish of his blindness—is echoed by Lear:

This feather stirs; she lives! if it be so,
It is a chance which does redeem all sorrows
That ever I have felt.


As positive statements, both imply that the experiences that ultimately define one's life are those of pure love (agape not eros) rather than those of pain. Yet this is not, I think, our impression of the play. This hope of redemption is evoked only to be denied, not as ‘truth’ but as reality. ‘Life’ as defined by King Lear will not permit it. The dramatic embodiment of the possibility of redemption occurs in the reconciliation between Lear and Cordelia in act 4, but Shakespeare defied the ‘Leir’ tradition to have his play move on to the apocalyptic horror of act 5, beyond any experience of romance (for of course these moments of reconciliation are the stuff of romance, and of Shakespeare's later romances in particular) to a conclusion that in its painfulness is almost beyond the experience of tragedy itself. In fact, in terms of the audience's response, even the reconciliation scene between Lear and Cordelia can hardly be said to offer an oasis of relief. Its pathos is bearable only by contrast with the pain of having watched Gloucester's eyes being put out.

Our final impression of the play, as members of an audience even more than as readers, is dominated by a sense of physical pain, of life itself defined as torture: ‘he hates him / That would upon the rack of this tough world / Stretch him out longer’ (5.3.313-5). And again, we are expected to feel and give vent to our feelings. Lear's entrance with Cordelia in his arms is directed as much to us as to the people on stage:

Howl, howl, howl! O! you are men of stones:
Had I your tongues and eyes, I'd use them so
That heaven's vault should crack.


(It is the old antithesis between persons with stone hearts and those capable of feeling, who have a sympathetic connection with nature and the cosmos.)21 Kent's words at Lear's death are yet another cue for passion: ‘Break, heart; I prithee, break!’ Dr Johnson's famous comment upon the ending of King Lear is an emphatic statement of what we all feel in some measure—or the play has not done its job properly.

What we have been tracing here is, I think, the transformation of an essentially pastoral perception; but King Lear is not itself primarily a pastoral. The play uses pastoral structure to get at pastoral ideas—to arrive at basic man and a purified order of human values that encompasses public justice and private compassion—but once having arrived at the theme of human feeling, Shakespeare goes on to treat his material according to the tragic mode. The Aristotelian formula of pity and terror (underlying the Donatan woe and wonder) reinforced the propriety of the theme for tragedy, and the combined affective and didactic bias of Renaissance poetic theory channelled it into an attempt to stir up an analogous emotion on the part of the audience.

The pastoral-romance structure, like the reconciliation scene that is also from romance, is finally ironic, in the sense that both contribute to the meaningful pattern of life without ultimately having the power to define it. King Lear is tragedy, and neither pastoral nor romance, for all the use it makes of those modes. The last glimpse back to pastoral in the play (and it is fittingly to pastoral elegy) is a measure of the difference. One of the standard conventions of pastoral elegy is the comparison between the protagonist's death and the rebirth cycle of vegetative nature, a comparison which points to man's alienation from a nature that he is otherwise harmoniously part of and which formulates the anguish and tension that the final consolation of the elegy then overcomes. Another form this questioning frequently takes is ‘Why this person and not someone less worthy?’ There is an analogous moment in King Lear when Lear emerges with the body of Cordelia in his arms. The reduction motifs that culminated in the pitiable figure of unaccommodated man with whom Lear identified himself make the question of worthiness impossible for Lear to ask.22 And there is no lush nature in our experience of the play to give the vegetative comparison resonance.23 Instead, Lear's despairing cry is formed in terms of animals such as those which all along have been vehicles in the negative comparison that sought to define justice or humanity:

Why should a dog, a horse, a rat, have life,
And thou no breath at all?


The riddle, the incomprehensibility, the anguish are what we are left with. For King Lear there can be no final consolation.


  1. See, for example, Helen Gardner, ‘As You Like It,’ in More Talking of Shakespeare ed. John Garrett (New York 1959) reprinted in As You Like It ed. Albert Gilman (New York 1963).

  2. King Learin Our Time (Berkeley 1965) 65.

  3. See Isabel G. MacCaffrey, ‘Allegory and Pastoral in the Shepheardes Calender,English Literary History 36 (1969), and Donald Cheney Spenser's Image of Nature: Wild Man and Shepherd inThe Faerie Queene’ (New Haven 1966) chap 5, for Courtesy's connection with Justice.

  4. See the fine reading of Lycidas by Rosemond Tuve in Images and Themes in Five Poems by Milton (Cambridge, Mass. 1957).

