Pastoril: what it is, characteristics, meaning, origin, structure and authors


What is the pastoral novel?

The pastoril, also known as the pastoral novel, is one of the subgenres of the epic genre that most managed to spread due to the previous tradition it inherited and which is configured during the Renaissance period with its most representative novel, called The Arcadia, which was written in Italian by Jacopo Sannazaro, and which becomes the primary reference of the subgenre for posterity.

The Golden Age was one of the moments of greatest flourishing for literature, and in it, the currents and subgenres that begin to develop, among them the pastoral novels, which reach a singular popularity that allow it to grow on a large scale with works created by a large number of authors who followed the marked style of the pastoral novel, not only in Spain, but in many other countries of the European continent.

Meaning of the pastoral subgenre

The term refers directly to the character taken as the protagonist and his environment itself, since the shepherd novel focuses on the figure of the shepherd or peasant and it is from there that creates the story with tints of idealization that rise in the course of the story in front of those love dilemmas that usually takes as a plot.

Definition of the pastoral subgenre

The term is used to refer to a subgenre coming from the tradition of pastoral literature, so that it will gather a series of characteristics for the creation and establishment of its own style, including prose writing, the presence of dialogues between shepherds who talk about idealized love, among other aspects that account for the pastoral and peasant life.

Ultimately, it is a subgenre that exposes an idealized vision of the human being whose plot emerges from love themes with a descriptive rhythm.

What is the pastoral novel

History and origin of the pastoral subgenre

It is considered that the poet who lays the foundations of the pastoral novel is Theocritus, whose works will present this first style and will be taken as a point of reference for posterity. In this way, other poets, such as Virgil, will continue with the legacy but will add their own touch, as in the case of this poet who uses historical and real characters, taking, for example, the Emperor Augustus in his texts. Later, other authors of the pastoral novel, such as Bocaccio, will come to the fore. However, it is considered that although these authors lay the foundations of the pastoril, it was not until the sixteenth century when Jacopo Sannazaro formally configured the subgenre.

Jacopo Sannazaro is considered the greatest exponent of the subgenre, since he determines its most representative characteristics and those that will allow it to be defined as one of the subgenres of the epic genre, among which stand out the presence of love, the shepherds or peasants as protagonists, the frequent rural environments, among others.

Characteristics of the pastoral novel

This subgenre will be distinguished, among other things, by the versatility with which it was possible to cultivate it, since its form of writing and possibilities, will be the gateway for authors who will enhance the style. Let’s see some of its characteristics:

Love theme

All pastoral novels are characterized, among other things, because they revolve around a love theme that is often related to Christian morality and that is presented in an idealized way before the feelings and emotions expressed by the protagonists. However, the pastoral novel can include different sub-plots due to the way in which the author can intersperse stories with secondary characters who become protagonists.

Comedy and tragedy

The pastoral novel is not governed within one or the other, but rather, within the narrative it is possible to identify aspects that are within comedy and tragedy, where duality becomes a fundamental element to distinguish this subgenre.


The subgenre owes its name precisely to the protagonists it chooses, given that it focuses on shepherds, whom it presents, at the same time, in an idealized way, going through different misadventures of a loving nature within a fictional nature. They will be rural protagonists, who, although presented as shepherds, are actually courtiers, since they are characterized with forms of speech and behavior similar to them.

Among the characters may also appear classical mythological beings that prove to be decisive for the course of the play due to their interventions in the decisions of the other characters.

Idealized vision

Undoubtedly one of the main characteristics of this subgenre has to do with the idealized vision on which the plot of his works is centered, where it is applied both to human beings and to the world itself. This allows the whole story to have this idealization and to be built in a harmonious environment.

Human feelings

Another aspect that we must highlight is precisely this approach that the author during the plot of the work gives to the feelings and emotions of each of the characters, so that each of them can expose and account for the feelings they experience according to the situations, evidencing their inner self and how the events alter this peace and emotional harmony.

Rural environment

One of the main characteristics of the Renaissance had to do with a return to the origins, among them was included this return to the rural environment that will be reflected within the environment of the pastoral novel, where this is the environment that is taken and idealized as if it were the lost paradise. All this construction nourishes the idealized vision of the pastoril.

Structure of the pastoral novel

The composition of this type of work allows us to distinguish a series of parts that make up the structure of the pastoral novel. It is important to bear in mind that the pastoral novel can be written in verse as well as in prose and that it is reminiscent of the Greco-Roman classics.


Also known as the “in media res”, it refers to the way in which this particular type of work begins, given that it is distinguished because it begins in the middle of the plot. This means that the beginning of the pastoral novel is given within the same knot of the story, so that the course of the story goes from the past to the future, an aspect that will be decisive to generate suspense within the plot of the work. Here is mixed part of the knot that leads progressively to the end.

As for the denouement of the story, it maintains the organization and particularity of the literary composition followed by a beginning and a central zone. However, in this case, the end of the pastoral novel usually does not have a sad ending, but, due to all the idealistic atmosphere that it has been handling, it culminates with a happy ending.


Authors and most important works

There are several authors who, after pastoral literature, began to work on the pastoral novel, such as Jacopo Sannazaro, who is considered the greatest exponent of the subgenre, as well as other authors among whom we find Virgil, Bocaccio, Garcilaso de la Vega, Jorge de Montemayor, among others, who will be key to the flourishing of the pastoral novel.

Among some of the most important works, we find La Diana, written by Jorge de Montemayor, Diana Enamorada by Gaspar Gil Polo, La Galatea by Miguel de Cervantes, Los diez libros de Fortuna de amor by Antonio de Lofraso, El Pastor de Filida written by Luis de Gálvez de Montalvo, El Siglo de Oro en las selvas de Erífile by Bernardo de Balbuena, Ninfas y pastores de Henares by Bernardo González de Bobadilla, among others.

Example of a pastoral novel

The following is an excerpt from the work entitled La Galatea, written by Miguel de Cervantes:

“But alas, what a light discharge this is for such a heavy guilt, for I should first die in silence because my honor would live, than, by saying what I want to tell you now, bury her and end my life! “I was confused by these words of Nisida, and even more by the shock with which she said them; and, wanting with mine to encourage her to declare herself without any fear, it was not necessary to bother her much, and in the end she told me that she not only loved, but that she adored Timbrio, and that she would always have that one covered, if the forced occasion of Timbrio’s departure did not force her to discover it.

“How I was left, shepherds, hearing what Nisida said and the loving will she showed to have Timbrio, it is not possible to embody it, and it is even well that it lacks the pain that so much is stretched; not because it weighed on me to see Timbrio loved, but to see myself unable to ever have contentment, for it was and is clear that I could not, nor can I live without Nisida, to whom, as I have said other times, seeing her in other hands placed, was to alienate me from all pleasure. “