Rendering the Pastoral: Time, Evanescence and Moral Enlightenment in Shakespeare’s Green Worlds

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Mooradian, Rebecca
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University of the South, Sewanee, Tennessee , Department of English, University of the South , Shakespeare , Green World , Carpe Diem , Ars Moriendi , The Tempest , King Lear , As You Like It , Pastoral
In his 1717 edition of Pastorals, Alexander Pope included a new introduction to the work, entitled, “Discourse on Pastoral Poetry.” In this opening, he attempts to summarize and define the traditional characteristics of pastoral works, drawing on the genre’s creators, Theocritus and Virgil. Pope defines a pastoral as “an imitation of the action of a shepherd” and finds that, “[a] pastoral is an image of what they call the golden age: so that we are not to describe our shepherds as shepherds at this day really are, but as they may be conceived then to have been, when the best of men followed the employment” (19). Pope goes on to state that the job of the poet, consequently, is to “use some illusion to render a pastoral delightful; and this consists in exposing the best side only of a shepherd’s life, and in concealing its miseries” (20). To modern readers this definition may appear too narrow, as it excludes any work in which the natural world and its inhabitants are portrayed in a less idealized light. As Joseph Brodsky indicates in his essay, “On Grief and Reason,” an eclogue may contain tenebrous elements; Brodsky discusses Robert Frost’s “Home Burial” as a dark pastoral, enlarging Pope’s definition of the genre to include any “exchange between two or more characters in a rural setting, returning often to that perennial subject, love” (234). It is with Brodsky’s more expansive understanding of the genre that this paper will explore the pastoral plays of William Shakespeare.