  5. The Tempest ed. Frank Kermode (London 1966) xxiv.

  6. Elizabethan Poetry: A Study in Conventions, Meaning and Expression (Cambridge, Mass. 1964) 30. The stanza is from William Byrd's ‘The Heardmans happie life’ Englands Helicon ed. Hugh MacDonald (London 1949) 144.

  7. See William Empson Some Versions of Pastoral (Norfolk, Conn. 1960).

  8. Walter R. Davis describes the pastoral romance pattern as one of ‘disintegration, education and rebirth’ in W. R. Davis and R. A. Lanham Sidney'sArcadia’ (New Haven 1965) 38.

  9. As You Like It ed. Albert Gilman (New York 1963).

  10. Note the further reference to Æneas in this scene when Orlando returns carrying old Adam on his back just as Æneas carried his father, Anchises. The words pity and piety were not fully distinguished in English until about 1600, and the confusion is part of the richness of ‘Those pelican daughters’ (3.4.75); cf. the phrase ‘the Pelican in her piety.’

  11. Ed Edward J. Surtz, sj, (New Haven 1964) 93.

  12. Paul J. Alpers, ‘King Lear and the Theory of the “Sight Pattern,”’ In Defense of Reading: A Reader's Approach to Literary Criticism ed. Reuben A Brower and Richard Poirier (New York 1963) 145.

  13. Similar to these in attempting to evoke and channel our pity are Lear's repeated remarks concerning his own tears, endurance and old age: 2.4.192-5, 274-5; 3.2.20, for example.

  14. Both points are made in J. V. Cunningham Woe or Wonder: The Emotional Effect of Shakespearean Tragedy (Denver 1951) 99.

  15. Actually, about half the number refer to human beings, half to animals, but the latter tend to be more striking. Other examples occur at 2.2.136-7, 3.1.12-15 (where oddly the animals seem right out of pastoral romance), 4.7.30-1, perhaps 4.6.205-6.

  16. Characters of Shakespeare's Plays (1817) reprinted in King Lear: Text, Sources and Criticism ed. G. B. Harrison and R. F. McDonnell (New York 1962) 88. Just after this Hazlitt suggests that Shakespeare uses the Fool as comic relief for the audience's tension; the emotional effect of the scenes with the Fool seem to me quite the opposite. For the remarks of Goneril and Regan that are especially cruel in the way indicated, see 2.4.203, 219, 304ff.

  17. Cf. Dido's ‘non ignara mali miseris succurrere disco.’

  18. P. 135. Note that in the final lines of the play, ‘see’ has been rechannelled towards feeling rather than knowledge: ‘The oldest hath borne most: we that are young / Shall never see so much, nor live so long’ (5.3.325-6). ‘See’ has little to do with moral perception here, but is another form of endurance or experience, parallel in meaning with ‘borne’ and ‘live.’

  19. Ibid 144.

  20. Alpers discusses this and the two related speeches of the Fool (1.5.19-23 and 2.4.68-71) on pp. 136 and 142. See also his fine treatment of another scene that has an overwhelming emotional impact, 4.6 on pp. 146-7.

  21. The bond between Nature and Lear shown in the storm scene and between Nature and Cordelia suggested in her invocation to the ‘unpublish'd virtues of the earth’ to cure her father (4.4.15-18) are of course related to pastoral convention.

  22. A comment made about the mad Lear in the negative rhetoric discussed above also links the implications of the rhetorical pattern with the reduction motifs: ‘A sight most pitiful in the meanest wretch, / Past speaking of in a King!’ (4.6.205-6). Here pity is generated first for the marginal figure, then applied to the king, reversing the pattern of the play, where we first understand the suffering of the king himself and then apply it to man in general. The movement of the play forces greater and greater generalization, but the identification at the heart of it is truly reversible, so that there is no possibility of Lear's asking finally why should this happen to his daughter and not some more ordinary person. The issue is not one of worth, but of mere human life.

  23. Note that the ‘shadowy forests … with champains rich'd, / With plenteous rivers and wide-skirted meads’ described in the opening scene (1.1.64-5) become in our experience a place where ‘for many miles about / There's scarce a bush’ (2.4.303-4).

Lisa Hopkins (essay date 2000)

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Last Updated on February 4, 2016, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 4119

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 regeneration and a rebalancing of psyches unsettled by the pressures of urban living. It is rather less of a critical commonplace that several of his tragedies feature an inversion of this pattern,1 generally in the form either of an image pattern playing on death, waste, and decay, or of an actual staging of a scene in a non-urban location marked as a wasteland rather than as a rural retreat. In Macbeth, for instance, the heath is withered, emblematizing the desolation of Macbeth's Scotland, while the English soldiers who carry boughs to Dunsinane are clearly readable within traditions such as the May-lord and rites of renewal; in Hamlet, there is a developed motif of blighted pastorality and unweeded gardens; and in both Julius Caesar and Coriolanus, there are again clear reference to country customs and fertility rites.

