The Homosexual Pastoral Tradition by Rictor Norton

3. Affectionate Shepherds

Harriet Goodhue Hosmer, The Sleeping Faun, 1864

E. K.'s confutation of "paederastice" did not succeed in nipping the homosexual pastoral tradition in the bud, but may well have been more responsible for reviving the tradition than Spenser's Calender itself. The immediate effect of his gloss upon English literature was that William Webbe read it, practically quoted it verbatim, and went directly to the source and himself translated Virgil's first and second eclogues. In 1588, two years after Webbe's Discourse. Abraham Fraunce offered his own translation of Virgil's second eclogue in The Lawiers Logike, this time only the seminal second eclogue, which was accompanied by a complete rhetorical schema of its contents and structure. This translation was later republished in The Countesse of Pembrokes Yvychurch (1591), along with ten elegiac eclogues, thus reestablishing the connection between the elegiac tradition and the lover's complaint tradition.

E. K.'s gloss and Webbe's commentary and translation and Fraunce's works led directly to the rebirth of explicitly homosexual literature in Richard Barnfield's The Affectionate Shepherd (1594). Abraham Fraunce was virtually the mentor of Richard Barnfield, and his pervasive influence upon the life and literary career of Barnfield has been admirably documented by Harry Morris in Richard Barnfield, Colin's Child (1963). The love-gifts offered by Barnfield's Daphnis to Ganymede include two kidds and cracknells, probably borrowed from Spenser's Calender, and poppies and wheatplumbs, probably borrowed from Fraunce's translation of Virgil's second eclogue. In his introductory epistle to Cynthia, with Certayne Sonnets (1595), Barnfield places his earlier pastoral poem well within the homosexual pastoral tradition: "Some there were, that did interpret The affectionate Shepheard, otherwise than (in truth) I meant, touching the subiect thereof, to wit, the loue of a shepheard to a boy; a fault, the which I will not excuse, because I neuer made. Onely this, I will vnshaddow my conceit: being nothing else, but an imitation of Virgill, in the second Eclogue of Alexis."

Barnfield's protestations of innocence and mere literary imitation are belied by the continuation of this homoerotic theme in the sonnets and by the overt and covert eroticism of the pastoral itself. The bulk of his work contains some of the most overt homosexual themes and motifs in Renaissance literature. Although there is little biographical data concerning Barnfield's private life, the intensity, apparent sincerity, and frequency with which this theme is expressed leave little doubt but that he was homosexual at least at the time he wrote this poetry as a young man. Several critics have suggested that he was the lover of both Marlowe and Shakespeare, and even the "rival poet" vying for the affections of Shakespeare's Master W. H. He might just as easily have been the lover of any of the writers within the Sidney circle, particularly Abraham Fraunce.

The Affectionate Shepheard, Containing the Complaint of Daphnis for the loue of Ganymede (1594) occurs within the seasonal ritual typical of most pastorals. It begins symbolically with references to the sun, dawn, spring, and birth, opening immediately with two stanzas which understandably raised contemporary eyebrows:

Scarce had the morning Starre hid from the light
Heauens crimson Canoipie with stars bespangled,
But I began to rue th' vnhappy sight
Of that faire Boy tht had my hart intangled;
Cursing the Time, the Place, the sense, the sin;
I came, I saw, I viewd, I slipped in.

If it be sinne to loue a sweet-fac'd Boy,
(Whose amber locks trust vp in golden tramels
Dangle adowne his louely cheekes with ioy,
When pearle and flowers his faire haire enamels)
If it be sinne to loue a louely Lad:
Oh then sinne I, for whom my soule is sad.

