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  • Zarzuela and the Pastoral
  • Lucy D Harney

The pastoral mode has traditionally been understood to sentimentalize, even mythologize, ideas, objects and phenomena associated with the rural landscape, often contrasting the bucolic and the urban, irrespective of literary or artistic genre. Throughout the centuries, “Arcadia was forever being rediscovered,” asserts Ernst R. Curtius, because the stock of pastoral motifs was “bound to no genre and to no poetic form” (187). Thus, they were adaptable by Greek romance, eclogue, drama, and Renaissance chivalric and sentimental romance (187). The influence of pastoral in Western literature is deeply rooted and pervasive. Indeed, from the first century of the Roman Empire down to the time of Goethe, the study of Latin literature began, notes Curtius, with Virgil’s first eclogue (190). The present study seeks to situate the works of late nineteenth-century Spanish zarzuela—including those with urban settings and characters—within the pastoral tradition.

Pivotal to all pastoral formulations is an exaltation of that which is ostensibly close to nature. Whether characterized mythically as a Golden Age in which, as Alexander Pope (I, 15) maintained, “the best of men follow’d the employment [of shepherd]”; or located, as by the “moderns,” in the promise of contemporary rural life; or conceived, as by many Romantics, as a manifestation of untarnished and exemplary Nature itself, the pastoral world is typically contrasted to a morally compromised urban universe. Pastoral, in its various presentations, resists unequivocal definitions or rigid descriptions. As Annabel Patterson points out, pastoral, like other “strong literary forms,” propagates “by miscegenation” (7). What matters, then, is not to define pastoral but to delineate and analyze how it is put to use by “writers, artists, and intellectuals . . . for a range of functions and [End Page 252] intentions” (Patterson 7). To the degree that our focus is the pastoral work of specific authors, in a specific period of national or regional literary history, we must, as Paul Alpers argues, account for “the range and variety of pastoral writings as they present themselves historically” (12). Accordingly, the “relation of literary works to their predecessors” is of the utmost importance in our discussion (Alpers 12).

Spanish literary history offers many examples of pastoral: the framing locus amoenus of Berceo’s Milagros; the Libro de buen amor’s mock-pastoral serrana episodes; Fray Luis’s Vida retirada; Garcilaso’s melancholy swains Salicio and Nemoroso; Antonio de Guevara’s witty and mordant contrast of court and village; Laurencia’s elogy of country life in Lope’s Fuenteovejuna; Jorge de Montemayor’s recasting of Longus’ Daphnis and Chloe (the basis of the plot of Shakespeare’s The Two Gentlemen of Verona); Cervantes’s Galatea; his Grisóstomo’s unrequited love for Marcela, the eloquently reluctant shepherdess (Don Quijote I, xii–xiv); Góngora’s dreamy and profound Soledades; his baroque reworking of Ovid in Polifemo y Galatea.1

Don Quijote’s’ Golden Age meditation, declaimed before uncomprehending goatherds (I, xi), rehearses several pastoral conventions. That “dichosa edad y siglos dichosos a quien los antiguos pusieron nombre de dorados,” expressing Hesiodic nostalgia, exalts the simple, earthly contentment of man’s unfettered communion with Nature, while mournfully situating the golden age in an irrecoverable past, as would Pope and the “ancients.” Don Quijote’s soliloquy expresses another pastoral topos, derived from Hesiod’s Works and Days: the appealing vision (so influential in later formulations of pre-lapserian themes) of the spontaneously-productive natural world in which, as Don Quijote expresses it, “a nadie le era necesario para alcanzar su ordinario sustento tomar otro trabajo que alzar la mano, y alcanzarle de las robustas encinas que liberalmente les estaban convidando con su dulce y sazonado fruto” (I, xi). According to Don Quijote’s Golden Age reverie, “entonces los que en ella vivían, ignoraban estas dos palabras de ‘tuyo’ y ‘mío.’ Eran . . . todas las cosas en comunes” (I, xi). With this image of effortless abundance Cervantes invokes the egalitarian notion of common property, traced by Raymond Williams from Virgil to Spenser and Chapman (42–43).

The pastoral life as haven, with its Western roots in Horace and Virgil, [End Page 253] is likewise a commonplace of Spanish literature of the eighteenth and nineteenth...


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