At first sight, it might seem that Othello deviates from this pattern of pastoral inversion. Just as it has the sketchiest counterpointing comic episode of any of the tragedies,2 with the arguable exception of Macbeth (though people rarely forget the Porter, and rarely remember the Clown), so it seems to differ from the other tragedies also in having no pastoral element. Indeed the quotation I have chosen for my subtitle, “This is Venice: / My house is not a grange,”3 appears to confirm as much: what is Venetian cannot, by definition, be rural.

Shakespeare, however, had already played some very interesting games with offsetting the Venetian with the pastoral in The Merchant of Venice.4 In Othello, he does so again, and demonstrates that the veneer of urban sophistication cannot eradicate behavioral patterns and attitudes rooted in much older contexts: when Othello avers that “A horned man's a monster, and a beast,” Iago assures him, “There's many a beast then in a populous city, / And many a civil monster” (IV. i. 62-64).5 Brabantio may not live in a grange, but his daughter is figured as a sheep when Iago tells him that “an old black ram / Is tupping your white ewe!” (I. i. 87-88). This farmyard imagery, which is almost immediately consolidated by Iago's insult that “you'll have your daughter covered with a Barbary horse” (I. i. 109-10), ushers in a whole bevy of other imagined animals, prominent amongst which are Othello's “Goats and monkeys!” (IV. i. 263). Even supersubtle Venetians (and adopted Venetians) are, it seems, still configured by rural roots.

The imagery of sheep and goats has, though, also another resonance. In the microcosm of Othello as in the macrocosm of the early modern world as a whole, two religious systems jostle for pre-eminence. Again as in early seventeenth-century England, women tend to adhere to the older one: Desdemona pleads for Cassio “By'r lady” (III. iii. 74), and Emilia would “venture purgatory” (IV. iii. 76). Against this clearly Catholic language, however, is set Cassio's “there be souls must be saved, and there be souls must not be saved” (II. iii. 99-100). This sudden irruption of an unmistakably Calvinist theology adds a suggestive new dimension to those metaphors of sheep and goats.

That this will be so has already been suggested by this play's very distinctive inflection of the frequent Shakespearean garden-motif. First Iago dismisses Cassio's passion for Desdemona: “Ere I would say I would drown myself for the love of a guinea-hen I would change my humanity with a baboon” (I. iii. 315-17). To Iago, then, love is debasing and animalistic, and Desdemona no more than a guinea-hen. While he can stay aloof from the passion, however, he does recognize an absolute division between humans and animals (the same assumption also configures his subsequent dismissal, “Come, be a man! drown thyself? drown cats and blind puppies” [I. iii. 336-37]). When Roderigo protests that he is incapable of remaining aloof, Iago goes on:

Virtue? a fig! 'tis in ourselves that we are thus, or thus. Our bodies are our gardens, to the which our wills are gardeners. So that if we will plant nettles or sow lettuce, set hyssop and weed up thyme, supply it with one gender of herbs, or distract it with many, either to have it sterile with idleness or manured with industry—why, the power and corrigible authority of this lies in our wills. If the balance of our lives had not one scale of reason to poise another of sensuality, the blood and baseness of our natures would conduct us to most preposterous conclusions. But we have reason to cool our raging motions, our carnal stings, our unbitted lusts; whereof I take this, that you call love, to be a sect or scion.

(I. iii. 320-33)

The image of man in the garden is of course a common one—arguably, indeed, the fundamental underlying image of western culture. The image of man as a garden, however, is a rather different one. Man in the garden is a creature who is conditioned by his environment. His ability to assert a free and independent will may be a point of doctrine, but practically speaking—as every theologian knew, and as Milton found to his cost—it is more problematic. Even in the most rigorous view of things, man in the garden was at least influenced by woman. In Iago's view of things, however, woman is no better than an animal, and love for her is merely a “scion” or plant; and man is not the limited denizen of a physical, material garden but the absolute ruler of a psychological one.

Such a view is at best arrogant, and at worst, in a religiously-oriented ideology, blasphemous. In such a schema, moreover, the pastoral becomes of necessity not a beneficent background or a configuring genre or mode, but an accessory, a metaphor, a psychological illusion with no material reality. Though it effectively denies the material reality of the pastoral backdrop, however, it is in itself a comprehensively, indeed ruthlessly, materialist view, denying the importance or influence of anything beyond the will of man. And at the same time, of course, Iago's assurance and perspective are subtly but steadily undercut by the audience's insistent awareness of the alternative scenario of the man in the garden. The whole passage thus reminds me of nothing so much as Faustus' denial to Mephostophilis of the existence of hell, tempered with a disturbing dash of Shakespeare's own Edmund and his disdain for the stars. And it rings with especial irony in the light of the play's flirtation elsewhere with a Calvinist theology which would entirely disable the unaided operations of the human will.

