The Influence of the Pastoral Trope

For my end of the semester project, I’ve decided on expanding on some of the ideas that I started exploring in my first free-form article, “Brokeback Mountain and the Pastoral Trope.” I really like that this singular idea, the pastoral trope, became so influential in such a variety of media forms, in everything from ancient poetry to modern film. I am planning on writing an essay to be posted on the class blog in which I will both research and analyze these various forms, as well as the history of the pastoral.

The main idea that I would like to explore is why the pastoral trope has been so important throughout history, and if it is still relevant today. The essay will have fairly obvious sections segmented by media types, beginning with some of the history of the pastoral trope in that type, followed by research from other published essays and an analysis of why that is important and how it was influential on the different cultures that used the trope. Because I am planning on spanning a large amount of time with this project, I am going to use a lot of different sources and media types.

I will begin with pastoral poetry. I plan on investigating some of the translations of some the first works classified as pastoral, some types of Greek poetry, such as Works and Days by Hesiod in the eighth century CE, and some of Theocritus’s Idylls from the third century CE. The Greeks were not the only people to enjoy pastoral poetry; it was revived in Italy in the fourteenth century CE, and the English poet John Milton often used pastoral ideas in his poems. Some sub-genres include the pastoral elegy, which is about loss or a death, and the pastoral epic (Milton’s Paradise Lost is one of the only pastoral epics written and is likely the most famous). Though pastoral poetry is usually the most familiar form of pastoral literature, more genres of writing arose from the popularity of pastoral poems. The Italian Renaissance brought back some of the popularity of the trope in literature after a bit of a lull in the use of the style of writing.

The next subject I will be researching and analyzing is pastoral works of art. I will likely focus on images we have looked at in class (such as John Constable’s “The Hay Wain” (1821) and “Pastoral Landscape” (1648) by Claude Lorrain) since they are such good examples of this trope, but I will also pull more artworks that use pastoral imagery (like “Pastoral Landscape” (1854) by Alvan Fisher) to use for my essay.

Finally, I will focus on examining more modern cultural artifacts in the essay. As I have explored in my first free-form article, pastoral ideals are still used in popular media today. This trope is often used to evoke feelings of nostalgia to simpler times, which is effective even when the person experiencing it has never felt that way before. Some country and folk music uses this trope to connect on an emotional level to its listeners, and film and television (like Brokeback Mountain, Bonanza, and other popular westerns) regularly relies on it to show a familiar yet out of our reach setting.

I am planning on having all of my sources together by November 5. Next, I will go through these sources and make note of the most important parts of the essays and articles and, from there, organize my essay by both chronological order and media type. Hopefully this will be done by November 12. During the week of November 19 I will be putting the finishing touches on the essay before the due date, and during this time I will make a PowerPoint presentation on some of the most important pastoral works to present to the class.

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