From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Pastoral, as an adjective, refers to the lifestyle of shepherds and pastoralists, moving livestock around larger areas of land according to seasons and availability of water and feed. "Pastoral" also describes literature, art and music which depicts the life of shepherds, often in a highly idealised manner. It may also be used as a noun (a pastoral) to describe a single work of pastoral poetry, music or drama. An alternative name for the literary "pastoral" (both as an adjective and a noun) is bucolic, from the Greek βουκóλος, meaning a "cowherd". This reflects the Greek origin of the pastoral tradition.
Pastoral literature in general
In literature, the adjective 'pastoral' refers to rural subjects and aspects of life in the countryside among shepherds, cowherds and other farm workers that are often romanticized and depicted in a highly unrealistic manner. Indeed, the pastoral life is sometimes depicted as being far closer to the Golden age than the rest of human life. An intriguing example of the use of the genre is the short poem Robene and Makyne which also contains the conflicted emotions often present in the genre. A more tranquil mood is set by Christopher Marlowe's well known lines from The Passionate Shepherd to His Love:
- Come live with me and be my Love,
- And we will all the pleasures prove
- That hills and valleys, dale and field,
- And all the craggy mountains yield.
- There will we sit upon the rocks
- And see the shepherds feed their flocks,
- By shallow rivers, to whose falls
- Melodious birds sing madrigals.
Pastoral shepherds and maidens usually have Greek names like Corydon or Philomela, reflecting the origin of the pastoral genre. Pastoral poems are set in beautiful rural landscapes, the literary term for which is "locus amoenus" (Latin for "beautiful place"), such as Arcadia, a rural region of Greece, mythological home of the god Pan, which was portrayed as a sort of Eden by the poets. The tasks of their employment with sheep and other rustic chores is held in the fantasy to be almost wholly undemanding and is left in the background, abandoning the shepherdesses and their swains in a state of almost perfect leisure. This makes them available for embodying perpetual erotic fantasies. The shepherds spend their time chasing pretty girls — or, at least in the Greek and Roman versions, pretty lads as well. The eroticism of Virgil's second eclogue, Formosum pastor Corydon ardebat Alexin ("The shepherd Corydon burned with passion for pretty Alexis") is entirely homosexual.
Pastoral literature began with the poetry of the Hellenistic Greek Theocritus, several of whose Idylls are set in the countryside (probably reflecting the landscape of the island of Cos where the poet lived) and involve dialogues between herdsmen. Theocritus may have drawn on authentic folk traditions of Sicilian shepherds. He wrote in the Doric dialect but the metre he chose was the dactylic hexameter associated with the most prestigious form of Greek poetry, epic. This blend of simplicity and sophistication would play a major part in later pastoral verse. Theocritus was imitated by the Greek poets Bion and Moschus. The Roman poet Virgil adapted the genre into Latin with his highly influential Eclogues. Virgil presented a more idealised vision of rural life than Theocritus and was the first to set his poems in Arcadia, the favourite location of subsequent pastoral literature. He also included elements of political allegory.
Italian poets revived the pastoral from the 14th century onwards, first in Latin (examples include works by Petrarch, Pontano and Mantuan) then in the Italian vernacular (Boiardo). The fashion for pastoral spread throughout Renaissance Europe. In Spain, Garcilaso de la Vega was an important pioneer and his motifs find themselves renewed in the 20th Century Spanish language poet Giannina Braschi. Leading French pastoral poets include Marot and Ronsard.
The first pastorals in English were the Eclogues (c.1515) of Alexander Barclay, which were heavily influenced by Mantuan. A landmark in English pastoral poetry was Spenser’s The Shepheardes Calender, first published in 1579. Spenser's work consists of twelve eclogues, one for each month of the year, and is written in dialect. It contains elegies, fables and a discussion of the role of poetry in contemporary England. Spenser and his friends appear under various pseudonyms (Spenser himself is "Colin Clout"). Spenser's example was imitated by such poets as Michael Drayton (Idea, The Shepherd's Garland) and William Browne (Britannia's Pastorals). The most famous pastoral elegy in English is John Milton's Lycidas (1637), written on the death of Edward King, a fellow student at Cambridge University. Milton used the form both to explore his vocation as a writer and to attack what he saw as the abuses of the Church. The formal pastoral in English died out in the 18th century, one of the last notable examples being Alexander Pope's Pastorals (1709). The form was parodied by writers such as John Gay (in his Shepherd's Week), criticised for its artificiality by Doctor Johnson and attacked for its lack of realism by George Crabbe, who attempted to give a true picture of rural life in his poem The Village (1783). Pastoral nevertheless survived as a mood rather than a genre, as can be seen from such works as Matthew Arnold's Thyrsis (1867), a lament on the death of his fellow poet Arthur Hugh Clough.
