Arden and Arcadia. Presence of Pastoral Tradition in Shakespeare's "The Tempest"

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2016

18 Pages, Grade: 1,3



1. Introduction

2. Classic Pastoral
2.1. Theocritus' Idylls
2.2. Virgil's Eclogues

3. The Tempest and the Pastoral
3.1. The Question of Genre
3.1.1. The Genre of Pastoral
3.1.2. Tragicomedy
3.2. Pastoral Themes
3.3. The Tempest in a Classical Context

4. Conclusion

5. Works Cited
5.1. Primary Sources
5.2. Secondary Sources

1. Introduction

Shepherds sitting in nature, singing and making music together and overall enjoying the Golden Age. Those are typical attributes for the pastoral genre. When thinking of Shakespeare's The Tempest (1611) a betrayed sorcerer or maybe the enslaved native Caliban comes to mind, not relaxed shepherds. However, it is a pastoral play which this term paper will prove.

Theocritus and Virgil are considered the founding fathers of this literary genre. Therefore, it is no surprise that The Tempest shows many similarities to the works of these poets. I will compare The Tempest with Theocritus' first and seventh Idyll and Virgil's first, ninth and fifth Eclogue; other pastoral poems of that period will not be discussed. This term paper will present those similarities between the poems and the play and show that Shakespeare's The Tempest was strongly influenced by the pastoral Eclogues and Idylls and is itself a pastoral play. To achieve this, I will closely look at some of the themes of The Tempest and show their relation to the pastoral genre.

The first time the play was performed was in 1611 (Vaughan 1). The date of publications of the Eclogues and the Idylls cannot be determined with certainty, however, Virgil lived between 70 BC (Ziolkowski 356) and 19 BC (Ziolkowski 1), while Theocritus lived around the 3rd century BC (Beloch 582), even though that is only an assumption. Therefore, the poems must have been written around the respective periods. Since there is a gap of over 1500 years between the first performance of The Tempest and the publication of the works of Virgil and Theocritus, it is astounding that there still are many connections between these works and that Shakespeare stayed true to the genre of pastoral.

Firstly, I will closely look at the first and seventh Idyll of Theocritus. There, I will discuss the pastoral items in the poems, like Daphnis, his death and the gifts the shepherds give each other. Second, I will do the same with Virgil's Eclogues. Especially the first and ninth one were heavily influenced by Virgil's experience with evictions. The fifth one shows more similarities to Theocritus' first Idyll.

Secondly, after introducing the works of Theocritus and Virgil, I will focus on the genre of The Tempest and show that it is not purely a pastoral play but also has elements of comedy and tragedy. I will apply Edwin Greenlaw's seven pastoral plot points (Greenlaw 123) to define The Tempest as a pastoral play. Afterwards, I will show that it also fulfils the criteria of comedy and tragedy, as well as David Hirst's description of tragicomedy (Hirst xi).

Lastly, I will focus on the play’s themes. The Tempest is filled with pastoral themes. Here, I will differentiate between the generic pastoral themes and the themes that are closely related to the poems Theocritus and Virgil that were discussed earlier. The themes of nature, retreat and return, country and the city, politics, magic, masque and music all appear in The Tempest. They are pastoral themes but do not seem to be heavily influenced by Theocritus or Virgil. Themes like eviction and death are not only part of The Tempest but also crucial to the story of the Eclogues and Idylls previously discussed. They can be directly connected to the original pastoral poems.

2. Classic Pastoral

The classic pastoral was a popular genre in Ancient Rome and Greece. The two most famous contributors to this genre are Theocritus and Virgil. Theocritus was born in the city of Syracuse (Theocritus ix). He came from an urban setting and not from the countryside as one might think looking at his work. He did not have the insights to rural life as Virgil did who came from a village. It is interesting, how a man who was originally not native to the countryside could write as if he were a shepherd himself. Theocritus did not know the hardships that might come with living in a rural area so it is assumable that "[…] his love for nature [was] as far removed from the nostalgic and consequently rather artificial and sentimentalized appreciation […]" (Hartwell 183). Virgil, however, came from a village named Pietole (Wilkinson 322), so he writes about the country from an inside perspective. This leads to his Eclogues not being as idyllic about nature as the Idylls are. His experience with evictions also influenced his poems.

2.1. Theocritus' Idylls

Theocritus is seen by many as the inventor of the pastoral genre (Gutzwiller 3). The Idylls, coming from the Greek word εἰδύλλιον meaning "little poems" (Shackford 586) are a collection of pastoral poems written by Theocritus.

