General English



  • A genre of drama, popular from the 15th to the 17th centuries,that depicted an innocent rustic world of shepherds and maids. Pastoraldrama drew most of its elements from the pastoral poetry of Greekand Roman writers, notably Theocritus and Virgil. The genre developedin Italy and had a lasting influence on the French drama; its impacton theater in England was more limited.

    Although Angelo Poliziano's Favola d'Orfeo (1472) andAgostino Beccari's Il Sacrifizio (1544) both anticipated thegenre, Torquato Tasso's story of rustic love L'Aminta (1573)is considered the first important pastoral play. Another significantwriter of pastorals was Il Cinthio, whose most notable workin the genre was the tragicomedy The Faithful Shepherd (1598).

    Italian pastoral had a major influence on such 17th-centuryFrench playwrights as Seigneur de Racan, who enjoyed a great successwith Les Bergeries (1620), and Jean Mairet, whose Silvie(1626) is considered one of the finest of all pastorals. The genresurvived into the era of neoclassical drama, with Corneilleamongst others continuing to present an idealized picture of ruralpleasures in his comedies. Mairet's La Silvanire ou la morte vive(1630) was the first pastoral to respect the unities.

    English pastorals included John Lyly's comedies on mythologicalsubjects, John Fletcher's The Faithful Shepherdess (1608),and Shakespeare's As You Like It (1599). Pastoral elementsplayed an important part in the Stuart masques.