The “Other” Past of Pastoral: Langland’s Piers Plowman and Spenser’s Shepheardes Calender
Argues that the emergence of pastoral in sixteenth-century England deliberately responded to a medieval poetry of rural labour. It takes as its focus Edmund Spenser’s Shepheardes Calender, typically considered the first English pastoral, demonstrating that Spenser’s attempt to write a new, Virgilian shepherd in the pastoral mode is haunted by the medieval rural labourer and the religious reformism with which he was associated: the Piers of PPl and the PPl tradition. Spenser’s shepherd Piers in the May and October eclogues is less an homage to L’s poem and its Reformation imitations than the sign of a ‘splitting’, to borrow a term from Pierre Macherey, that demonstrates ‘the play of history’. That history is the shift in the symbolic imagination around labour that occurs in the wake of the Reformation. Spenser’s Piers reveals the process by which labour is detached from its medieval, reformist content and appropriated for the pastoral. (KL; adapted from the abstract for the journal)
Exemplaria: A Journal of Theory in Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 21 (2009), 160-78.