In English literature the pastoral is a familiar trait of Renaissance poetry. Edmund Spenser's Shepherd's Calendar, as the first major Elizabethan pastoral, of considerably greater length than any other work of this kind, used the pastoral as a means for political and religious discussion. It imitated not only classical models but also pastoral poets of France and Italy and succeeded in bringing about a new vogue for pastoral. Shakespeare's love lyrics and those of Ben Jonson and Michael Drayton also have a pastoral setting.
The Pastoral can be applied to both poetry and drama, Shakespeare's As you like it being one of the most famous plays of a pastoral setting. There are different definitions of pastoral, the most common being writing about nature and landscape, although the genre also includes works whose setting is of the countryside. Writing about Shepherds was also a common trait.
I think for modern readers, or for me anyway, it does seem like a really strange genre and to be honest, I found it quite off-putting.
The countryside and rural population is strongly idealised with the notion that life in the country was effortless and trouble-free. In Shakespeare's When daisies pied and violets blue reflects the popular idea of the simplicity of the pastoral, this idealised, almost faerytale like impression of the countryside:
When daisies pied and violets blue/
And lady-smocks all silver-white/
And cuckoo-buds of yellow hue/
Do paint the meadows with delight
It is the ABAB rhyme scheme in iambic pentameter and the simple four line stanzas reflects the simple beauty that this song is trying to depict. It is an extremely tranquil and pleasant setting and the easy structure presents a sophisticated allusion to country life.
In Marlowe's The Passionate Shepherd to his Love this idyllic notion of the countryside is expressed...