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Article

Katherine O’Brien O’Keeffe

Literary culture in Anglo-Saxon England flourished in two languages—Anglo-Latin and Old English—although the written record of that flourishing is uneven. The literature in these languages of culture did not develop in isolation from each other: vernacular literary works often show a keen awareness of Latin texts and textual practices. Vernacular literature in Old English was precocious in its early expansion from secular and religious poetry to homiletic and documentary prose, as well as translations of the Bible, saints’ lives (in prose and in verse), histories, and philosophical works. The best known of all Old English works is Beowulf, and close behind are the short lyric poems generally, though misleadingly, known as elegies. Not always clear from even the best Modern English translations is the way that these intense poems share techniques of composition and echoes of shared formulas with other long and short poems. The saint-heroes of Elene, Juliana, and Judith share heroic values and poetic language with Beowulf and The Wanderer. This kind of appropriation—where the language of secular poetry was repurposed for religious subjects—was the miracle Bede saw in Cædmon’s Hymn. Old English literary prose developed in the late 9th century in conjunction with a program of translation from Latin associated with King Alfred. Within a relatively short time, Anglo-Saxon scholars translated into Old English Gregory’s Dialogues, Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy, Augustine’s Soliloquies, the first fifty psalms, and, further, Bede’s Historia ecclesiastica and Orosius’s World History. The late 10th and early 11th centuries saw an efflorescence of Old English prose, particularly in the works of Ælfric of Eynsham and Archbishop Wulfstan of York. Spanning the 9th century to the 12th, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle reports and reflects on the events of its time, in verse and in prose.

Article

Nicholas Dames

First known as a kephalaion in Greek, capitulum or caput in Latin, the chapter arose in antiquity as a finding device within long, often heterogenous prose texts, prior even to the advent of the codex. By the 4th century ce, it was no longer unusual for texts to be composed in capitula; but it is with the advent of the fictional prose narratives we call the novel that the chapter, both ubiquitous and innocuous, developed into a compositional practice with a distinct way of thinking about biographical time. A technique of discontinuous reading or “consultative access” which finds a home in a form for continuous, immersive reading, the chapter is a case study in adaptive reuse and slow change. One of the primary ways the chapter became a narrative form rather than just an editorial practice is through the long history of the chaptering of the Bible, particularly the various systems for chaptering the New Testament, which culminated in the early 13th century formation of the biblical chaptering system still in use across the West. Biblical chapters formed a template for how to segment ongoing plots or actions which was taken up by writers, printers, and editors from the late medieval period onward; pivotal examples include William Caxton’s chaptering of Thomas Malory’s Morte d’Arthur in his 1485 printing of the text, or the several mises en proses of Chrétien de Troyes’s poems carried out in the Burgundian court circle of the 15th century. By the 18th century, a vibrant set of discussions, controversies, and experiments with chapters were characteristic of the novel form, which increasingly used chapter titles and chapter breaks to meditate upon how different temporal units understand human agency in different ways. With the eventual dominance of the novel in 19th-century literary culture, the chapter had been honed into a way of thinking about the segmented nature of biographical memory, as well as the temporal frames—the day, the year, the episode or epoch—in which that segmenting occurs; chapters in this period were of an increasingly standard size, although still lacking any formal rules or definition. Modernist prose narratives often played with the chapter form, expanding it or drastically shortening it, but these experiments usually tended to reaffirm the unit of the chapter as a significant measure by which we make sense of human experience.