Iago's view of human nature, then, is one which is both materialist and also predicated on an assumption that passionate emotion is animalistic and so dehumanising—lusts, for instance, he figures as “unbitted,” as though they were properties belonging to horses rather than people. In some ways, perhaps, this contempt for emotion takes us as close as we will ever get to understanding Iago's “motiveless” malignity towards those impassioned associates whom he so callously sends to their deaths, and certainly he can dismiss Othello's emotional commitment with “[t]hese Moors are changeable in their wills” (I. iii. 347), an assumption that he also makes about Desdemona: “she must have change, she must” (I. iii. 352). Presumably, he regards both of them as different from himself, whose own cause is “hearted” (I. iii. 367); he implicitly dismisses Othello as an ass (I. iii. 401) and even Roderigo, in his absence, as a “snipe” (I. iii. 383), leaving only Cassio—“a proper man” (I. iii. 390)—and himself defined as fully human. And later, as soon as Cassio shows courtesy to Desdemona, even he will degenerate to a “fly” being caught by a spider (II. i. 169), while Iago's ability to manipulate the situation appears effectively to constitute the guarantee of his own humanity.

The animal qualities which Iago ascribes to his companions recur writ large in the subsequent scene. Observing the storm, the Second Gentleman remarks that “The wind-shaked surge, with high and monstrous mane, / Seems to cast water on the burning bear” (II. i. 13-14). If a “mane” is attributed to the sea, and “the bear” refers to a constellation, humanity is envisaged as being hideously sandwiched between vast animal forces redolent of a pagan rather than a Christian eschatology. Shortly afterwards, Cassio too figures a world populated by anthropomorphizingly animated objects:

Tempests themselves, high seas, and howling winds,
The guttered rocks and congregated sands,
Traitors ensteeped to clog the guitless keel,
As having sense of beauty, do omit
Their mortal natures, letting go safely by
The divine Desdemona.

(II. i. 68-73)

Whereas Iago imagines a world in which nature and the powers of natural forces are minimised, and man's will, sharply distinguished from animal impulses, reigns supreme, both the Second Gentleman and Cassio inhabit a mental landscape in which the wills of humans are significantly smaller than those of the powerful inhuman presences which dominate man's all-important environment and are themselves governed solely by passion. It is little wonder that Cassio goes on to pray “Great Jove, Othello guard, / And swell his sail with thine own powerful breath” (II. i. 77-78); both the belief in the supernatural and the image of the human environment casually manipulated by an animated force are precisely of a tenor with what has gone before, as is his effective acceptance of a form of sympathetic magic in his assumption that the love-making of Desdemona and Othello will “bring all Cyprus comfort” (II. i. 82). Similarly, when he greets Desdemona with “the grace of heaven, / Before, behind thee, and on every hand / Enwheel thee round!” (II. i. 85-87), this could well be taken to represent a virtually literal version of how he sees humanity in the universe, surrounded by cosmic, all-enveloping, and conscious or quasi-conscious forces, just as he privileges divine agency over human when he tells Desdemona that “The great contention of the sea and skies / Parted our fellowship” (II. i. 92-93).

While Cassio talks about the overwhelming power of winds, however, Iago once again has a very different perspective. As Cassio and Desdemona talk aside, Iago says contemptuously, “Yet again, your fingers to your lips? would they were clyster-pipes for your sake!” (II. i. 175-77), and immediately afterwards he adds “The Moor! I know his trumpet!” (II. i. 178). The juxtaposition here leaves no room for doubt that the “lower bodily stratum” is being evoked by “trumpet” as surely as it by “clyster-pipes” and, later on, by the clown's fooling: Iago, in short, is talking not about winds but about wind. Once again Iago images his companions as grossly in thrall to their physical natures, and once again his emphasis is on human rather than on natural or divine power: “wind,” for Iago, is not some cosmic, capricious force, but an emanation of the human body.6

When Othello enters, he too talks about wind. He, however, introduces yet a third way of viewing it:

                                                                                O my soul's joy,
If after every tempest come such calms
May the winds blow till they have wakened death,
And let the labouring bark climb hills of seas,
Olympus-high, and duck again as low
As hell's from heaven.

