Rethinking the pastoral in early modern drama

Railton, Adam

September 2018

Thesis or dissertation

© 2018 Adam Railton. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

[From the introduction:]
The topic of this thesis focuses on a generic form that whilst it has a long history, has fallen out of the critical eye in the twenty first century: the pastoral. In terms of criticism on pastoral, it reached a peak in the 1970s with a few important works falling a few decades before and after. Full-scale studies on the pastoral genre essentially end after Paul Alpers What Is Pastoral? in 1996 and Robert Henke’s Pastoral Transformations in 1997. It is such then that the pastoral discussion is ‘out of fashion’ in the twenty first century, excluding some individual essays such as Susanne Wofford’s “Hymen and the Gods on Stage in Shakespeare’s As You Like It and Italian Pastoral” or Eric Nicholson’s “Et in Arcadia the Dirty Brides” in the Transnational Mobilities in Early Modern Theater (Henke and Nicholson, 2014) collection. Whilst Wofford and Nicholson offer insightful detailed explorations of the topic they are in a minority of pastoral discussion of recent years. This thesis aims to explore the pastoral from a new angle, therefore offering a novel perspective, and to bring the pastoral back to critical attention.

The central argument I intend to make is as follows: The pastoral genre acts as a catalyst for certain improbabilities and conflicts to unfold. It is, by its very nature, the improbable genre. This means that the pastoral generates and creates a distinctive literary and dramatic space, depending on the text, that allows for these improbabilities to unfold. The pastoral is no necessarily defined by its rural themes and typical dramatis personae, those being hermits, shepherds and nymphs. Instead it defined by its ability to invoke experimental and bold moments. Whilst the typical pastoral dress is often present, in my opinion a more pertinent approach to the genre is through the perspective of what it creates and allows and not what it is usually dressed in. If a play, or a text, creates improbability and places conflicting ideologies or systems in direct relation to one another, then is can just as well be called pastoral; this is with or without its rural trimmings. As such, perhaps we should understand pastoral through is product and less the means of getting there.

Department of Drama, The University of Hull
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