Article

Codex  

Michelle P. Brown

The codex occupies an iconic role in Western culture. Usually narrowly applied to the folded book form of the age of print, it owes its origins and development to pre-print manuscript culture. As early as the 1st century ce, the Roman poet Martial was recommending that his readers buy the new codex form. But then, as now, publishers were slow to retool, and the ancient scroll technology continued until the 4th century, when the codex, initially the preserve of the underclasses (notably the early Christians, who valued it for its portability and cross-referencing suitability), achieved popularity as the focus of Christianity, a religion of the book. Wax tablets—the less formal medium of the day—continued in use for drafting of text and image and for informal purposes into the early 20th century. From the 5th century onward the use of decoration and paratextual features such as punctuation served to help navigate and articulate the text and images, illustrated the narrative, or explored the multivalent meaning of text through image. Both men and women, religious and secular, wealthy or poor, figured in the production of medieval books, as authors, makers, and users. Documentary evidence and that detected within the books themselves gives a picture of the ways in which literary works were composed, captured in writing, published, disseminated, and accessed. Each manuscript is unique, but together they provide a portal into a thousand years of thought.

Article

Comedy  

Yi-hsin Hsu

So strong is the cultural desire for an independent and original theory of comedy that Aristotle is imagined to have penned, aside from his glancing treatments of comedy in the Poetics, a critical assessment of the genre, now lost. The symbolic absence of this presumed Aristotelian treatise speaks volumes for the near unattainability of such a critical endeavor. Comedy is at times conceptualized as a generative “umbrella” genre that subsumes other adjoining modes of literary figuration—satire, parody, romance, irony, joke, word play, farce, and stand-up—all while being routinely subject to cultural and theoretical conflation with humor, laughter, amusement, wit, and other physiological as well as intellectual triggers or responses to the comic. The generic contours of comedy are ever-expanding and helplessly slippery. Comedy embodies divergences and dualities. Its anthropological association with fertility rituals at its generic inception suggests privilege and respectability, but Plato’s prejudice against comedy as fit for slaves and outcasts, together with Aristotle’s identification of comedy with lowliness and ugliness, conditions the perception of the genre as relatively vulgar, inferior, and base when examined alongside its nobler counterpart, tragedy. Comedy’s capacity to channel expressions for behavioral deviation in the Feasts of Fools qualifies the genre as a social subversive, but that comedy is conducive to societal stability as a safety valve for discontentedness and insurgence proves that the genre wields the potential of a social fixative. Comedy is said to be grounded on malice and superiority, but playwrights throughout the ages have used it to advance virtue. It is in and between these seemingly irreconcilable contradictions that theoretical abstractions of this elusive genre may be attempted.

Article

Toby Malone and Brett Greatley-Hirsch

Digital publishing, from early ventures in fixed media (diskette and CD-ROM) through to editions designed for the Web, tablets, and phones, radically transforms the creation, remediation, and dissemination of Shakespearean texts. Likewise, digital technologies reshape the performance of William Shakespeare’s plays through the introduction of new modes of capture and delivery, as well as the adaptation of social media, virtual reality, video gaming, and motion capture in stage and screen productions. With the aid of the computer, Shakespearean texts, places, and spaces can be “modeled” in new and sophisticated ways, including algorithmic approaches to questions of Shakespearean authorship and chronology, the virtual 3D reconstruction of now-lost playhouses, and historical geospatial mapping of Shakespeare’s London.

Article

Early modern literature about food is found in a range of genres that have traditionally appealed to literary critics, such as drama and poetry, as well as writings that can be less neatly categorized as literary but that tend to have a literary dimension, such as religious sermons, cookery books, and dietary literature, also known as regimens. Food in early modern literature often signals a complex relationship between the body, a sense of self, and the sociopolitical structures that regulated food’s production and consumption in the period. Writers mentioning food may thereby convey details of narrative, characterization, and motivation but also signal broader social concerns such as the role of women, religious obligations, treatment of the poor, and the status of foreigners. Ordinary staple foods such as bread feature heavily, but so too do exotic foods newly imported into England such as apricots and other fruits that were hard to grow. There is also a fascination with perverse consumption, such as cannibalism (sometimes metaphorical and sometimes literal), which functions as an indication of various modes of alterity. The consumption of food in early modern literature is often grounded in the period in which it was written. A common recurrence is the way in which patterns of consumption signal social and moral responsibility, so that eating and drinking to excess, or taking too much pleasure in them, is considered sinful. Also evident is the shift from medieval communal dining and a sense of feudal obligation and hospitality to strangers to a growing early modern sense of privacy and individualism. Food functions as a complex marker of national, religious, and cultural identity whereby certain foods signify Catholicism or Englishness and other foods, or their preparation, will signify strangeness. Yet food can also be a shorthand way to address issues such as hunger, desire, and disgust.

