Shepherd’s Novel

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The pastoral novel, along with the courtly gallant and the picaresque novel, is a novel form of the Baroque period.


The pastoral novel is a prose form of pastoral poetry. Like the latter, it is in the tradition of Virgil’s ancient bucolic poetry and its utopian-idealistic content. There are also influences from the late medieval Amadis romances, such as the glorification of the courtly form of society.

The pastoral novel originated in the Romance language area. Jacopo Sannazaro with his novel Arcadia (1502) can be considered the founder. Honoré d’Urfé ‘s L’Astrée (1607-27) represents a high point and, at the same time, a provisional endpoint of its development. The shepherd’s novel also found some circulation in Germany, but at first only through translations. Due to the lack of courtly centres, it spread less widely than in France.

The Schäfferey von der Nimfen Hercinie by Martin Opitz is often mistakenly assigned to the genre of the pastoral novel. However, the text is rather to be assigned to the tradition of the prose cloge, whose characteristics it exhibits. Nevertheless, Opitz also adopts various elements of the European pastoral novel. German shepherd poetry is usually not set in a mythological Arcadia, but always in a recognizable German landscape.


The content usually follows similar standardized patterns: shepherds and shepherdesses appear, they fall in love and have adventures. However, blind youthful love is eventually tamed by reason and the young people regain their mental equilibrium. In most cases, this leads to an amicable separation.

The shepherd novel depicts an idealized country life in nature, where everything is good and beautiful. For example, it never rains, but the grass is always lush green. There is usually a male-dominated restrictive set of values that places clearly defined demands on the individual. For example, a woman is expected to marry and devote herself entirely to her husband. If she does not, she is ostracized by the community. Characteristic of the passive role of women is that they never appear actively, but are only described in men’s speeches.

Formally, the shepherd’s novel is characterized by the frequent inclusion of lyrical elements, such as songs or poems. Often there are allegorical descriptions and encodings.

Written for the courtly aristocracy during the Baroque period, the shepherd’s novel provides a fictional escape from social reality while affirming the social norms and values of the ruling classes.

Selection of important pastoral novels in chronological order

  • Jacopo Sannazaro: Arcadia (1502)
  • Jorge de Montemayor: Diana (1559)
  • Giovanni Battista Guarini Il pastor fido (1585)
  • Miguel de Cervantes: La Galatea (1585)
  • Philip Sidney: Arcadia (1590)
  • Lope de Vega: Arcadia (1598)
  • John Barclay: Argenis (1621)
  • Honoré d’Urfé: L’Astrée (1607-27)
  • Johan van Heemskerk: Batavian Arcadia (1637)
  • Philipp von Zesen: The Adriatic Rosemund (1645)
  • Johann Joseph Beckh: Elbian Florabella (1667)


  • Marieluise Bauer: Studien zum deutschen Schäferroman des 17. Jahrhunderts. Diss. Munich 1979.
  • Gerhart Hoffmeister: Die spanische Diana in Deutschland: Vergleichende Untersuchungen zu Stilwandel und Weltbild des Schäferromans im 17. Jahrhundert. Berlin 1972.
  • Heinrich Meyer: Der deutsche Schäferroman des 17. Jahrhunderts. 2. Aufl., Hannover 1978 (urspr. Diss. Freiburg/B. 1927).

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