pastoral, literary work in which the shepherd's life is presented in a conventionalized manner. In this convention the purity and simplicity of shepherd life is contrasted with the corruption and artificiality of the court or the city. The pastoral is found in poetry, drama, and fiction, and many subjects, such as love, death, religion, and politics, have been presented in pastoral settings. In music, the pastorale is a piece imitating the simple music of shepherds.
"He Shall Feed His Flock"
from Handel's Messiah and Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony are superb examples of the pastorale.
In Ancient Greece
The earliest pastoral poetry of which there is record was written by the Greek poet Theocritus in the 3d cent. BC It is in his idyls, which celebrate the beauty and simplicity of rustic life in Sicily, that the well-known pastoral characters Daphnis, Lycidas, Corydon, and Amaryllis are first encountered. Theocritus was followed by Bion and Moschus in the 2d cent. BC and by Vergil, whose Bucolics appeared in 37 BC In these polished and literary verses, which were later called eclogues, Vergil describes an imaginary Arcadia in which the pastoral scenes are allegorical: they celebrate the greatness of Rome, express thanks to the emperor, and prophesy a golden age. In the 3d cent. AD a Greek poet, probably Longus, wrote Daphnis and Chloë, a pastoral romance that also influenced later European literature.
During the Renaissance
The pastoral eclogue enjoyed a revival during the Renaissance. Vergil's Bucolics was translated in the 15th cent. in Italy, and pastoral eclogues were written by Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio. The most elaborate pastoral romance was the Arcadia by Jacopo Sannazaro, written partly in prose and partly in verse. Poliziano's Orfeo (c.1471) is one of the earliest pastoral dramas. In France the pastourelle—a short poem in dialogue in which a minstrel courts a shepherdess—appeared as early as the 14th cent. and is exemplified in Le Jeu de Robin et de Marion, a play by Adam de La Halle.
In English literature the pastoral is a familiar feature of Renaissance poetry. Sir Philip Sidney's Arcadia (1590) is an epic story in pastoral dress, and in The Shepheardes Calender (1579) Edmund Spenser used the pastoral as a vehicle for political and religious discussion. Many of the love lyrics of Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, and Michael Drayton have a pastoral setting. Christopher Marlowe's "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love" is one of the most famous pastoral lyrics, and Milton's philosophical and deeply felt "Lycidas" is a great pastoral elegy. In drama well-known examples of the pastoral are Shakespeare's As You Like It, the shearers' feast in A Winter's Tale, and Milton's masque Comus.
During the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries
Although poets, novelists, and dramatists of the 19th and 20th cent. have used pastoral settings to contrast simplicity and innocence with the artificiality of the city, they have seldom employed the pastoral conventions of Theocritus and Vergil. Outstanding exceptions are Shelley's Adonais and Matthew Arnold's Thyrsis, both splendid pastoral elegies. Poets such as Wordsworth and Robert Frost, because of their rural subject matter, have also been referred to as "pastoral" poets. In 1935 the English poet and critic William Empson published Some Versions of Pastoral, in which he defined the pastoral as the putting of the complex into the simple, treating the conventionalized bucolic setting as superficial; he then designated various literary works, from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland to the proletarian novel, as offshoots of the pastoral.
See the anthology ed. by T. P. Harrison (1939, repr. 1968); studies by H. E. Toliver (1971), and L. Lerner (1972); L. Metzger (1986); C. M. Schenck (1989).
Artists and writers of the Renaissance often portrayed the countryside as a perfect place, far from the corrupt life of the city and the court. This style, known as the pastoral, became one of the most popular forms for art and literature. Such noted Renaissance figures as English playwright William Shakespeare, Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, and Flemish* painter Peter Paul Rubens all created works in a pastoral style.