In the 16th century, Italian writers invented a new genre, the pastoral romance, which mixed pastoral poems with a fictional narrative in prose. Although there was no classical precedent for the form, it drew some inspiration from ancient Greek novels set in the countryside, such as Daphnis and Chloe . The most influential Italian example of the form was Sannazzaro's Arcadia (1504). The vogue for the pastoral romance spread throughout Europe producing such notable works as Montemayor's La Diana (1559) in Spain, Sir Philip Sidney's Arcadia (1590) in England, and Honoré d'Urfé's Astrée (1607-27) in France.
Pastoral drama also emerged in Renaissance Italy. Again, there was little Classical precedent, with the possible exception of Greek satyr plays. Poliziano's Orfeo (1480) shows the beginnings of the new form, but it reached its zenith in the late 16th century with Tasso's Aminta (1573) and Guarini's Il pastor fido (1590). John Lyly's Endimion (1579) brought the Italian-style pastoral play to England. John Fletcher's The Faithful Shepherdess, Ben Jonson's The Sad Shepherd and Sidney's The Lady of May are later examples. Some of Shakespeare's plays contain pastoral elements, most notably As You Like It (whose plot was derived from Thomas Lodge's pastoral romance Rosalynde) and The Winter's Tale, of which Act 4 Scene 4 is a lengthy pastoral digression.
Theocritus's Idylls include strophic songs and musical laments, and, as in Homer, his shepherds often play the syrinx, or Pan flute, considered a quintessentially pastoral instrument. Virgil's Eclogues were performed as sung mime in the 1st century, and there is evidence of the pastoral song as a legitimate genre of classical times.
The pastoral genre was a significant influence in the development of opera. After settings of pastoral poetry in the pastourelle genre by the troubadours, Italian poets and composers became increasingly drawn to the pastoral. Musical settings of pastoral poetry became increasingly common in first polyphonic and then monodic madrigals: these later led to the cantata and the serenata, in which pastoral themes remained on a consistent basis. Partial musical settings of Giovanni Battista Guarini's Il pastor fido were highly popular: the texts of over 500 madrigals were taken from this one play alone. Tasso's Aminta was also a favourite. As opera developed, the dramatic pastoral came to the fore with such works as Jacopo Peri's Dafne and, most notably, Monteverdi's L'Orfeo. Pastoral opera remained popular throughout the 17th-century, and not just in Italy, as is shown by the French genre of pastorale héroïque, Englishman Henry Lawes's music for Milton's Comus (not to mention John Blow's Venus and Adonis), and Spanish zarzuela. At the same time, Italian and German composers developed a genre of vocal and instrumental pastorals, distinguished by certain stylistic features, associated with Christmas Eve.
The pastoral, and parodies of the pastoral, continued to play an important role in musical history throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. John Gay may have satirized the pastoral in The Beggar's Opera, but also wrote an entirely sincere libretto for Handel's Acis and Galatea. Rousseau's Le Devin du village draws on pastoral roots, and Metastasio's libretto Il re pastore was set over 30 times, most famously by Mozart. Rameau was an outstanding exponent of French pastoral opera.Beethoven also wrote his famous Pastoral Symphony, avoiding his usual musical dynamism in favour of relatively slow rhythms. More concerned with psychology than description, he labelled the work "more the expression of feeling than [realistic] painting". The pastoral also appeared as a feature of grand opera, most particularly in Meyerbeer's operas: often composers would develop a pastoral-themed "oasis", usually in the centre of their work. Notable examples include the shepherd's "alte Weise" from Wagner's Tristan und Isolde, or the pastoral ballet occupying the middle of Tchaikovsky's The Queen of Spades. The 20th-century continued to bring new pastoral interpretations, particularly in ballet, such as Ravel's Daphis and Chloe, Nijinsky's use of Debussy's Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune, and Stravinsky's Le sacre du printemps and Les Noces.
Idealised pastoral landscapes appear in Hellenistic and Roman wall paintings. Interest in the pastoral as a subject for art revived in Renaissance Italy, partly inspired by the descriptions of pictures Sannazzaro included in his Arcadia. The Fête champêtre (Pastoral Concert) attributed to Giorgione is perhaps the most famous painting in this style. Later, French artists were also attracted to the pastoral, notably Claude, Poussin (e.g. Et in Arcadia ego) and Watteau (in his Fêtes galantes).