Three kinds of pastoral
The term ‘pastoral’ is used in three broadly different ways. First, the pastoral is a historical form with a long tradition which began in poetry, developed into drama and more recently could be recognised in novels. So we can speak of Renaissance pastoral dramas, such as Shakespeare’s, or of Augustan pastoral poetry, such as Pope’s, and agree that we are talking about a literary form that is used in each of these periods and motifs which we can recognise as deriving from certain early Greek and Roman poems about life in the country, and about the life of the shepherd in particular. Indeed, to refer to ‘pastoral’ up to about 1610 was to refer to poems or dramas of a specific formal type in which supposed shepherds spoke to each other, usually in pentameter verse, about their work or their loves, with (mostly) idealised descriptions of their countryside. This definition of pastoral is summed up by Leo Marx as ‘No shepherd, no pastoral’. For the reader or audience, this literary device involved some form of retreat and return,
the fundamental pastoral movement, either within the text, or in the sense that the pastoral retreat ‘returned’ some insights relevant to the urban audience.