This is a companion to Pastoral poetry of the English Renaissance: An anthology (2016), the largest ever collection of its kind. The monograph-length Introduction traces the course of pastoral from antiquity to the present day. The historical account is woven into a thematic map of the richly varied pastoral mode, and it is linked to the social context, not only by local allegory and allusion but by its deeper origins and affinities. English Renaissance pastoral is set within the context of this total perspective. Besides the formal eclogue, the study covers many genres: lyric, epode, georgic, country-house poem, ballad, romantic epic, drama and prose romance. Major practitioners like Theocritus, Virgil, Sidney, Spenser, Drayton and Milton are discussed individually. The Introduction also charts the many means by which pastoral texts circulated during the Renaissance, with implications for the history and reception of all Early Modern poetry. The poems in the Anthology have been edited from the original manuscripts and early printed texts, and the Textual Notes comprehensively document the sources and variant readings. There are also notes on the poets and analytical indices of themes, genres, and various categories of proper names. Seldom, if ever, has a cross-section of English Renaissance poetry been textually annotated in such detail.
Pastoral is one of the few literary modes whose genesis can be clearly traced. While poems reworking pristine rustic experience might have existed earlier, the pastoral mode as now recognized originated with the Greek poet Theocritus in the third century BCE. More correctly put, Theocritus provided a model that others followed to create the mode.