The pastoral developed out of a variety of ancient and medieval* forms. In particular, it drew on the ancient Roman poems called eclogues, which focused on conversations between shepherds. In the 1200s and 1300s, the Italian poets Dante Alighieri, Petrarch, and Giovanni Boccaccio created new Latin works in this form. Later writers produced eclogues in Italian, and in time the pastoral form spread throughout Europe. Artists also adopted pastoral themes in their works, often placing biblical stories in a country setting.
The Renaissance pastoral was not really a single distinct genre*. Writers used pastoral themes in a variety of forms, including poetry, prose, and drama. For example, Italian playwright Giovanni Battista Guarini used the pastoral style in his play The Faithful Shepherd (1590). Guarini believed that the pastoral's rural setting, far removed from the customs of city life, made it an ideal form for social, political, and even sexual experimentation. Other works, such as Cervantes's Don Quixote, combined the pastoral style with elements of the romance* form.
The pastoral became extremely popular in England in the late 1500s. English writers produced many famous pastoral works in a variety of literary forms. Edmund Spenser created a book of eclogues called The Shepheardes Calender and also used pastoral themes in his epic* The Faerie Queene. Philip Sidney produced Arcadia, a pastoral romance, and Shakespeare adopted the pastoral style in his comedy As You Like It.
- * Flemish
relating to Flanders, a region along the coasts of present-day Belgium, France, and the Netherlands
- * medieval
referring to the Middle Ages, a period that began around a.d. 400 and ended around 1400 in Italy and 1500 in the rest of Europe
- * genre
- * romance
adventure story of the Middle Ages, the forerunner of the modern novel
- * epic
long poem about the adventures of a hero
pas·to·ral / ˈpastərəl; pasˈtôrəl/ • adj. 1. (esp. of land or a farm) used for or related to the keeping or grazing of sheep or cattle: scattered pastoral farms. ∎ associated with country life: the view was pastoral, with rolling fields and grazing sheep. ∎ (of a work of art) portraying or evoking country life, typically in a romanticized or idealized form. 2. (in the Christian Church) concerning or appropriate to the giving of spiritual guidance: pastoral and doctrinal issues clergy doing pastoral work. • n. a work of literature portraying an idealized version of country life: the story, though a pastoral, has an actual connection with the life of agricultural labor. DERIVATIVES: pas·to·ral·ism / ˈpastərəˌlizəm/ n. pas·to·ral·ly adv.
pas·tor / ˈpastər/ • n. a minister in charge of a Christian church or congregation. • v. [tr.] be pastor of (a church or a congregation): he pastored Peninsula Bible Church in Palo Alto | [intr.] he continued to study law while pastoring in Chicago. DERIVATIVES: pas·tor·ship / -ˌship/ n. ORIGIN: late Middle English: from Anglo-Norman French pastour, from Latin pastor ‘shepherd,’ from past- ‘fed, grazed,’ from the verb pascere.
The word comes ultimately from Latin pastor ‘shepherd’; in late Middle English, pastoral denoted a book on the cure or care of souls, often with reference to the title of St Gregory the Great's Cura Pastoralis (‘Pastoral Care’), which had been translated into English by King Alfred.
Pastoral Epistles the books of the New Testament comprising the two letters of Paul to Timothy and the one to Titus, which deal chiefly with the duties of those charged with the care of souls.
pastoral letter an official letter from a bishop to all the clergy or members of his or her diocese, and a pastoral staff is a bishop's crozier.
pastoral theology is Christian theology, that considers religious truth in relation to spiritual needs.
1. Type of instr. or vocal comp., generally in 6/8 or 12/8, which suggests rustic or bucolic subject, often by imitation of shepherd's pipe. A 20th-cent. use of the term is Bliss's Pastoral, Lie Strewn the White Flocks.
2. Stage piece dealing with legendary or pastoral subject. Began as a play but in Fr. pastorals were set to mus. as an early form of opéra-ballet and were at height of popularity in 17th and 18th cents. Handel's Acis and Galatea is an example.
So pastoral pert. to shepherds XV; pert. to a spiritual pastor XVI; sb. pastoral play or poem XVI. — L. pāstōrālis.