Literary Terms

Pastoral poetry, eclogue, and idyll are all terms that relate very closely to Stoppard's Arcadia. It is vital to note that the definition sources vary greatly on these literary terms. I will attempt to accurately summarize them as best I can.

definition from Rocio Further details on farce as a genre

Pastoral poetry
is literature that attempts to idealize the simple life of the shepherd and the country folk. This poetry tries to compare the innocence and serenity of the country life to the misery and corruption of the city life. Usually, pastoral literature shows the moral, social, and literary views of the author. It is often written as a conversation between shepherds. Often, the Golden Age is referred to, when humans lived contently on the fruits of the earth without cultivation. This type of poetry was originated by the Greek poet Theocritus in the 3rd century. Boccaccio's Ameto was also a pioneering work in pastoral poetry, which was later revived in 1501 by Sannazzaro's Arcadia.

The idyll
is a pastoral poem that stresses the picturesque aspects of the country life. These are usually fairly brief. If the idyll is longer, it is most likely a narrative poem that is highly finished and descriptive of pastoral scenes. It is often an idealized story of happy innocence in a form of pastoral verse. The idyll was also originated by Theocritus' Idylls. His work was later imitated by others, including Virgil.

The eclogue
is also a type of pastoral poetry, which is almost always in the form of dialogue between shepherds or a soliloquy. It has evolved over the centuries into what it is today. Originally, in Virgil's form, these poems followed a strict technique that was derived from the Idylls of Theocritus. The poems were in one of five forms; a shepherd singing match, in rustic dialogue, in a dirge or lamentation for a dead shepherd, a love song of courtship, or a eulogy. These poems were mainly written by Dante and Boccaccio, who were imitating Virgil. During the Renaissance, the term eclogue was applied to any verse on pastoral themes, such as Spencer's The Shepherd's Calendar, as well as Barclay's Eclogues which was written in 1515. During this time, it was also used for veiled satire, especially against the corruption of the clergy , as well as the political figures and those responsible for the neglect of poetry. In the 18th century this term was strictly used to refer to the farm life. Modern eclogues have turned into political and social pastorals, such as in Frost's Build Soil, and Tate and MacNeice's poems. Some sources refer to the eclogue as the form of the poem and pastoral as the content.

Pastoral poetry
is vital as it relates to Arcadia, as well as Virgil's connection to Arcadia.
The play is set in a large country home that is set apart from other distractions. The title Arcadia itself means any place of rural peace and simplicity. The setting is very peaceful, but we often find the characters within it in utter chaos. On page 12 of Arcadia, Lady Croom talks about how "Sidley Park is already a picture, and a most amiable picture too. The slopes are green and gentle. The trees are companionably grouped at intervals that show them to advantage. The rill is a serpentine ribbon unwound from the lake peaceably contained by meadows on which the right amount of sheep are tastefully arranged-in short, it is nature as God intended, and I can say with the painter, 'Et in Arcadia ego!' 'Here I am in Arcadia'." Later, Septimus corrects her use of the translation. Earlier in the conversation, Lady Croom had discussed how Noakes tried to change the "familiar pastoral refinement of an Englishman's garden" to "ruins where there was never a house," and how all of the parts of her garden she loved the most had been changed into something horrible. Later, on page 27 of the play, Hannah talked about Noakes' changes to the estate's garden. She talked about how " A century of intellectual rigour turned in on itself. A mind in chaos suspected of genius. In a setting of cheap thrills and false emotion. The history of the garden says it all, beautifully. There's an engraving of Sidley Park in 1730 that makes you want to weep. Paradise in the age of reason. By 1760 everything had gone-the topiary, pools and terraces, fountains, and avenue of limes-the whole sublime geometry was ploughed under by Capability Brown. The grass went from the doorstep to the horizon and the best box hedge in Derbyshire was dug up for the ha-ha so that fools could pretend they were living in God's countryside. And then Richard Noakes came in to bring God up to date." Every character agreed that Noakes had modernized the estate from the pastoral form that they had all loved.

These literary terms are sometimes confusing and hard to distinguish between, yet they are tied very closely to Stoppard's play, Arcadia.

Page by Laura Anderson

To learn more about Sir Phillip Sidney's pastoral poetry, click here


Current Literary Terms; A Concise Dictionary, A.F. Scott; St. Marin's Press, New York, 1967. p.86, 138, 212-213
Dictionary of World Literary Terms, Joseph T. Shipley, The Writer, Inc. Boston, 1970. p.93, 155-156, 232-233
Benet's 3rd Edition Reader's Encyclopedia; Edited by Katherine Baker Siepmann, Harper and Row Publishers, New York, 1987. p.288, 475, 741
Merriam Webster's Encyclopedia of Literature, Merriam-Webster, Inc., Publishers Springfield, MA; 1995. p.363, 579, 862-863

Picture of the gardens at Stour

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