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pastoral poetry, court politics, campus


Literary critics have relied increasingly upon what we know of the particular goings-on at the court of Queen Elizabeth to explain all things we call Elizabethan, including a vast corpus of poetry. Pastoral poetry in particular, long regarded as an allegorical embodiment of court politics, is seen now more than ever as a product of social and political power struggles. I argue instead that the pastoral poetry of Renaissance England has to do with the academic world as much as, if not more than, with the ancillary world of the court, it was born of the academy, where Edmund Spenser and others encountered the classical pastorals of Theocritus and Virgil. In initiating the pastoral as an English genre, Spenser looked to these poets to see how to write, but like them he relied upon his own experience to teach him what to write. The recollection and depiction of pastoral delights returned Spenser not only to his first readings of Virgil and Theocritius but also to the place where he first encountered his classical pastoral predecessors. In the classical models Spenser found the shepherd's campus; in his own recollections he found a student's campus. In his pastorals, as well as the pastorals of those who followed him in this genre, the two campuses combine to form a poetry whose ingredients distinguish it from its classical origins.