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Il Pastor Fido, Aminta and the Pastoral Tradition in 16th century Italy

Guarini’s pastoral drama Il Pastor Fido was very consciously modeled on Aminta, written by his slightly younger colleague at the Este court in Ferrara Torquato Tasso. Both Aminta and the Pastor fido belong to the tradition of pastoral literature that was very much in vogue in Renaissance Italy. The fundamental characteristic of the pastoral drama was its idealized setting in ‘nature’, most often peopled by shepherds and nymphs who contradict the bucolic setting of their lives by expressing very urban sentiments in sophisticated language. Pastoral literature in general tended to idealize the innocent and serene lives of its rustic characters in contrast to complex and corrupt city life. The archetypal paradigm of the pastoral life was the Golden Age: a mythical, utopian time when human beings were content with their simple, peaceful lives, and when the uncultivated earth offered them everything they needed. The myth of the Golden Age, already present in the Greek poet Hesiod, was later treated by, among others, the Roman poet Virgil.[1]

The pastoral eclogue had been a relatively minor literary form in the classical times but was very popular among Renaissance humanists writing in first in Latin and then in the vernacular, and developed a rich complex of native, Christian, and classical themes in novels, lyric poetry, and drama. [2] While Boccaccio’s Ameto, can be considered a pastoral work, it is really Sanazaro’s Arcadia (1504) that has been considered the embodiment and culmination of the Renaissance pastoral tradition and it is from this Arcadian ideal that the new genre of pastoral drama arose. The genre had found expression as early as Poliziano’s Orfeo (1471), which was most likely the first of the Renaissance pastoral plays presented on stage to accompany courtly celebrations. The pastoral poem with its relatively free structure of dialogue developed into a stricter five-act format, typically in hendecasyllabic blank verse punctuated by more lyrical passages through the sixteenth century. Their were various attempts to codify this structure by Cinzio, Tansillo, Lollio, Argenti, and Beccari, all associated with the court in Ferrara, but it was only with Aminta and Il Pastor Fido that the pastoral drama acquired a place in the poetic canon between the dialogic eclogue and the developing melodrama.[3]

The fact that Il Pastor Fido shares so many themes and even plot lines with the earlier Aminta is certainly not a sign of simple plagiarism. Rather, it is more a sort of one-upsmanship, since Guarini intended to emphasize his rivalry with Tasso by writing several parallel scenes and in any case both plays used elements common to the tradition of pastoral drama. For example, Tasso presents the opposition between chastity and love, a common theme of Classical eclogues, in his opening dialogue between Silvia, the chaste shepherdess, and her companion Daphne, while Guarini places a similar dialogue in the first scene of Il Pastor fido with the dialogue between Silvio, the chaste hunter and his confidant Linco. An excerpt from Linco’s response became one of the most frequently set madrigal texts of the period, Quel augellin. Other similarities, like the presence of lustful satyrs in both plays are stock characters in pastoral dramas. The result in terms of reception history has often been to view Guarini’s work as derivative rather than complementary.

1. Jernigan, Charles and Jones, Irene M. Aminta, a Pastoral Play by Torquato Tasso. New York, 2000.
2. Staton, Walter and Simeone, William. A Critical Edition of Sir Richard Fanshawe’s 1647 translation of Giovanni Battista Guarini’s Il Pastor Fido. Oxford, 1964. p. x.
3. Jernigan. op. cit., pp. x-xi.

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