The pastoral settings in Shakespeare's As You Like It, "The Passionate shepherd to His Love" by Christopher Marlowe, and "The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd" by Sir Walter Raleigh collectively portray contrasting ideas about nature. Marlowe idealizes pastoral life while Raleigh's companion piece shows its negative aspects. As You Like It explores both the positive and negative qualities.
Pastoral settings conventionally carry the connotation of a nurturing and wholesome environment, similar to the philosophical ideas of the superiority of a natural man. In nature, there are different rules from society in which things work together for a common good. In As You Like It, Orlando, thinking that nature is savage, pulls his sword and demands food of the disposed duke. What Orlando finds is that nature is less savage than civilization. Duke Senior, who promises to give Orlando all that he has, describes the splendor and bounty of nature with "tongues in trees" and "books in the running brooks." The court comes to the pasture, seeking food, clothing, and shelter, and finds fulfillment there.
A shepherd, who resembles the chivalric Duke Senior taking care of his flock, protects the animals in his care just as nature provides him with food, clothing, and shelter. A shepherd's wife must support and help take care of the shepherd. Marlowe's passionate shepherd tries to woo his love by promising the best "wool" from "our pretty lambs," beautiful fields in which to reflect, "beds of roses" to sleep on, "A cap of flowers, and a kirtle/ Embroidered all with leaves of myrtle." She will also have "Fair-lined slippers for the col...
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... to the shepherd if she accepted his proposal. Even though Phebe settles for Silvius, when she finds out Ganymede is really a woman, her happiness is only bitter-sweet.
The pastoral scenes in As You Like It and in the companion poems by Marlowe and Raleigh show nature as a refuge with wonderful mysteries, a place of infectious love, and still a cruel, savage place. Nature is all of these things, an amalgam of mixed blessings, which in differing contexts may be both beneficial and deceptively vicious.
Marlowe, Christopher. "The Passionate shepherd to His Love." Various versions have been consulted.
Raleigh, Walter. "The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd." Various versions have been consulted.
Shakespeare, William. As You Like It. New York: Dover Publications. 1998. All quotations are from this text.
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