Mary Wroth's Urania is usually described as a "pastoral romance," but there has been little attention given to that qualifying adjective other than to say that Wroth's work is a reworking of Philip Sidney's (at least partly) pastoral Arcadia. (1) Wroth's deployment of pastoral is certainly in part an answer to Arcadia's--one oft-noted example is her decision to open the romance with a declaration of presence by a shepherdess with the same name as she whose absence is lamented so eloquently by Strephon and Claius in the opening of the New Arcadia--but Urania's exploration of pastoral as a narrative tool is also firmly rooted in Jacobean theories of pastoral and tragicomedy. In this essay, I want to read Urania's pastoralism not as a gesture of nostalgia for a dying Elizabethan mode, but instead as an intervention in what critics and historians have recently been demonstrating to be a thriving Stuart debate about the scope and abilities of pastoral. (2) Wroth's romance proposes its version of pastoral temperan ce as a way for women in particular to embrace an ideal of constancy that allows for both rigor and openness to the flux of experience, and for pastoral itself, in a sometimes hostile climate, to maintain some of its time-honored virtues.
It is a critical commonplace that pastoral is fundamentally about people who have one foot in the pastoral world and one foot in another, and thus are at once both implicated in, and separate from, the place from which they speak. Pastoral as an adjective may describe an entirely bucolic scene, but pastoral as a literary form also implies the presence of some figure, even if only the narrator, who does not entirely participate in its cultural logic, and therefore has a perspective in some way dual. This idea extends back to Virgil's poet in exile, but the paradox of simultaneous implication and alienation seems to be felt with particular force in the Renaissance. Jacopo Sannazaro's Arcadia offers its readers an insight that it presents as part ironic joke and part secret--that some of the rhetorical forms and techniques that seem most suited to the life of shepherds in the countryside actually originate in the highly artificial world of the city. What interests Sidney, in his own version of Arcadia, is not s o much the literary as the social implications of this pastoral idea. The later Arcadia takes for granted Sannazaro's blurring of the boundaries between natural and artificial, but it wonders, probably partly in response to contemporary criticism about pastoral's decorum, how real shepherds can produce sophisticated literary forms--how pastoral figures can at once be of the countryside and above it. (3) In the first few pages of Wroth's romance, the character Urania makes the quintessential pastoral move of turning herself from actual into metaphorical shepherdess, remarking that she "delighted before to tend a little Flocke," but now that she has learned she is a foundling "am I troubled how to rule mine owne thoughts." (4) When she learns that her real parents are not shepherds, Urania changes from herder of sheep to herder of thoughts, maintaining pastoral ways of thinking even as she leaves literal pastoral action behind. This shift into metaphor signals a bifurcation in identity that at least at this mom ent Urania perceives as a loss. Upon discovering that she is a foundling, Urania relinquishes both parents and place; no longer subject to the rule of these definers of identity, she in turn cannot rule, herd toward a single end, the thoughts that should properly be her own subjects. Urania is here what Paul Alpers calls a "representative pastoral figure" not only because she figures her thoughts as sheep, not even because she is both of and not of her pastoral world, but because she has taken the division between her identity and its genealogy into her consciousness, where her thoughts exhibit that peculiarly pastoral trait of simultaneous belonging to and alienation from what she would call her self. (5)
This self-conscious doubleness is at the heart of pastoral, but it is also the reason that the genre has invited moral judgments from its readers as few other Renaissance genres have. In The Faerie Queene, to cite one well-known example, Edmund Spenser presents Pastorella imprisoned by brigands in what Annabel Patterson calls "ethical obscurity," in a cave in which flickering candles "delt / A doubtfull sense of things." (6) Trying to persuade her captors to leniency, "She thought it best, for shadow to pretend / Some shew of fauour, by him gracing small," thus using her capacity to feign for pure political expediency, and perhaps also betraying pastoral as particularly susceptible to corruption by power. (7) Even Sidney's Arcadia suspects that pastoral may be the handmaid of political expedience: Musidorus explicitly puts on pastoral guise for "free access," not only to his love but also, of course, to Basilius's throne, and his near rape of Pamela in the Old Arcadia leads the reader to wonder whether his p rofessed love for Pamela is really the motivation behind his marital ambitions. (8) In all of these examples pastoral figures an anxiety about the potential split between politics and belief, action and identity. Urania's perception of a gap between who she is and where she finds herself turns here into an omnipresent potential for duplicity, a threat that to be divided may inevitably lead to bad faith.
Curiously, this Renaissance anxiety about pastoral's doubleness is replicated in modern criticism. It is frequently said that pastoral is about "suspension," of the decision between two alternatives and often of the time and change that would make decision necessary. (9) This observation, basically an extension of the same doubleness I have been describing, then leads to the conclusion that pastoral is morally irresponsible because it is an escape from the real world (or, in generic terms, of the laws of epic or tragedy). Most careful readers understand that pastoral's self-consciousness protects it from being naive, but they then make what often seems like the only other possible conclusion about a form so interested in doubleness, that it must be sentimental and duplicitous. (10) The long critical tradition, beginning with William Empson's extremely influential Some Versions of Pastoral and running through Kenneth Burke and Raymond Williams, viewing pastoral as an attempt to hide real rural labor and signi ficant class resentment behind aristocratic convention, works at least partly according to this logic. (11) Critics who want to defend pastoral thus usually find themselves denying doubleness and arguing, as both Louis Montrose and Alpers do in important revisionary work, for a pastoral that is in one way or another unitary. So Alpers writes, for example, that truly pastoral characters must submit to "the limited power of action" of real shepherds, and that correspondingly pastoral can achieve …