Pastoral - Pastoral Theory

Pastoral Theory

In the past four hundred years, a range of writers have worked on theorizing the nature of pastoral. These include Friedrich Schiller, George Puttenham, William Empson, Frank Kermode, Raymond Williams, Renato Poggioli, Annabel Patterson, Paul Alpers, and Ken Hiltner.

George Puttenham was one of the first Pastoral theorists. He did not see the form as merely a recording of a prior rustic way of life but a guise for political discourse, which other forms had previously neglected. The Pastoral, he writes, has a didactic duty to “contain and enforme morall discipline for the amendment of mans behaviour”.

Friedrich Schiller linked the Pastoral to childhood and a childlike simplicity. For Schiller, we perceive in nature an “image of our infancy irrevocably past”.

Sir William Empson spoke of the ideal of Pastoral as being embedded in varying degrees of ambivalence, and yet, for all of the apparent dichotomies, and contradicting elements found within it, he felt there was a unified harmony within it. He refers to the pastoral process as 'putting the complex into the simple.' Empson argues that ". . . good proletarian art is usually Covert Pastoral", and uses Soviet Russia's propaganda about the working class as evidence. Empson also emphasizes the importance of the double plot as a tool for writers to discuss a controversial topic without repercussions.

Raymond Williams argues that the foundation of the pastoral lies in the idea that the city is a highly urban, industrialized center that has removed us from the peaceful life we once had in the countryside. However, he states that this is really a "myth functioning as a memory" that literature has created in its representations of the past. As a result, when society evolves and looks back to these representations, it considers its own present as the decline of the simple life of the past. He then discusses how the city's relationship with the country affected the economic and social aspects of the countryside. As the economy became a bigger part of society, many country new-comers quickly realized the potential and monetary value that lay in the untouched land. Furthermore, this new system encouraged a social stratification in the countryside. With the implementation of paper money came a hierarchy in the working system, as well as the "inheritance of titles and making of family names".

Poggioli was concerned with how death reconciled itself with the pastoral, and thus came up with a loose categorization of death in the pastoral as 'funeral elegy', the most important tropes of which he cites as religion (embodied by Pan); friendship; allegory;and poetic and musical calling. He concedes though that such a categorization is open to much misinterpretation. As well, Poggioli focused on the idea that Pastoral was a nostalgic and childish way of seeing the world. In The Oaten Flue, he claims that the shepherd was looked up to was because they were “an ideal kind of leisure class."

Frank Kermode discusses the pastoral within the historical context of the English Renaissance. His first condition of pastoral poetry is that it is an urban product. Kermode establishes that the pastoral is derived as an opposition between two modes of living, in the country and in the city. London was becoming a modern metropolis before the eyes of its citizens. The result of this large-scale urban sprawl left the people with a sense of nostalgia for their country way of living. His next argument focuses on the artificiality of poetry, drawing upon fellow theorist, Puttenham. Kermode elaborates on this and says, "the cultivated, in their artificial way, reflect upon and describe, for their own ends, the natural life". Kermode wants us to understand that the recreation or reproduction of the natural is in itself artificial. Kermode elaborates on this in terms of imitation, describing it as "one of the fundamental laws of literary history" because it "gives literary history a meaning in terms of itself, and provides the channels of literary tradition". Kermode goes on to explain about the works of Virgil and Theocritus as progenitors of the pastoral. Later poets would draw on these earlier forms of pastoral, elaborating on them to fit their own social context. As the pastoral was becoming more modern, it shifted into the form of Pastourelle. This is the first time that the pastoral really deals with the subject of love.

Annabel Patterson emphasizes many important ideas in her work, Pastoral and Ideology. One of these is that the pastoral mode, especially in the later 18th century, was interpreted in vastly different ways by different groups of people. As a result, distinctive illustrations emerged from these groups which were all variations of the understanding of Virgil’s Eclogues. Patterson explains that Servius' Commentary is essential to understanding the reception of Virgil's Eclogues. The commentary discusses how poets used analogy in their writings to indirectly express the corruption within the church and government to the public. When speaking of post-Romanticism, it is imperative to take into consideration the influence and effect of Robert Frost on pastoral ideology. His poem, Build Soil is a critique of war and also a suggestion that pastoral, as a literary mode, should not place emphasis on social and political issues, but should rather, as Patterson says, "turn in upon itself, and replace reformist instincts with personal growth and regeneration". William Wordsworth was a highly respected poet in the 1800s and his poem, Prelude, published in 1805, was an excellent example of what a dream of a new golden age might materialize as or look like.

Paul Alpers, in his 1996 book, What is Pastoral?, describes the recurring plot of pastoral literature as the lives of shepherds. With William Empson's notion of placing the complex into the simple, Alpers thus critically defines pastoral as a means of allegory. Alpers also classifies pastoral as a mode of literature, as opposed to a genre, and he defines the attitude of pastoral works maintaining a humble relationship with nature. Alpers also defines pastoral convention as the act of bringing together, and authors use this to discuss loss. He says the speakers in pastoral works are simple herdsmen dramatized in pastoral encounters. However, authors like Herrick changed the herdsmen to nymphs, maidens, and flowers. Thus, achieving a mode of simplicity but also giving objects voice. This is done by personifying objects like flowers. Moreover, authors that do this in their works are giving importance to the unimportant. Alpers talks about pastoral lyrics and love poems in particular. In regards to lyrics he says "a lyric allows its speaker to slip in and out of pastoral guise and reveal directly the sophistication which prompted him to assume it in the first place″. In other words, he claims pastorals lyrics have both pastoral and not pastoral characteristics, perhaps like in the comparisons between urban and rural, but they always give importance to and enhance on the pastoral. Alpers talks about love poems and how they can be turned into pastoral poems simply by changing words like lover to shepherd. And he mentions Shakespeare as one of the authors who did this in his works. Furthermore, Alpers says the pastoral is not only about praise for the rural and the country side. For instance, Sidney dispraises the country life in The Garden. Pastoral can also include the urban, the court, and the social like in L’Allegro. In regards to pastoral narration, Alpers says that pastoral narration contradicts “normal” narrative motives and that there is a double aspect of pastoral narration: heroic poetry and worldly realities with narrative motives and conventions. And in respect to pastoral novels, Alpers says pastoral novels have different definitions and examples depending on the reader. Also, the pastoral novel differs from Theocritus and Virgil’s works. He says there are pastoral novels of the country life, of the longing for the simple, and with nature as the protagonist. And says the literary category of pastoral novels is realistic and post-realistic fiction with a rural theme or subject based on traditional pastoral.

In What Else Is Pastoral?, Ken Hiltner argues that Renaissance pastoral poetry is more often a form of nature writing than critics like Paul Alpers and Annabel Patterson give it credit for. He explains that even though there is a general lack of lavish description in Renaissance Pastoral, this is because they were beginning to use gestural strategies, and artists begin to develop an environmental consciousness as nature around them becomes endangered. Another argument presented in the book is that our current environmental crisis clearly has its roots in the Renaissance. To do this we are shown examples in Renaissance pastoral poetry that show a keen awareness of the urban sprawl of London contrasted to the countryside and historical records showing that many at the time were aware of the issue of urban growth and attempted to stop it.

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