Article

Matthew Woodcock

Early modern regional drama produced in England between the Reformation and the closure of the public theaters in 1642 can be divided into three categories: provincial performances by touring playing companies; entertainments and masques staged by civic, ecclesiastical, and aristocratic hosts during Tudor and Stuart royal progresses; and drama produced by towns, cities, and communities themselves. There are also many instances of performances where these three categories overlap or interact. Touring companies under royal or noble patrons performed in a variety of locations upon visiting settlements in the provinces: in guildhalls, inn, churches and churchyards, open spaces, noble or gentry households, or, on a few occasions, purpose-built regional playhouses. There is extensive evidence of touring companies playing in the provinces across England and Wales until the 1620s, although there were fewer opportunities for patronized touring companies under the Stuarts and greater incentives and rewards for performing in London and (from 1608) in the new indoor theaters. Drama also came to the provinces during Tudor and Stuart royal progresses in the form of shows and masques staged in urban communities, elite domestic houses, and at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. The heyday of such entertainments was during Elizabeth I’s reign; between 1559 and 1602 the queen visited over 400 individual and civic hosts. The reigns of James I and Charles I saw far fewer progresses into the provinces and the principal focus of Stuart royal spectacle was court masque and London’s Lord Mayor’s shows. Nevertheless, the monarch and royal family were entertained around the country from the 1620s until the 1630s, and Ben Jonson played a key role in scripting some of the provincial masques staged. Early modern regional drama also took the form of civic- and parish-based biblical plays and pageants that continued medieval guild-based performance traditions. Drama was also performed in provincial schools and in the universities, as well as in private households, throughout the period. Examining early modern drama from a regional perspective, and identifying how, where, and why drama was performed across the country, enables the construction of a broader and more complex understanding of theater and performance as a whole in the 16th and 17th centuries. When it comes to reflecting the wider social, geographical, and gender demographics of early modern England, regional drama is shown to offer a more truly representative, inclusive conception of national drama in this period than that which is predicated on London-based material alone.

Article

Epic  

Herbert Tucker

An enumeration of generic qualities will define epic less helpfully than will an assessment of its behaviors. Among major literary kinds, epic offers the most long-standing and globally distributed evidence of the human habit of thinking by means of narrative. What it cherishes is the common good; what it ponders are the behaviors and values that forward or threaten collective welfare. What it reckons are the stakes of heroic risk that any living culture must hazard in order to prosper, by negotiating core identities with margins and adjusting settled customs to emergent opportunities; and it roots all these in the transmission of a tale that commands perennial attention on their account. Such dialectics underlie epic’s favorite narrative templates, the master plots of strife, quest, and foundation; and they find expression in such conventions as the in medias res opening and suspended closure; the epic invocation, ancestral underworld, superhuman machinery, and encyclopedic simile; the genre’s formal gravitation towards verse artifice and the lexical and syntactic mingling of old with new language. The genre steadfastly highlights the human condition and prospect, defining these along a scale of higher and lower being, along a timeline correlating history with prophecy, and along cultural coordinates where the familiar and the exotic take each other’s measure.

