The pastourelle was a medieval lyric genre that took the form of a dialogue between a shepherdess and a noble suitor (a knight or occasionally a cleric). The term pastourelle comes from the Old French term for “little shepherdess.” In the classic form of the genre, the knight recounts his meeting with the shepherdess and his attempts to woo her, but she rebuffs his advances and the suitor generally fails in his attempts to seduce her. Thus the poem depicts an idealized country setting free from the constrictions of the court, and a situation between persons of unequal social class. But invariably the shepherdess, the suitor’s social inferior, proves to be his intellectual equal.
   The genre is found most frequently in Old French poetry, where nearly 200 examples survive, though it originated with the Old Provençal TROUBADOURS, where the genre was called pastorela. The earliest examples come from the poet MARCABRU. In Marcabru’s lyric “L’autrier jost’ una sebissa,” the high-born suitor creates a romantic fantasy that the shepherdess wittily demolishes. She tells him:
   “Master, a man hounded by madness
   promises and pledges and puts up security:
   that’s how you would do homage to me,
   Lord,” said this peasant girl;
   “but I am not willing, for a little
   entrance fee, to cash in my virginity
   for the fame of a whore.”
   (Goldin 1973, 75, ll. 64–70)
   The pastourelle was very popular in Old French by the 13th century, and the genre spread to Spain, Portugal, Germany, and Italy, where new twists might be added and where some of the most memorable examples of the genre were written. In WALTHER VON DER VOGELWEIDE’s “Nemt, frowe, disen kranz,” the poet is enamored of the shepherd girl until he awakens to find that the meeting was a dream. He ends the poem searching for the dream girl:
   She has stirred me so
   that this summer, with every girl I meet,
   I must gaze deep in her eyes:
   perhaps one will be mine: then all my cares are gone.
   (Dronke 1996, 202)
   In Guido CAVALCANTI’s poem “In un boschetto,” the shepherdess consents to make love with the poet, and the Arcadian scene becomes a paradise:
   She took me by the hand, to show her love,
   and told me she had given me her heart.
   She guided me to a fresh little grove,
   where I saw flowers of every colour bloom;
   and I felt so much joy and sweetness there,
   I seemed to see the god of love descending.
   (Dronke 1996, 201)
   Thus occasionally the suitor is successful in his wooing of the shepherdess. Sometimes, however, the knight attempts to use force—in nearly one out of five Old French pastourelles, the lyric ends with a rape or attempted rape. THIBAUD DE CHAMPAGNE’s poem “L’autrier par la matinée” ends with an interesting twist to this situation, in which the knight is humiliated after an attempted rape:
   So then I tried to use a little force,
   and she starts to rant and rave:
   “Perrinet, help! He’s raping me!
   The shouts start coming from the woods.
   I dropped her one-two-three
   and took off on my horse.
   When she saw me running away,
   she called out to embarrass me,
   “Noble knights are very brave.”
   (Goldin 1973, 477, ll. 44–53)
   The pastourelle may have its true origins in the classical pastorals of Theocritus, particularly his Idyll number 27, which presents a similar situation. But it also seems related to popular folk traditions and when performed may have involved dancing. The influence of the genre survived the Middle Ages and can be seen, for example, in Elizabethan dialogue lyrics.
   ■ Dronke, Peter. The Medieval Lyric. 3rd ed. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1996.
   ■ Goldin, Frederick, ed. and trans. Lyrics of the Troubadours and Trouvères: An Anthology and a History. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1973.
   ■ Paden,William D., ed. and trans. The Medieval Pastourelle. 2 vols. New York: Garland, 1987.

Encyclopedia of medieval literature. 2013.

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