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What Else Is Pastoral?Renaissance Literature and the Environment$
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Ken Hiltner

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780801449406

Published to Cornell Scholarship Online: August 2016

DOI: 10.7591/cornell/9780801449406.001.0001

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What Else Is Pastoral?

What Else Is Pastoral?

(p.34) 2 What Else Is Pastoral?
What Else Is Pastoral?

Ken Hiltner

Cornell University Press

This chapter begins with an ecocritical reading of Virgil's first Eclogue in order to show the important role that cities, in this case Rome, have had in the development of pastoral literature. It argues that, as Virgil's Rome sprawled into its surrounding environs, the endangered countryside began to appear as if for the first time to its citizens and artists, who as a consequence, developed an environmental consciousness. The chapter explores a number of works that similarly facilitate such an appearance of the countryside: Aemilia Lanyer's “The Description of Cooke-ham,” John Stow's 1597 Survey of London, and early modern London itself. Drawing on the phenomenological thinking of Martin Heidegger, it suggests that being human all too often means that we fail to become thematically aware of the natural backdrop into which we are born and against which we live our lives. This can perhaps most easily be understood metaphorically by the way in which the backdrop of a play largely escapes the attention of its audience, who often understandably focus on the human action taking place center stage. However, when one backdrop replaces another, we at once become aware of both old and new backgrounds. Similarly, when a change occurs in the natural backdrop, such as its being endangered by the expansion of a city, our attention is often forcefully drawn not only to the city coming onto the scene, but to the backdrop it replaces, as the endangered countryside makes its belated emergence into appearance even as it disappears.

Keywords:   Virgil, Eclogue, Renaissance pastoral, cities, Rome, pastoral literature, environmental consciousness, English countryside

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