The first Idyll is a dialogue between the shepherd Thyrsis and a goatherd. This poem is filled with pastoral items. The two men are playing their pipes when the goatherd persuades Thyrsis to sing a song (Theocritus 6). For his song he receives a price, namely the milk of one of the goatherd's goats and a well-crafted cup (Theocritus 11). The cup belongs to the pastoral inventory, because of its description. The illustration of the cup resembles the description of Achilles' shield in the Iliad (Hopkins 15). Furthermore, this Idyll contains a pastoral elegy. An elegy is a "[…] pastoral lament for the death of a fellow shepherd […]" (Barrell 10). Thyrsis sings about the death of Daphnis. During the song different kinds of stylistic devices appear; typical for a pastoral poem. Not only the shepherds mourn the death of Daphnis but wild animals, like lions, foxes and wolves as well (Theocritus 15). This personification of animals is called a pathetic fallacy. Pathetic Fallacy describes the ability of non-humans to feel feelings (Copley 194), in this case animals. In addition, Theocritus used a style called mundus inversus which means that things in this world are turned upside down (Rimell 141). Now that Daphnis is dead nature is not working correctly and nothing makes sense anymore (Theocritus 21, 23). This Idyll is filled with sorrow but also a sense of peacefulness. The characters of the Idyll and the song in it mourn Daphnis' death. Yet, the scene contains two men sitting, complementing each other and making music, surrounded by nature. The presence of death in Arcadia does not influence its perfection. Arcadia is an idealised version of rural life and an embodiment of the Golden Age. The Golden Age is an "[…] era of pastoral simplicity" (Barrell 4). Nothing, not even death, can spoil this perfect setting.

The seventh Idyll tells the story of a man traveling with his friends on their way to thank the goddess Demeter for their good harvest (Theocritus 95). It is narrated by Simichidas, who tells of his travel from "[…] town to the harvest festival […]" (Bowie 67). On his way he meets the goatherd Lycidas (Theocritus 93), who also appears in Virgil's ninth Eclogue, they have a singing competition and Lycidas gives Simichidas a staff (Theocritus 105). The Idyll takes place in "[…] the countryside of Cos" (Krevans 201). The harvest festival the group is traveling to, is the "[…] Feast of Demeter […]" (Brown 59). Demeter, also called Ceres, is the goddess of harvest (Morales 41). This Idyll shows similarities to the first one, for it contains similar pastoral items. There is a singing competition of two shepherds which ends in gift-giving. In this case it is a staff, not a cup and Lycidas gets nothing in return. As soon as Lycidas gives Simichidas his gift, he leaves the group of travellers and goes a different way (Theocritus 105). Daphnis is also mentioned and Lycidas sings a song about him (Theocritus 99). In contrast to the first Idyll it is not directly about his death. Lycidas sings about two shepherds singing about Daphnis, one of which is Tityrus (Theocritus 99), a shepherd that also appears in Virgil's first Eclogue. They sing about Daphnis and his lover Xenea (Theocritus 99). This is the first time the reader learns that Xenea is the "[…] name of Daphnis' beloved […]" (Hunter 174). It also mentioned that Daphnis died "[…] by Himeras flood […]" (Theocritus 99). The seventh Idyll is similar to the first one, with shepherds meeting and singing about Daphnis. However, the poem gives more information about him, his lover and his death, and the shepherds met by chance on the way to the harvest festival of Demeter.

2.2. Virgil's Eclogues

Virgil was a poet in the first century BC who had a great influence on later writers; and not only for the pastoral genre (Ziolkowski 1). Sadly, for Virgil, his family was affected by evictions. "The expulsion happened in the course of the big land confiscations that were organised in order to resettle Julius Caesar's legionaries after the civil war with Pompey […]" (Heaney 248). Virgil's "[…] home was at Pietole, three miles to the south-east of Mantua […]" (Wilkinson 322). In 42 BC, however, "[…] Mantua was losing land […]" (Wilkinson 320). Fortunately for Virgil, Octavian "[…] restored his father's estate" (Heaney 249).