The rhetorical argument between pleasure and guilt, joy and sin, is resolved almost abruptly, as the playful handling of conventions establish Daphnis as more of a victorious Caesar than a cursing penitent. Barnfield will later transfer what little guilt there is upon Ganymede, by implying that Ganymede lacks sensitivity and perception by failing to appreciate the values of Daphnis' love - just as Colin lacked charity by failing to reciprocate Hobbinol's love. The phrasing "If it be sinne / Oh then sinne I" is a standard formula which love poets use to invert values when confronted by a moralizing public. Sidney used the same technique in the fourteenth stanza of Astrophel and Stella: "If that be sinne which doth the maners frame, / . . . / Then Love is sinne, and let me sinfull be." A reference later in the poem to Ganymede's body as "sinne-procuring" is a standard quality attributed to the maidens in the lover's complaint tradition, and modern readers would err greatly in seeing such phrases as evidence that Daphnis fits the steroetype of the guilt-ridden 1950s homosexual. Ganymede scorns Daphnis' love, not because of any abhorrence of homosexuality, but because unrequited love is the raison d'etre of the lover's complaint tradition.

The seasonal ritual takes place within the pastoral sacred precinct, a pagan-but-holy garden which Barnfield depicts with even more sensuous details than does Spenser. The poem is virtually a geographical survey of the estate of a wealthy shepherd, an impression that supports the legend that Barnfield, who stopped writing in 1605, retired in luxury to his "grand manor-house" in Staffordshire, where he died in 1627. No Alexis was ever offered such a plenitude of love-gifts. Daphnis offers Ganymede not only Theocritus' and Virgil's simple kids and chestnuts, but a catalogue of cheese, curds, clotted cream, strawberries, "Bil-berries in their prime, / Bath'd in a melting Sugar-Candie streame", "a silken Girdle, and a drawn-worke Band, / Cuffs for thy wrest, a gold Ring for thy finger", "A paire of kniues, a greene Hat and a Feather, / New Gloues", and even a not-very-pastoral "golden Racket, and a Tennis-ball". In other words, he offers Ganymede his entire larder "and all I haue beside" on one condition: "If thou wilt be my Boy, or els my Bride."

To fill his garden plot he has plundered the herbal manuals, borrowed from Ophelia's mad speech, and pillaged the flowers of metamorphosed boy-surrogates: the violet of Attis, the hyacinth of Hyacinthus, the carnation of Adonis, the rose of Hermaphroditus. Dapnhis wishes to marry Ganymede and be throned as king and queen in the sacred arbor. "Clusters of crimson Grapes Ile pull thee downe: / And with Vine-leaues make thee a louely Crowne." Dionysus with his Ampelos, Gracchus with his bugler, a king with his queen (or a queen with his boy), sitting beside the pool of Hylas: "And by a siluer well (with golden sands) / Ile sit me downe, and wash thy naked limbs". This is the narcotic pool of Narcissus, wherein Ganymede, if he would consent, could be baptized and discover his true identity as the hermaphroditic boy-surrogate.

Ganymede is the archetypal boy-surrogate. He is favourably compared to Endymion, Alcinous, Absalom, Adonis, and Narcissus, as well as to his mythical namesake. He possesses all the beauties of the formosus puer, lovingly described: long amber locks, white and red complexion, ivory forehead, naked arms, delicate wrists, smooth eye-lids, ivory hands, cute dimples, ruddy cheeks, coral lips, sparkling eyes, and sweet breath. The poem's "first day's lamentation" neatly presents the Virgilian-Mantuan-Spenserian love-triangle: Daphnis is spured by Ganymede, who loves Guendolen. Daphnis professes to love Ganymede for his spiritual qualities, unlike his rival Queen Guendolin: "I loue thee for thy gifts, she for hir pleasure; / I for thy Vertue, she for Beauties treasure." (Shakespeare seems to have imitated these lines in his Sonnet 20: "But since [Nature] pricked thee out for women's pleasure, / Mine be thy love, and thy love's use their treasure.") But the original Ganymede was also Zeus' bed-warmer, and Daphnis has an Olympian ambition. His passion for the lad reaches an intense eroticism characteristic of Strato or Anacreon:

Oh would to God he would but pitty mee,
That love him more than any mortall wight;
Then he and I with love would soone agree,
That now cannot abide his sutors sight.
O would to God (so I might have my fee)
My lips were honey, and they mouth a Bee.