Article

Medieval European literature is both broader and deeper in its basis than what is usually offered in literary histories with their focus only on a narrow canon and on vernacular languages. One way to see this bigger canvas is to consider technical and statistical book-historical factors together with the authority of the two Roman Empires (Western and Eastern) and of their religious hierarchies (the papacy and the patriarchate). A coordinated reading of developments in the Latin West and the Greek East—though rarely directly related—brings out some main features of intellectual and literary life in most of Europe. With this focus, a literary chronology emerges—as a supplement to existing narratives based on either national or formal (genre) concerns: the period c. 600 to c. 1450 can be considered a unity in book-historical terms, namely the era dominated the hand-written codex. It is also delimited by the fate of the Roman Empire with the Latin West effectively separated from the Greek Empire by c. 600 and the end of Constantinople in 1453. Within this broad framework, three distinctive phases of book- and intellectual history can be discerned: the exegetical (c. 600–c. 1050), the experimental (c. 1050–c. 1300), and the critical (c. 1300–c. 1450). These three headings should be understood as a shorthand for what was new in each phase, not as a general characteristic, especially because exegesis in various forms continued to lie at the heart of reading and writing books in all relevant languages.

Article

Angela Andreani

As well as sources for the study of the period, Renaissance archives are a subject of scholarly inquiry in their own right. Early modernists have increasingly appreciated the significance of a knowledge of record-keeping practices in research, and how an understanding of archives as contingent and culturally specific warrants reading their history, organization, and uses as mirrors (perhaps distorting ones) of culture, politics, and society. Renaissance archives make up a heterogeneous and dispersed panorama of sources ranging from administrative documents and official records to personal papers and private collections. Examples are the archive of the d’Este family, initiated in the mid-15th century and preserved in the 19th-century building of the Archivio di Stato di Modena, or the Archivo General de Simancas, founded in the 16th century and still located in the same 15th-century castle where it was originally established. The unprecedented development of public and private record-keeping during the Renaissance made archives ubiquitous and an inescapable part of the lives of many. The proliferation of archives must be connected with cultural and political changes such as the spread of literacy, the growth in size and complexity of states and institutions, and developments in the organization and management of the records. War, fires, and accidental destruction have severely damaged valuable materials, while dismemberment and reorganization have compromised entire collections; however, Renaissance archives have been reintegrated into modern institutions and still shape them in many ways. Focusing on archival practices rather than on archives as products enables us to view the history of archives in Europe as a series of transformations in which to identify elements of continuity and phases of rupture.

Article

The concept of Bulgarian book (Balgarska Kniga) is inclusive of manuscripts and printed and digital books written and reproduced in Old Bulgarian, Middle Bulgarian, and Modern Bulgarian in the period from the 9th to the 21st centuries. Along with language, due to a number of historical circumstances related to political, cultural, and economic factors, categories of Bulgarian books also comprise literary products created in foreign languages by Bulgarians with a clear Bulgarian national consciousness. Because of the long period of existence of the Bulgarian state (681–2021) and its two periods of political dependence—the Byzantine rule (1018–1185) and the Ottoman rule (1396–1878)—historical boundaries regarding the creation, distribution, and influence of the Bulgarian book far exceed the political borders of the modern Bulgarian state. The cultural influence of the Bulgarian manuscript book can be attributed to Bulgarian rulers and high clergy who were the first to successfully apply, develop, and disseminate Glagolitic and Cyrillic written systems, thus helping to build an independent Slavic Christian culture in the Balkans and Eastern Europe. This influence accounts for the Bulgarian book’s wide distribution as early as the Middle Ages and explains its 21st-century presence in a number of foreign libraries and museums. As a material object and a cultural phenomenon, the Bulgarian book can be studied in five main periods: the manuscript book (9th–19th century); the printed book in the period of the Ottoman Empire (1508–1878); the printed book in the period from the Liberation of Bulgaria to the imposition of the socialist centralized planned model of book publishing (1878–1948); the printed book during the socialist period (1944–1989); and the book in the postsocialist period (1989–2021).

