Pastoral Poetry and Pastoral Drama eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 509 pages of information about Pastoral Poetry and Pastoral Drama.
Shepherd’s Calender behind it a vast tradition, reverend if somewhat otiose—­the devotion of men counts for something—­but also that, however stiffly laced in an unsuitable garb, it sought to deal with matters of real import to man, or at any rate with what man has held as such.  It treated questions of religious policy which touched the majority of men more nearly then than now; with moral problems calculated to interest the mind of an age still tinged with medievalism; with philosophical theories of human and divine love.  In other words, the Shepherd’s Calender lay in the main stream of literature, and reflected the mind of the age, while the Muses’ Elizium, in common with so much pastoral work, did not.  These considerations open up an interesting field of speculation.  Are we to suppose that there is indeed a line of demarcation between great art and little art wholly independent of that which divides good art from bad art?  Are we to go further, and assume that these two lines of division intersect, so that a work may be akin to great art though it be not good art, while, however perfect a work of art may be, it may remain little art for some wholly non-aesthetic reason?  But we digress.

IV

It will be convenient, in dealing with the considerable volume of English pastoral verse which has come down to us from the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, to divide it into two portions, according as it tends to attach itself to orthodox foreign tradition on the one hand, or to the more spontaneous native type on the other.  To the former division belong in the main the more ambitious set pieces and eclogue-cycles, to the latter the lighter and more occasional verse, the pastoral ballads and the lyrics.  The division is necessarily somewhat arbitrary, for the two traditions act and react on one another incessantly, and the types merge almost imperceptibly the one into the other; but that does not prevent the spirit that manifests itself in Drayton’s eclogues being essentially different from that which produced Breton’s songs.  I shall not, however, try to draw any hard and fast line between the two, but shall rather deal first with those writers whose most important work inclines to the more formal tradition, and shall then endeavour to give some account of the lighter pastoral verse of the time.

After the appearance of the Shepherd’s Calender some years elapsed before English poetry again ventured upon the domain of pastoral, at least in any serious composition.  In 1589, however, appeared a small quarto volume, with the title:  ’An Eglogue.  Gratulatorie.  Entituled:  To the right honorable, and renowmed Shepheard of Albions Arcadia:  Robert Earle of Essex and Ewe, for his welcome into England from Portugall.  Done by George Peele.  Maister of arts in Oxon.’  Like the ‘A.  W.’ of the Rhapsody, Peele followed Spenser more closely than most of his fellow imitators in the use of dialect, but his eclogue on the not particularly glorious return of Essex has little interest.  His importance as a pastoralist lies elsewhere.

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Pastoral Poetry and Pastoral Drama from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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