Then shouldst thou sucke my sweete and my faire flower
That now is ripe, and full of honey-berries.
Then would I leade thee to my pleasant Bower
Fild full of Grapes, of Mulberries, and Cherries;
Then shouldst thou be my Waspe or else my Bee,
I would thy hive, and thou my honey bee.

This clever use of Elizabethan puns for sexual intercourse ("fee" and "debt") obviously implies fellatio. The bee-flower-honey image complex is the homosexual metaphor par excellence, found throughout Strato's Muse of Boyhood, and given a modern metaphysic in the "Bee and Orchid" chapter of Proust's Cities of the Plain. Ganymede's cup of ambrosia contains the honey of boys' loins. In classical agrarian folklore, as in Virgil's Georgics (4. 197-204), it was believed that bees procreated with their mouths. "Filled may your mouth be with honey" is the standard greeting between shepherds in Theocritus. The attribution of honey to the mouths of boys preceded its attribution to the mouths of females; "honey" as a term of endearment was originally applied to boys.

The option granted to Ganymede to be Daphnis' wasp as well as bee would suggest a readiness for sodomy. Homoerotic imagery underlies references throughout the poem to "suck my Coyne" (a common mercantile metaphor for sperm), "stones" (testicles), "purses" (scrotum), the "Robbin-redbrest" (penis), the "beaver who bites off his testicles", "Pan's owne pipe", and coy descriptions of Cupid's arrow ("And under Death the amorous shaft did shiver") and Death's dart ("Aye mee! thy Dart is blunt, it will not enter!").

"The Second Dayes Lamentation" resolves thwarted desire into the typical Socratic education. Daphnis advises Ganymede to be humble, to marry and beget children (as Shakespeare admonishes W. H.), to obtain a faithful friend, to avoid mean company, and in general to become a Renaissance gentleman.

Barnfield's personal attitudes are perhaps better revealed by his sonnets in Cynthia, With Certayne Sonnets, and the Legend of Cassandra (1595). Moralistic polemic is easily overcome by emotional sensibilities, notably in Sonnet III:

The Stoicks thinke, (and they come neare the truth,)
That vertue is the chiefest good of all,
The Academicks on Idea call.
The Epicures in pleasure spend their youth,
The Perrepateticks judge felicitie
To be the chiefest good above all other.
One man, thinks this; & that conceaves another:
So that in one thing very few agree.
Let Stoicks have their Vertue if they will,
And all the rest their chief-supposed good,
Let cruel Martialists delight in blood,
And Misers joy their bags with gold to fill:
My chiefest good, my chief felicity,
Is to be gazing on my loves faire eye.

Barnfield's sensuous imagery is clearly drawn from Marlowe's portrait of Leander, e.g. "His loue-enticing delicate soft limbs":

Sometimes I wish that I his pillow were,
So might I steale a kisse, and yet not seene,
So might I gaze upon his sleeping eine,
Although I did it with a panting feare [Sonnet VI].

But Barnfield also delves more deeply into the relationship of Eros with Thanatos, into the commingling of the honey of love with the blood of death. He relates how Ganymede's mythical namesake was created out of a mixture of pure white snow and a stream of blood from chaste Diana's foot, pricked by a thorn while on the hunt. He discusses Achilles' deep wound, healed only by the re- applciation of the same rusty sword, and upon the folklore principle that like heals like, he implores Ganymede to "Kill me with kisses, if thou wilt destroy me." He also has a curiously morbid-religious dream resembling the eroticism of mystic ecstasy:

One night I dream'd (alas twas but a Dreame)
That I did feele the sweetness of the same [that is, Ganymede's lips],
Where-with inspir'd, I young againe became,
And from my heart a spring of blood did streame.
But when I wak't, I found it nothing so,
Saue that my limbs (me thought) did waxe more strong,
And I more lusty far, & far more yong.