Virgil projects his experience with evictions onto his poems. "The wrongs of his countrymen, ejected to make room for the veterans of Antony and Octavian, were borne on his heart, and they mingled with the discordant pastoral scenes that his fancy was reshaping." (Rand 24). In the first Eclogue, the shepherds Meliboeus and Tityrus are "[…] outcasts form [their] country […]" (Virgil 25). Their problem is addressed right in the first passage of the poem. This Eclogue shows that even the pastoral shepherds from Arcadia cannot flee the injustice of politics. Being shepherds, they are dependent on their livestock. Their animals are not taken away from them but their land is. Meliboeus notes that "[…] bare stones cover all, and the marsh chokes your pastures with slimy rushes." (Virgil 29). Even though Tityrus gets to keep his land (Virgil 29), it is in no condition to serve as a good habitat for his animals. The shepherds' existence depends on the wellbeing of their stock, thus also on their land. So, they leave their country (Virgil 29) and Meliboeus wonders if he will ever "[…] look again on [his] country's bounds, on [his] humble cottage with its turf-clad roof […]" (Virgil 29). He also wonders who will inherit his old land, now that he can no longer cultivate it (Virgil 31). In fear of it being "[…] a godless soldier […] [or] a barbarian […]" (Virgil 31) he sends away his goats (Virgil 31). "After the battle of Philippi (42 B.C.), Octavian's and Antony's veterans were rewarded with land–seized, of course from farmers like Meliboes." (Alpers 68). Meliboeus was forced to give up his land so foreign soldiers could live there after they fought in a civil war. "By the third line Meliboeus is lamenting the troubles that farmers must face in contemporary Italy. Eviction, expropriation, refugee status overnight. […] One man is struck by misfortune, the next, for no reason, is immune." (Heaney 247). Meliboeus does not understand the injustice he has to face. He has lost his land, while Tityrus gets to keep his.

The ninth Eclogue has the same theme as the first one. It "[…] involves the kind of land grabbing that [Virgil's] father had suffered […]" (Heaney 250). Moeris tells Lycidas of his eviction from his farm. "O Lycidas, we have lived to see the day–an evil never dreamed–when a stranger, holder of our little farm, could say: 'This is mine; begone old tenants!'" (Virgil 83). Just as in the first Eclogue a man is forced to leave his farm, and thereby also his life, behind, only for it to be taken over by foreign soldiers. Lycidas mentions Menalcas, the shepherd that also appears in the fifth Eclogue, saying that he "[…] had with his songs saved all." (Virgil 85). "Menalcas, a poet, has tried to intercede for them. He was rumoured to have largely succeeded, […] and in the new quarrel caused by the inter-cession both Moeris and Menalcas were lucky to have escaped with their lives […]" (Wilkinson 320). This is also known to Lycidas and Moeris himself (Virgil 85). Concerning Virgil and those evictions, Wilkinson writes that "[…] the poet has gone out of his way to indicate that Menalcas is he […]" (Wilkinson 321). He sees Virgil as a man who "[…] had simply tried to use the influence he had acquired as a poet with influential people in order to help his countrymen." (Wilkinson 322). Moeris also speaks of Mantua (Virgil 85), the city near Virgil's hometown which was also affected by the political redistribution of land. "Moeris there re-presents the veteres coloni who are being either evicted ('migrate') or, as in his case, apparently still working the farm but paying produce to its new owner […]" (Wilkinson 320). Those Eclogues endanger the idea of the Golden Age. The shepherds can no longer just appreciate nature and sit leisurely around while piping and singing. Now, they have real existential problems.

The fifth Eclogue has many similarities to Theocritus' first Idyll. The shepherds Menalcas and Mopsus are singing and piping together (Virgil 53). Daphnis' death from the first Idyll appears again. The two men are singing about him and include the literary devices from the Idyll like pathetic fallacy (Virgil 57). It is revealed by Menalcas, that Daphnis became a god after he died and is now worshipped (Virgil 59). Daphnis is also mentioned in other Eclogues like the seventh (Virgil 67), the eighth (Virgil 79) or the ninth (Virgil 87). At the end of the fifth Eclogue there is the typical exchange of gifts. Menalcas gives Mopsus a reed and Mopsus gives a crook in return (Virgil 61).


Excerpt out of 18 pages


Arden and Arcadia. Presence of Pastoral Tradition in Shakespeare's "The Tempest"
University of Frankfurt (Main)  (Institute for English and American Studies)
Pastoral Conventions
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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Pastoral, Shakespeare, Tempest, Literaturwissenschaft, Theocritus, Vergil, Idyllen, Eclogen
Quote paper
Anne Sander (Author), 2016, Arden and Arcadia. Presence of Pastoral Tradition in Shakespeare's "The Tempest", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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