5th December 1579. Pastoral Idyll.
The Pastoral or Bucolic poem, derived from classical Greece, was an idealized pastoral tradition, revived by the 14th century Italian poets such as Petrarch and Mantuan, and helped to spread Renaissance literature throughout Europe.(1)
One of the most notable examples of the English Eclogue or pastoral poem, was the Shepheard’s (sic) Calendar by Edmund Spenser which Today in 1579 was entered into the books of the Stationers’ Company.
The poem was probably published before the start of the new year, which then began on March 25th, and a work noted for its archaic spelling, suggesting a connection to the literature of Chaucer.(2)
English Renaissance poetry in 16th and 17th century, influenced by the Italian writers, gave confidence to English poets to experiment with diction and rough rhythms to contrast with the Arcadian pastoral style.
Mantuan’s ‘Adulescenta’ influenced Edmund Spenser’s Shephearde’s (sic) Calendar c1579 in 12 Eclogues, one for each month of the year, written in dialect form.
The use of the word ‘shepherds’ reflects the Arcadian ideal society of shepherds, free from the corruption of the city, and reflecting the biblical tradition of David, Bethlehem and Jesus the ‘good shepherd’.
The allegorical works were used against the church: Mantuan in three books attacked papal corruption in ‘Against Roman Papacy’ an ‘Institute of the Devil’.
It was a critical attitude used by Spenser in condemnation of authority, as in the month of ‘September’, to indict the pillaging of wealth of the English Church by Queen Elizabeth and her Courtiers.
We thus see the seeds of later religious reform in these works, to culminate in the protestantism of works by John Milton, who used the sub-genre of pastoral elegy, to lament a death or loss as with his Lycidus of 1637, written in English, and which reflected on the death of a friend Edward King, a fellow student at Cambridge.
In the allegory the ‘corrupted’ English clergy is contrasted with King who becomes Lycidus described as ‘selfless’, and God is accused of unjustly punishing King, in contrast with the ministers and bishops of the Church of England, who are condemned as depraved, materialistic and selfish. It was a theme taken up in his Paradise Lost.
The pastoral influence is also seen in Shakespeare’s ‘As You Like It’, (which was derived from Thomas Hodges’ pastoral romance Rosalynde), and ‘The Winter’s Tale’ (Act 4: Scene 4).(3)
Later Arcadian influence is seen in the works of Robert Herrick, Thomas Gray (Elegy on a Country Churchyard of 1750), Shelley (Adonais) and Matthew Arnold (Thyrsis).
Reaction against the idealization of the rustic life came from poet John Clare, and novels of George Eliot and Thomas Hardy.
(1) The Renaissance, the re-discovery of classical literature and philosophy, came to Britain 200 years after it appeared in Italy.
(2) Words first first found in Spenser include: wordsmith, credited, jovial, conscious, extensively, idiom, notoriety and rascality.
(3) Mantuan was memorialised as foolish Holofernes’ favourite author, in Shakespeare’s ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost’.
Ref: britannica.com./pastoral literature.
Ref: Wikipedia: Shepheardes Calendar
Ref: Daily Telegraph Article by James Fox, ‘Jewels of Britannia’ 22.2.2014 and BBC 2nd March 2004, ‘A Very British Renaissance’.
Ref: Canons of Renaissance Poetry.NB Gabriel Harvey.
Ref: wikipedia.org/pastoral literature.