Traditional pastoral characters are usually presented as unsophisticated and innocent. Discuss in relation to Brideshead Revisited, She Stoops to Conquer and Blake

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“Traditional pastoral characters are usually presented as unsophisticated and innocent.” Discuss characters in the light of this comment. (40)

Traditionally the pastoral genre celebrates the virtues of simple, unsophisticated life far from the city or court, in which the population is stereotyped as unintelligent and fatuitous. In Blake’s poetry, Brideshead Revisited (1945) and She Stoops to Conquer (1773), the pastoral is represented positively and simply through the characterisation of certain characters. However, in each text certain contradictions to this traditional view of the pastoral arise.

In Blake’s The Echoing Green, Blake uses the rhyme and repetition of the poem as an evocation of the innocent bliss of youth and the pastoral. Blake uses an AABB rhyme scheme to structure the piece, the regular rhyme scheme is symbolic for the simplistic life lead by the characters such as ‘old John’ on the ‘echoing green.’ Moreover, the language used by Blake in this eponymous poem is simple and unpretentious and underpins this sense of childlike virtue, as Blake describes the ‘happy skies’. The personification of the ‘skies’ also highlights Blake’s celebration of innocence in this poem as the ‘skies’ being described as happy is a slightly ridiculous scenario, mimetic of a children’s story. The juxtaposition of ‘youth-time’ and ‘echoing green’ suggests to the reader that the characters parallel the simple bucolic setting described in this poem, reflecting how ‘all (the) girls and boys’ are too, unsophisticated. Blake highlights the notion of Arcadian liberation through the recurrence of birds in this Romantic poetry, this compounds the presentation of pastoral characters as innocent since ‘the little ones’ are able to live a life of innocent, blissful freedom without the constricting feelings of worry and melancholy, contextually associated with the ‘charter’d streets’ of the city. Blake references a ‘sky-lark’, a bird which sings only in flight and often only when it’s too high to be visible, being liberated from the ‘bonds of earth’ and soaring beyond the reach of physical senses, therefore becoming an emblem for spiritual transcendence and the ‘joy’ and freedom synonymous with innocence which is found secure in pastoral utopias such as ‘the echoing green’. However, despite the poem being bookended by these images of the bucolic innocence of rural dwellers, the poem can also be viewed as an allegory for sexual awakening, suggesting that pastoral characters are not entirely innocent. Blake’s repetition of the ‘echoing green’ is contrasted in the last line of the poem with ‘the darkening green’ which is a cogent symbol for the inescapable nature of maturation. The ‘darkening green’ is an oxymoronic phrase, since green is a bright colour, yet the adjective ‘darkening’ creates an ominous tone at the end of the poem, suggesting that the green is not ‘darkening’ however the lives of those on the green are. Ultimately the ‘sun does (and must) descend’, consequently presenting innocence as a fragile and ephemeral time in ‘our’ lives and subsequently contradicting the traditional view of pastoral literary characters as ‘innocent’.

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Similarly, in Nurse’s song in Blake’s Songs of Innocence nature, youth and innocence are presented as intrinsic as Blake celebrates the purity of childhood and the idyllic pastoral. In Nurse’s Song, Blake uses prose to exemplify the simple nature of children and more widely the population in rural areas, ‘on the hill’. The nurse is symbolic of an experienced and knowledgeable guardian, considering in the 19th Century, nurses were usually responsible for the protection of children. Moreover, Blake uses personal pronouns in the nurse’s speech, ‘my children’, to highlight her protective nature. The nurse recommends to the children ‘let us away’ in order to ...

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