(II. i. 182-87)

For Othello, as for Cassio, winds are fearsome, with great power over humans. The difference is that while Cassio thinks of them as governed solely by their own passions, Othello imagines them as acting in response to his will, and uses the third-person imperative forms “may” and “let.” This is at least as arrogant a misrecognition as Iago's, and arguably more so. With hindsight, we are perhaps unsurprised that of the three of them, only Cassio, who acknowledges both the independent reality of external forces and his own vulnerability to them, will survive.

Ironically, however, Othello's line is almost immediately changed for him by the implications of his own language:

I cannot speak enough of this content;
It stops me here, it is too much of joy.
And this, and this the greatest discords be
                                                                                                                                                      [They kiss.]
That e'er our hearts shall make.
O, you are well tuned now: but I'll set down
The pegs that make this music, as honest
As I am.

(II. i. 194-200)

In a play that is much concerned with music, this is a characteristic exchange, but it is also a particularly interesting one. Othello complains that he is unable to speak because he is “stopped.” He thus casts himself as precisely that which Hamlet disdains and disclaims being, a wind instrument—and, by implication, one which is currently being played by somebody else in a way which prevents full and spontaneous self-expression. While Othello imagines the world in a similar way to Cassio when he urges the winds to do his bidding, therefore, he simultaneously offers a covert concurrence with Iago's view of human manipulability. Perhaps one of the major roots of Othello's tragedy lies in this dangerously volatile fluctuation between excessive and overly-restricted views of himself and his capabilities. This unholy combination makes him awkwardly self-conscious, as when he shortly afterwards tells Desdemona:

Honey, you shall be well desired in Cyprus,
I have found great love amongst them. O my sweet,
I prattle out of fashion, and I dote
In mine own comforts.

(II. i. 203-06)

Once again, an apparently confident utterance of Othello's is immediately undercut by that which succeeds it. And from this distrust of himself, distrust of others will easily grow.

While Othello thus vacillates, Iago presses on with his plan, still confident that he can fit nature to the measure of man. Plotting to get Cassio drunk, he concludes, “If consequence do but approve my dream / My boat sails freely, both with wind and stream” (II. iii. 59-60). Here nature waits on his wish, and the same reduction of the natural to the scale of the human structures his metaphor of Cassio's temperament: “do but see his vice, / 'Tis to his virtue a just equinox, / The one as long as th'other” (II. iii. 119-21). The consequence of this, he assures Montano, could well “shake this island” (II. iii. 124). In Cassio's own fears about sea-voyages, humans were subject to the caprices of the natural environment; Iago, in a kind of humanism run mad, figures them rather as being able to “shake” that environment. Montano, noticeably, does not echo this magniloquence; his reference to Cassio's “ingraft infirmity” (II. iii. 136) posits Cassio as a plant, fundamentally the product of its breeding, rather than any earth-shaking force. Iago, however, is unabashed, and proceeds to protest that he would not reveal Cassio's drunkenness to Othello “for this fair island” (II. iii. 138), an assertion which slyly encodes the assumption that a word of his would be sufficient to procure him the lordship of his environment. Iago knows better than to use such language for public consumption, however. At the conclusion of his carefully-staged little playlet, he tells Othello that events have unfolded “As if some planet had unwitted men” (II. iii. 178). As the audience is well aware, though, all that this aping of conventional pieties really does is to offer a covert equation of Iago himself with a planet.

Othello suffers from no such delusions. When Iago first suggests to him that Desdemona might be false, he feels himself cast psychologically adrift in a large and cruel world which he, like other humans, is powerless to control. He contemplates how

                              If I do prove her haggard,
Though that her jesses were my dear heart-strings,
I'd whistle her off and let her down the wind
To prey at fortune.

(III. iii. 264-67)

Desdemona would thus be at the mercy of fortune and the wind, while he himself stumbled through “the vale of years” (III. iii. 270), a prisoner in a physical state which seems to find no echo in his psyche. (Later, along similar lines, he will imagine himself in an infected house with a raven flying overhead, and his alienation from the surroundings in which he pictures himself is marked here too, this time by the fact that he figures his apprehension of the raven as the return of the memory of an unwelcome reality [IV i. 20-22].)

However, Othello has not relinquished his earlier faith in the quasi-miraculous power of human agency. He warns Iago that if he is lying, he may as well compound his crime by doing “deeds to make heaven weep, all earth amazed” (III. iii. 374). As before, Othello's sense of humans as small and distressed runs in curious tandem with his sense of them as gigantic and virtually omnipotent. And the two come into an uneasy congruence as Othello imagines the unstoppable course of his vengeance:

                                                                      Like to the Pontic sea
Whose icy current and compulsive course
Ne'er keeps retiring ebb but keeps due on
To the Propontic and the Hellespont:
Even so my bloody thoughts with violent pace
Shall ne'er look back, ne'er ebb to humble love
Till that a capable and wide revenge
Swallow them up.