Barnefield's The Complaint of Poetrie, for the Death of Liberalitie (1598) is perhaps the first illustration in English literature of a homosexual presenting his beloved as a woman so he can praise him without causing too many raised eyebrows. A common difficulty in recognizing homosexual literature is the necessity an author often feels to disguise his male lover as his mistress, but here the disguise is paper-thin. "Poetrie" represents Barnfield, and the female allegory of "Bountie" represents his former patron Edward Leigh. The sexual identifications sometimes lapse, as when Barnfield calls Bountie a "Patron" as well as a "Nurse", or when he reverses the gender roles completely and compares himself to Venus weeping for Adonis. Barnfield likens his situation to that of a husband deprived of a wife, as well as a man who has lost his faithful friend. Of particular interest is Barnfield's recitation of the catalogue of famous friends:

If Pythias death, of Damon were bewailed;
Of Pillades did rue, Orestes ende:
If Hercules, for Hylas losse were quailed;
Or Theseus, for Pyrithous Teares did spend:
When doe I mourne for Bounty, being dead:
Who louing, was my hand, my hart, my head.

Though an exercise in sycophancy, the poem is an elegy on the actual death of a friend - Leigh did in fact die before the appearance of the 1605 edition.

One can easily perceive the great difference between Spenser's didacticism and Barnfield's eroticism - a difference that can be attributed to the influence of Christopher Marlowe upon Barnfield. Certain lines addressed by Barnfield's Daphnis to Ganymede - such as "If thou wilt come and dwell with me at home"; "All these and more Ile giue thee for thy love"; "If thou wilt loue me, thou shalt be my Boy"; and "If thou wilt be my Boy, or else my Bride" - are clear echoes of Marlowe's lyric "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love" and its famous opening love-invitation:

Come live with me and be my love,
And we will all the pleasures prove
That valleyes, groves, hills, and fields,
Woods or steepy mountian yields.

And we will sit upon the rocks,
Seeing the shepherds feed their flocks
By shallow rives, to whose falls
Melodius birds sing madrigals.

And I will make thee beds of roses
And a thousand fragrant poesies,
A cap of flowers and a kirtle
Imbroid'red all with leaves of myrtle;

A gown made of the finest wool
Which from our pretty lambs we pull,
Fair-lined slippers for the cold,
With buckles of the purest gold;

A belt of straw and ivy buds
With coral clasps and amber studs.
And if these pleasures may thee move,
Come live with me and by my love.

The shepherds' swains shall dance and sing
For thy delight each May-morning.
If these delights thy mind may move,
Then live with me and be my love.

This poem has a curious history of sexual ambiguity. Most critics read "to his love" in the sense of "to his mistress", but there is no conclusive evidence that the poet's beloved is a female. Gowns, slippers and jeweled clasps could be worn by men as well as women during the Renaissance (even in a pastoral), and in fact the men usually outdressed the women. The "kirtle" is a wrap-around scarf-type garment worn by men as well as women, usually associated with rustic culture - indeed Barnfield's Daphnis offers Ganymede "a silken Girdle." Sir Walter Raleigh in his "Nymph's Reply" assumes a female persona in order to reply to Marlowe's swain; Raleigh and Marlowe were members of the all-male secret society the School of Night, and their two poems may be an inside joke.

In the anonymous play Choice, Chance And Change: Or, Conceits in their Colours (1606), Arnolfio says "let vs be merry, and let us live together" to Tidero, who recognizes the source of the sentiment: "Why how now? doe you take me for a woman, that you come upon mee with a ballad, of Come live with me and be my Love?" Similarly, in Tourneur's Revenger's Tragedy (1607), one male says to another male, "Come live with me and be my love," and receives the reply, "What, do you think I am a woman?" In other words, contemporaries were aware of a homoerotic context for Marlowe's lyric. Marlowe himself, in The Tragedy of Dido, Queen of Carthage (1594), has Zeus echo the famous line when he offers Ganymede jewels "if thou wilt be my love."

Go on to 4. The School of Spenser. Go to Pastoral Bibliography.
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Copyright 1974, 1997 by Rictor Norton. All rights reserved. Reproduction for sale or profit prohibited.
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