Article

In the area known as Mesoamerica (Mexico, Guatemala, parts of El Salvador, Honduras, and Belize), indigenous writers between the 13th and 16th centuries produced manuscripts using both pictographic and alphabetic-based texts. They worked closely with noble and priestly elites to meticulously design and paint manuscripts. Before the arrival of Europeans, writers worked on a variety of media, from animal hide and textiles to paper. They folded long sheets into accordion-like manuscripts, covered them in a lime plaster, and, using rich natural pigments, recorded complex writing systems. These books contained historical, religious, political, scientific, and cultural knowledge. They not only recorded information, but guided the lives of individuals and communities. Only fourteen of these manuscripts are known to survive, as Spanish conquistadors and friars destroyed the vast majority of them in their effort to eradicate indigenous religions during the conquest of the region in the 16th century. In the years following the Spanish invasion, Mesoamerican artists and scribes had to adapt to new demands from their indigenous patrons, the viceregal government, and the Catholic church. They learned to use the European alphabet and artistic conventions to produce new materials containing ethnographic, religious, and historical information. In addition, they transcribed and wrote speeches, songs, and poems, and produced legal documents to fight for their own rights and those of their communities, rulers, and patrons. Modern-day scholars have made great strides deciphering pre-Columbian writing systems and understanding the make, medium, and function of manuscripts. The vast corpus of colonial-era manuscripts has also been a productive field for understanding Mesoamerican thought, cultural practices, and the social and political forces that shaped colonial life and its literary production.

Article

Lee Morrissey

Literacy is a measure of being literate, of the ability to read and write. The central activity of the humanities—its shared discipline—literacy has become one of its most powerful and diffuse metaphors, becoming a broadly applied metaphor representing a fluency, a competency, or a skill in manipulating information. The word “literacy” is of recent coinage, being little more than a century old. Reading and writing, or effectively using letters (the word at the root of literacy), are ancient skills, but the word “literacy” likely springs from and reflects the emergence of mass public education at the end of the 19th and the turn of the 20th century. In this sense, then “literacy” measures personal and demographic development. Literacy is mimetic. It is synesthetic—in some languages, it means hearing sounds (the phonemes) in what is seen (the letters); in others, it means linking a symbol to the thing symbolized. Although a recent word, “literacy” depends upon the emergence of symbolic sign systems in ancient times. Written symbolic systems, by contrast, are relatively recent developments in human history. But they bear a more complicated relationship to the spoken language, being in part a representation of it (and thus a recording of its contents) while also offering a representation of the world, the referent: that is, literacy involves an awareness of the representation of the world. Reading and writing are tied to millennia of changes in technologies of representation. As a term denoting fluidity with letters, literacy has a history and a geography that follow the development and movement of a phonetic alphabetic and subsequent systems of writing. If the alphabet encodes a shift from orality to literacy, HTML encodes a shift from verbal literacy to a kind of numerical literacy not yet theorized.

Article

Disability—whether physical, mental, or sensory—is widely represented in Early Modern literature, and as such it has been attracting attention from 21st-century literary scholars, who apply the theoretical and critical tools of disability studies to Renaissance narratives and literary characters. Literary disability in its various forms can be analyzed in the light of various models of disability, including medical, social, moral, or cultural. This helps in understanding early modern representations and experiences of disability in culture and history and making sense of reactions to disability in the period: including stigma, mockery, proud identification with the disabled identity, or also a desire for it. Physical disabilities in the Renaissance encompass anything from deformity to bodily mutilation to dwarfism or monstrosity, and they are especially prone to be emphasized, explained, or scrutinized in search of their meaning. Sensory disabilities, including blindness, deafness, and mutism, prompt interpretations that connect physical impairment with the character’s inability or surprising ability to understand reality—whether in a pragmatic or spiritual sense. Intellectual and mental disabilities have many ramifications in early modern literature, some of which, such as fools and madmen, are staple types of drama. Intellectual and mental disabilities are often described in medical terms, but literary texts tend to differentiate between them, whether in technical or narrative terms. Foolishness normally turns into comedy, whereas madness is often connected with tragic characters undergoing mental breakdowns. Renaissance disability studies are also concerned with less obvious types of disability: disabilities that were disabilities in the past but not in the 21st century, concealed disabilities, and disabilities that are not actually disabilities but do foster a conversation that excludes the character who does not embody what society regarded as the ideal physical shape. Finally, instances of counterfeited disability and disability attached to concepts rather than people help understand how Renaissance culture often viewed the nonstandard body not only as something to beware of or reject but also as an image of empowerment.