(III. iii. 456-63)

Initially, what Othello imagines here conforms neither to Cassio's characteristic perception of man in the landscape nor to Iago's of man as the landscape. Instead, it offers a vision which in some ways combines the two, figuring man and nature acting in harmony and tandem. As the ominous mention of the Hellespont, with its encoded associations of death to lovers, might already have served to signal, however, the note of companionableness is abruptly reversed as imagery of drowning and engulfment obtrudes. And as before, Iago once again parrots similar language as token of his supposed loyalty, as he swears insincerely by “you ever-burning lights above, / You elements that clip us round about” (III. iii. 466-67). That Iago has by no means renounced his original opinion is, however, made quite clear when, preparing to talk to Cassio, he speaks of “every region of his face” (IV. i. 84). Once more, man bulks larger than nature in Iago's mind.

Though the characters experiment with such a wide variety of perspectives, the audience is not encouraged to share any of them, unless, perhaps, it is that of Cassio. The prominence of the strawberry motif on the handkerchief surely reminds us that the serpent proverbially hid under a strawberry leaf, and Emilia tells Othello, “If any wretch have put this in your head / Let heaven requite it with the serpent's curse” (IV. ii. 15-16). Beset thus by temptation, Othello is an Adam, making his choice in a garden of the mind. But, like the evil-minded lords let loose on the magical island of The Tempest, he cannot see his surroundings for what they are. He laments to Desdemona:

But there where I have garnered up my heart,
Where either I must live or bear no life,
The fountain from the which my current runs
Or else dries up—to be discarded thence!
Or keep it as a cistern for foul toads
To knot and gender in!

(IV. ii. 58-63)

When she asks if he thinks her honest, he replies,

O, ay, as summer flies are in the shambles,
That quicken even with blowing. O thou weed
Who art so lovely fair and smell'st so sweet
That the sense aches at thee, would thou hadst ne'er been born!

(IV. ii. 67-70)

Two radically different scenarios are outlined here. In the first, it is summer; there are beautiful, sweet-smelling flowers, and there is running water nearby. Othello, however, cannot perceive that world. His is stinking and fly-blown, and he is not allowed near the water. The audience's double knowledge both of Desdemona's innocence and of the means that have been used to make Othello disbelieve in it makes them sharply aware here of the way that the apprehension of external reality is conditioned by internal perceptions. There is no longer a relatively simple contrast between man-in-the-landscape and man-as-landscape, but a complex exploration of how any sense of one's relationship to an external landscape is mediated through an internal one. And Emilia makes much the same point:

Why, the wrong is but a wrong i'th'world; and having the world for your labour, 'tis a wrong in your own world, and you might quickly make it right.

(IV. iii. 79-81)

Even the world itself is here envisaged as subject to perception.

This interrelationship between external and internal landscapes recurs in two interestingly parallel passages close to the end of the play. Surveying the body of Desdemona, Othello muses:

                    Methinks it should be now a huge eclipse
Of sun and moon, and that th'affrighted globe
Should yawn at alteration.

(V. ii. 98-100)

Here, he again imagines the will, or at any rate the emotions, of man, effecting a particularly vivid manifestation of the pathetic fallacy and forcing natural phenomena to imitate their mood. Only a few lines later, however, he tells Emilia,

It is the very error of the moon,
She comes more nearer earth than she was wont
And makes men mad.

(V. ii. 108-10)

Here, it is not men's behaviour which influences the moon, but hers which causes theirs. We are thus back to the whole question of causation, and the linked issue of predestination versus free will, but it seems impossible for us confidently to give the preference to either side.

As the play hastens to its conclusion, the wind which has so often been mentioned begins to blow with renewed urgency. Emilia uses it as an image of sweeping away lies and impediments:

No, I will speak as liberal as the north.
Let heaven, and men, and devils, let them all,
All, all cry shame against me, yet I'll speak.

