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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VI. The Drama to 1642, Part Two.

XIII. Masque and Pastoral

§ 14. Daniel’s Pastorals

It is curious that Daniel should have been the writer who attempted to reproduce in English the Italian pastoral play of Tasso and Guarini, as he had tried to reproduce the Senecan drama of Garnier. In 1602, he prefixed a sonnet to a translation of Il Pastor Fido in which he claimed acquaintance with Guarini and, in 1605, he wrote for queen Anne at Oxford The Queenes Arcadia, which he calls “a Pastorall Trage-comedie.” In 1614, his second pastoral tragicomedy for the queen, Hymen’s Triumph, was performed at Somerset house at the marriage of lord Roxborough. These plays are not without interest and charm. The satirical element in the first and the scholarly workmanship of the second are worthy of attention. But they have neither the freshness of Peele nor the passionate sentiment of Tasso. Daniel is the schoolmaster in drama; his plays are never more than praiseworthy exercises in composition. The effort of copying Garnier or Guarini was sufficient to extinguish his small dramatic gift, and his dramatic experiments did not produce any results of importance. As the virile Elizabethan drama softened and degenerated, pastoral revived, and meritorious plays were produced, such as The Careless Shepherdess of Thomas Goffe and The Shepherd’s Holiday of Joseph Rutter.

But, before this decline came about, pastoral drama was three times essayed by men of genius, with the consequence that the Elizabethan and Jacobean period has left three plays which are the best that the language has produced in the pastoral kind, and are almost masterpieces. These are The Faithfull Shepheardesse of Fletcher, The Sad Shepherd of Jonson and Thomas Randolph’s Amyntas. These three plays stand out conspicuously from the generally feeble and formless work of the pastoral drama; and, therefore, we shall leave on one side many works of minor importance, and endeavour shortly to indicate the interest, and estimate the value, of these three best specimens of their kind.

These three plays are alike attempts by dramatists to put pastoral poetry upon the boards. They are not, like Milton’s Comus, written for outdoor presentation. In all three cases, the dramatist is consciously original. He is trying to see whether the conventions of the pastoral drama can be used with advantage on the London stage and be made to satisfy a London audience.