Article

Richard Danson Brown

Literature during the Renaissance period was highly conscious of the language of form. Form is at once ambiguous, questionable, and has ramifications for a number of fields, including issues of line, meter, and versification on the one hand and broader questions of genre on the other. The verse line in 16th-century English literature shows in practice the tensions between humanist idealism and vernacular traditions, as writers of different generations struggled to find a form that would best capture the potential of a politically marginal, culturally ambitious, language. The sonnet is considered as a morphic form of enormous influence that shaped thinking and practice throughout Europe, as in texts by Louise Labé, Edmund Spenser, and Anne Locke. The typically Renaissance form of the stanzaic epic showcases another novel form, illustrated by the interlocking stanzas of Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene (1590–1596), and the ironic mimicking of that form with difference in Donne’s Metempsychosis (dated 1601 but not published until 1633).

Article

The news culture of early modern England was complex and shifting: news moved via printed and manuscript texts, sometimes over wide distances and across national and confessional borders. “News” might cover a range of topics, from “high politics” and reports of military action, to grisly “true crime,” prodigies, and natural disasters—and even to the scandalous doings of one’s neighbors. News was (and is) difficult to delineate as a genre, slipping into gossip, rumor, propaganda, and history. England’s news market—especially its printed news market—changed markedly in the years before the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, and this was reflected in literary texts. Authors drew on topical events; they mocked and satirized figures associated with news dissemination and consumption, and they drew on the processes by which newsreaders acquired and evaluated information.

Article

At the advent of England’s Reformation, the monarch assumed sovereignty over the English Church. This created an established state church, which was designed to counter the papacy’s assertion of supremacy. In doing so, the English Church more emphatically linked itself to the monarchy’s temporal control and its attendant realpolitik than was the case with the Pope’s authority over Roman Catholic territories, barring the small Papal States. For those in England who remained faithful to Roman Catholicism, this created an environment where some Protestants took “popery” to be akin to sedition. Whereas during Mary I’s regime, where the English Church was back under papal authority and martyrs died under heresy statutes rather than treason statutes, it was held under Protestant regimes that to act against the English Church was to act against the English state. Given the wide sway of perspectives within English Protestantism from Presbyterianism to Arminianism, as well as the old faith’s continuing appeal among many, English subjects were confronted with competing notions of what it meant to be a good Christian and, consequently, conflicting views about who qualified as a Christian martyr and what precisely Christian martyrdom involved. Martyrologies and other discourses on martyrdom were powerful tools for defining true religion and influencing the behavior of religious adherents, even if the popular representation of the martyr-figure that arises from these works did not necessarily reflect all of the views on martyrdom held by Catholics and Protestants in contemporary society.

Article

Nick Mayhew

In the mid-19th century, three 16th-century Russian sources were published that alluded to Moscow as the “third Rome.” When 19th-century Russian historians discovered these texts, many interpreted them as evidence of an ancient imperial ideology of endless expansion, an ideology that would go on to define Russian foreign policy from the 16th century to the modern day. But what did these 16th-century depictions of Moscow as the third Rome actually have in mind? Did their meaning remain stable or did it change over the course of the early modern period? And how significant were they to early modern Russian imperial ideology more broadly? Scholars have pointed out that one cannot assume that depictions of Moscow as the third Rome were necessarily meant to be imperial celebrations per se. After all, the Muscovites considered that the first Rome fell for various heretical beliefs, in particular that Christ did not possess a human soul, and the second Rome, Constantinople, fell to the Turks in 1453 precisely because it had accepted some of these heretical “Latin” doctrines. As such, the image of Moscow as the third Rome might have marked a celebration of the city as a new imperial center, but it could also allude to Moscow’s duty to protect the “true” Orthodox faith after the fall—actual and theological—of Rome and Constantinople. As time progressed, however, the nuances of religious polemic once captured by the trope were lost. During the 17th and early 18th centuries, the image of Moscow as the third Rome took on a more unequivocally imperialist tone. Nonetheless, it would be easy to overstate the significance of allusions to Moscow as the third Rome to early modern Russian imperial ideology more broadly. Not only was the trope rare and by no means the only imperial comparison to be found in Muscovite literature, it was also ignored by secular authorities and banned by clerics.