(V. ii. 218-20)

“The north” is, as Q's reading of “air” makes clear, a synecdoche for the north wind. For Emilia, the north wind carries all (even heaven) before it in a right cause. Othello, on the other hand, is now completely abject, but even in his self-abnegation he both retains the tone of command and expects the larger world to endorse his personal sense of justice. He cries, “Blow me about in winds, roast me in sulphur, / Wash me in steep-down gulfs of liquid fire!” (V. ii. 277-78), and wonders the devilish Iago is not struck down and why his feet are not visibly cloven (V. ii. 283-84 and V. ii. 232-33). And with a final irony, Lodovico accords the silent Iago the tribute which he might have wished when he terms him “More fell than anguish, hunger, or the sea” (V. ii. 360), thus for one final time endorsing Iago's own hierarchy of human superiority to nature. But the very prevalence of so many elements reminds us, of course, that as with the debate between Catholicism and Protestantism, we simply cannot be sure which is right. Just as the imagery of the choice of Hercules haunts a Hamlet afraid of being led the wrong way up a literal and metaphorical garden path, so the imagery of Othello emblematises for us a world in which humans are tragically uncertain whether their wills are paramount or puny.


  1. Although see for instance Naomi Conn Liebler, ed., Shakespeare's Festive Tragedy (London: Routledge, 1995) and Richard Wilson, “Against the grain: Representing the market in Coriolanus,” in his Will Power: Essays on Shakespearean Authority (Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1993), 88-125.

  2. Pace Rhymer, and see Michael Bristol's brilliant essay “Race and the comedy of abjection in Othello,” in his Big-time Shakespeare (London: Routledge, 1996), 175-202.

  3. William Shakespeare, Othello, edited by E. A. J. Hongimann (London: Thomas Nelson, 1997), I. i. 104-05. All further quotations from the play will be taken from this edition and reference will be given in the text.

  4. See for instance James Shapiro, Rival Playwrights: Marlowe, Jonson, Shakespeare (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1991), p. 105, Peter J. Smith, Social Shakespeare (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1995), p. 175, and my own The Shakespearean Marriage: Merry Wives and Heavy Husbands (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1998), p. 47.

  5. For a very interesting discussion of the language of nature in the play, see Michael Long, The Unnatural Scene: a Study in Shakespearean Tragedy (London: Methuen, 1976), pp. 46-49. I am grateful to Ian Baker for drawing this to my attention, and also to Ian Baker and Matthew Steggle for commenting on an earlier draft of my own essay.

  6. For comment on the role of wind in the play, see also Philippa Berry, Shakespeare's Feminine Endings (London: Routledge, 1999), p. 29.

Further Reading

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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. 174-79. Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 1988.

Discusses Basil Coleman's BBC production of As You Like It as an example of the challenges facing film and television directors who attempt to transfer pastoral comedy from the stage to the screen.

Cartelli, Thomas. “Jack Cade in the Garden: Class Consciousness and Class Conflict in 2 Henry VI.” In Enclosure Acts: Sexuality, Property, and Culture in Early Modern England, edited by Richard Burt and John Michael Archer, pp. 48-67. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1994.

Explicates the conflicting visions of pastoral expressed by Jack Cade and Alexander Iden in Act IV, scene ix of Henry VI, Part 1 and highlights the social disparities between the two men. Cartelli suggests that in this play Shakespeare confronted issues of class distinctions and privilege, social inequities and injustice, and the way that literacy divided society into the haves and have-nots in early modern England.

Cirillo, Albert R. “As You Like It: Pastoralism Gone Awry.” ELH 38, no. 1 (March 1971): 19-39.

Contends that although As You Like It gently satirizes the notion that the pastoral ideal is actually attainable, it also upholds the essential values expressed in the convention. In Cirillo's judgment, the fictional world of Arden is depicted as only a temporary retreat from reality, a place where the play's characters, led by Rosalind, come to understand the importance of synthesizing the actual and the ideal.

Cody, Richard. “Love's Labour's Lost: In Arcadiam Amissam.” In The Landscape of the Mind: Pastoralism and Platonic Theory in Tasso's Aminta and Shakespeare's Early Comedies, pp. 105-26. London: Oxford University Press, 1969.

Characterizes Love's Labour's Lost as a “pastoral allegory” and emphasizes its emblematic, mythologizing quality.

Cooper, Helen. “Pastoral of the English Renaissance.” In Pastoral: Mediaeval into Renaissance, pp. 144-92. Ipswich, U.K.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1977.

Provides an overview of the way that English poets from the late 1570s to the early 1640s—particularly Sidney, Spenser, Shakespeare, and Drayton—adapted various traditional strains of pastoral to achieve an unparalleled development of this mode. In the section of this chapter devoted to Shakespeare, Cooper traces what she regards as the dramatist's “increasingly complex, and increasingly unconventional” use of pastoral—from the three parts of Henry VI, through As You Like It, and culminating in The Winter's Tale.

Dillon, Janette. “Shakespeare and the Traditions of English Stage Comedy.” In A Companion to Shakespeare's Works, Volume III: The Comedies, edited by Richard Dutton and Jean E. Howard, pp. 4-22. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell Publishing, 2003.

