“Pastoral” is a term referring to a specific type of literature that
glorifies the rural life of shepherds in a highly idealized and
unrealistic manner and was popular during the Elizabethan age. It is
based on ancient Greek literature and because of this the shepherds and
shepherdesses often have Greek names. One of the most often cited
example of pastoral poetry is Christopher Marlowe’s “The Passionate
Shepherd to His Love”:
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.
we sit upon the rocks,
And see the shepherds feed their flocks,
By shallow rivers to whose falls
Melodious birds sing madrigals.
will make thee beds of roses
And a thousand fragrant posies,
A cap of flowers, and a kirtle
Embroider'd all with leaves of myrtle;
made of the finest wool
Which from our pretty lambs we pull;
Fair linèd slippers for the cold,
With buckles of the purest gold;
A belt of
straw and ivy buds,
With coral clasps and amber studs;
And if these pleasures may thee move,
Come live with me, and be my love.
dishes for thy meat
As precious as the gods do eat,
Shall on an ivory table be
Prepared each day for thee and me.
shepherd swains shall dance and sing
In it we see an
idealized version of life in the country, a kind of unspoiled simplicity
where very little work seems to be done and shepherds are poets. It was
often held up in contrast to court life: the quiet leisure of the
country versus the bustle and noise of court, the wholesomeness and
honesty of country people versus the scheming and politicizing of
courtiers, freedom from care and responsibility. Additionally, by
placing stories in a pastoral setting, a distance was created wherein
authors could comment on political situations with a degree of freedom.
For thy delight each May-morning:
If these delights thy mind may move,
Then live with me and be my love.
The idea of
“country” was not unfamiliar to the courtiers and playgoers of
Shakespeare’s time. London was a largely migrant city whose population
had boomed during Elizabeth’s reign, so for Shakespeare’s audience rural
life was something very real; not an idealized way of life but something
a large number of them had only recently left behind. Likewise, most of
those at court possessed large country estates which they would either
retire to or political advantage or were exiled to were they to
displease Elizabeth. There were, of course, other reasons to retire from
court, but more than using the country as a voluntary rest from courtly
life it was used as a punishment for poor political behavior.
Marlowe’s poem first appeared in print in 1599, most likely right around
the time that Shakespeare was writing As You Like It, published
under Shakespeare’s name in The Passionate Pilgrim. Being such a
perfect example of pastoral imagery, it’s no wonder then that it also
became a jumping off point for pastoral parody. Many poets penned
responses, including Sir Walter Raleigh who wrote “The Nymph’s Reply to
If all the
world and love were young,
in every shepherd's tongue,
pretty pleasures might me move
with thee and be thy love.
drives the flocks from field to fold
rivers rage and rocks grow cold,
Philomel becometh dumb;
complains of cares to come.
flowers do fade, and wanton fields
winter reckoning yields;
tongue, a heart of gall,
spring but sorrow's fall.
thy shoes, thy beds of roses,
thy kirtle, and thy posies
break, soon wither, soon forgotten, -
ripe, in reason rotten.
of straw and ivy buds,
clasps and amber studs,
in me no means can move
To come to
thee and be thy love.
youth last and love still breed,
takes the typical conventions of pastoral poetry and the lover and turns
them around by pointing out the flaws in the ideas to Marlowe’s poem:
love can be feigned, the seasons change and spring turns to harsh
winter, the delicate creations crafted of flowers will whither and
no date nor age no need,
delights my mind might move
with thee and be thy love.
What are the
conventions of pastoral that Shakespeare upends?
Marjorie Garber, pastoral conventions included: “shepherds
who are also poets, writing poems and playing upon pipes; the good old
shepherd, poor but eager to give hospitality to strangers and to those
in need; the “savage” man or men who lacked courtly upbringing but
possess an innate gentleness and gentility… the beautiful shepherdess;
the pastoral elegy, mourning the death of a shepherd or shepherdess who
was often also a poet; the pastoral debate on topics like nature vs.
nurture, or country vs. city.” In As You Like It, much like
Raleigh did with Marlowe, Shakespeare takes these recognizable conceits
and plays with them. Let’s look at each one and examine how Shakespeare
uses it in As You Like It.
First, and most commonly, is
the idea that shepherds in a pastoral have very little work and instead
of caring for flocks, spend their time in the field writing elegant
poetry. This is one of the most central ideals of the pastoral, and the
one Shakespeare most obviously flaunts, as the people of Arden are
actually presented as laboring. Diana Major Spencer explains in her
article for Midsummer Magazine that “Audrey, the goat girl of
small brain and thick tongue, is better suited to a georgic, a poem that
depicts the labor of the farm, than to a pastoral, as is Corin’s
realistic description of rough, tarred hands from treating the ailments
of sheep.” Silvius, our one traditional shepherd-lover, quotes no poetry
to Phoebe, and they fulfill their respective roles as devoted shepherd
and disdainful shepherdess, they do so sans poetry. The one poet of the
forest is the displaced Orlando, a man from a noble family (regardless
of his keeping by his brother) who stands in for the role of
shepherd-lover and fills that role in a ludicrous fashion. When
presented with Rosalind at the beginning of the play, he finds himself
unable to speak, and thus the passionate wooing in elegant language is
nowhere to be found. It isn’t until he moves into Arden that he finds
his voice, and once he does, we wish he hadn’t as the poetry he writes
is abysmal and a source of ridicule for those that come across it.
Besides poetry, shepherds are
also supposed to be imbued with an innate hospitality. Rosalind,
Touchstone and Celia are luckily enough to come across Corin early on
into their venture in the forest, but rather than offering them
sustenance and shelter he unhappily most deny them because of his
poverty. The sheep he tends are not his, but his master’s, and he has
nothing to offer them. This glance into poverty could be seen as a
reflection of the predicament of many in Elizabeth’s England, as
enclosure laws across the country had severely limited the grazing areas
and driven previously self-subsisting farmers into poverty and tenancy.
Celia soon buys Corin’s property, but this is less the liberation of the
old shepherd and more the transfer of his services from one master to
Rather than the shepherd offering hospitality in the woods
it’s the Duke’s band of merry men who offer comfort to strangers in
Arden. Orlando exclaims in surprise that “quote”, but we know before he
does that it is not the forest offering examples of gentility but the
court displacing it. As Garber points out, the clearest example of a
true “Savage man” comes in the guise of Charles, the court wrestler, and
it can be argued that Duke Frederick and Oliver, the heads of the
“civilized” communities we see, are two further examples.
literature also would include debates on subjects such as country vs.
city or nature vs. nurture, and while As You Like It contains
these discourses, they are presided by Touchstone, the fool.
Touchstone’s inclusion therefore perverts them from sensible discourse
to a showcase for his wit and “In his “eclogue“ with Corin, he
attempts neither good sense or consistency, only verbal victory”