Article

Orality  

John D. Niles

The human capacity for oral communication is superbly well developed. While other animals produce meaningful sounds, most linguists agree that only human beings are possessed of true language, with its complex grammar. Moreover, only humans have the ability to tell stories, with their contrary-to-fact capabilities. This fact has momentous implications for the complexity of the oral communications that humans can produce, not just in conversation but also in a wide array of artistic genres. It is likewise true that only human beings enjoy the benefits of literacy; that is, only humans have developed technologies that enable the sounds of speech to be made visible and construed through one or another type of graphemic representation. Although orality is as innate to the human condition as is breathing or walking, competence in literacy requires training, and it has traditionally been the accomplishment of an educated elite. Correspondingly, the transmutation of oral art forms into writing—that is, the production of what can be called “oral literature”—is a relatively rare and special phenomenon compared with the ease with which people cultivate those art forms themselves. All the same, a large amount of the world’s recorded literature appears to be closely related to oral art forms, deriving directly from them in some instances. Literature of this kind is an oral/literary hybrid. It can fittingly be called “literature of the third domain,” for while it differs in character from literature produced in writing by well-educated people, the fact that it exists in writing distinguishes it from oral communication, even though it may closely resemble oral art forms in its stylized patterning. Understanding the nature of that hybridity requires an engagement not just with the dynamics of oral tradition but also with the processes by which written records of oral art forms are produced. In former days, this was through the cooperative efforts of speakers, scribes, and editors. Since the early 20th century, innovative technologies have opened up new possibilities of representation, not just through print but also through video and audio recordings that preserve a facsimile of the voice. Nevertheless, problems relating to the representation of oral art forms via other media are endemic to the category of oral literature and practically define it as such.

Article

Katherine Little

Pastoral refers to any representation of the countryside or life in the countryside that emphasizes its beautiful and pleasurable aspects. Although the term has come to be used broadly to describe paintings, novels, and popular media, it originated and developed in the poetry of ancient Greece and Rome. Poems about shepherds and cowherds, also called bucolic, first appeared in the Idylls of Theocritus (3rd century bce), and these inspired the Roman poet Virgil to write a set of poems called the Eclogues (c. 42–37 bce). Virgil’s ten poems have been immensely influential. Indeed, pastoral’s long and relatively unbroken European history can be traced to the ongoing popularity of the Eclogues. These poems helped establish the defining elements of the mode: shepherds, who spend much of their time in song and dialogue; the topics of love, loss, and singing itself; a leisurely life; and a natural landscape of endless summer. In the Middle Ages, when Virgil’s eclogues were still read but rarely directly imitated, an explicitly Christian version of pastoral developed; this version was based in the shepherds of the Bible, both the literal shepherds who witnessed Jesus’ birth and the figurative shepherds referred to by Jesus or mentioned in the Psalms. In this biblical or ecclesiastical pastoral, authors used shepherds to discuss priestly duties and the state of the church more generally. Pastoral flourished in the Renaissance, when poets brought together Virgilian and Christian traditions, along with topical concerns about court politics and rural controversies, such as enclosure, to invent a new kind of poetry. During and after the Romantic period, pastoral lost its distinctly shepherdly focus and merged with a broader category of nature writing. As one of several possible approaches to nature, pastoral was reduced to its idealizing and nostalgic qualities, and it was often contrasted with more realistic or scientific representations. From the perspective of the longue durée, pastoral is a capacious category that includes many different attitudes toward rural people and rural life, even the realism of labor and exile. Despite this variety, pastoral is recognizable for the feelings it hopes to generate in its readers about rural life: the delight that the senses take in nature, the sadness at the loss of people and places, and the intense crushes of adolescence.