Argues that As You Like It explores pastoral tradition by engaging with a broad range of classical, Italian, and English forms of this mode. Dillon calls attention to the play's frequent ridicule and parody of literary conceits associated with the romanticization of pastoral love, but she insists that no single perspective—including pastoral or anti-pastoral—dominates the play.

Elam, Keir. “As They Did in the Golden World: Romantic Rapture and Semantic Rupture in As You Like It.” In Reading the Renaissance: Culture, Poetics, and Drama, edited by Jonathan Hart, pp. 163-76. New York: Garland Publishing, 1996.

Examines the relationship of As You Like It to Lodge's Rosalynde and Sidney's Arcadia.

Gifford, Terry. “The Cultural Contexts of Return.” In Pastoral, pp. 81-115. London: Routledge, 1999.

Emphasizes the distinctions in three Shakespearean plays between pastoral retreats and the communities to which the characters return. Gifford contends that the Forest of Arden in As You Like It, with its ethos of kindness and generosity, is juxtaposed with the ducal court, which is characterized by deceit and jealousy; Bohemia in The Winter's Tale is a world that, unlike Sicilia, values human dignity and moral integrity; and the island in The Tempest is a battleground of competing emotions where Prospero learns he must forego vengeance and adopt a humbler view of himself.

Grennan, Eamon. “Telling the Trees from the Wood: Some Details of As You Like It Re-examined.” English Literary Renaissance 7, no. 2 (spring 1977): 197-206.

Links several minor speeches and episodes in As You Like It to conventions of literary pastoral, especially those represented in Spenser's Shepheardes Calender and The Faerie Queene. Grennan focuses on Shakespeare's alterations of traditional modes to produce a more complex, sometimes ironic, version of pastoral.

Hieatt, Charles W. “The Quality of Pastoral in As You Like It.Genre 7, no. 2 (June 1974): 164-82.

Evaluates As You Like It as a form of pastoral romance, identifying its literary predecessors and emphasizing the ironic effect of Shakespeare's synthesis of comic and pastoral perspectives. Hieatt contends that although the play makes fun of pastoral conventions, it does not undermine the moral or ethical principles that underlie them.

Kronenfeld, Judy Z. “Shakespeare's Jaques and the Pastoral Cult of Solitude.” Texas Studies in Literature and Language 18, no. 3 (fall 1976): 451-73.

Asserts that As You Like It is deeply concerned with the Renaissance debate about the contemplative life versus the active life and views the characterization of Jaques as an addition to this dialogue. Kronenfeld delineates Jaques's literary antecedents in Petrarch's De Vita Solitaria (“The Life of Solitude”), Sannzaro's Arcadia, and Sidney's Arcadia. The critic also contends that throughout most of the play Jaques is self-absorbed, caring more for himself than either the wounded deer or his fellow man, and interested in the solitary life not for spiritual reasons but because it serves as a way to avoid responsibility for his actions.

Lerner, Laurence. “An Essay on Pastoral.” Essays in Criticism 20, no. 3 (July 1970): 275-97.

Contends that As You Like It presents—particularly through Touchstone and Jaques—an ambivalent, anti-pastoral attitude that shows Arcadia or the green world as a replica of the court and city, possessing the same social hierarchy and political complexity of its more sophisticated counterparts.

Lindenbaum, Peter. “Time, Sexual Love, and the Uses of Pastoral in The Winter's Tale.” In The Winter's Tale, edited by Maurice Hunt, pp. 200-19. New York: Garland Publishing, 1995.

Identifies and contrasts two versions of pastoral in The Winter's Tale: Polixenes's and Leontes's edenic, escapist notions of youthful innocence, free of sexual desire, and Herimone's and Perdita's acknowledgment and embrace of the importance of sexual love.

McFarland, Thomas. “For Other Than for Dancing Measures: The Complications of As You Like It.” In Shakespeare's Pastoral Comedy, pp. 98-121. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1972.

Emphasizes the tension between comic and tragic moods in As You Like It, asserting that the Forest of Arden represents “something less than the pastoral ideal” and noting that the play's ending is equivocal: neither Jaques nor Duke Frederick is included in the comic reconciliation. McFarland devotes particular attention to verbal sparring between characters with disparate views of pastoral, especially Jaques and Touchstone.

Szatek, Karoline. “The Merchant of Venice and the Politics of Commerce.” In The Merchant of Venice: New Critical Essays, edited by John W. Mahon and Ellen Macleaod Mahon, pp. 325-52. New York: Routledge, 2002.

Disputes the notion that Belmont in The Merchant of Venice represents a green world. Instead, the critic 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.

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