Silent Empowerment and Utter Blasphemy

 

We see in “The Passionate Shepard” and “The Nymph’s Reply” images of beautiful landscapes, floral designs, jewels, etc. These are tools used in the pastoral genera, which are appropriate avenues for courtly love. In courtly love, men woo women by idolizing them and placing their beauty above all else. As it has always been, women enjoy looking at pretty things: nature, flowers, pretty baubles, etc. This allows for men to easily flatter women by using these items, either by physically giving them gifts or by praising women through exclaiming their beauty is equivalent to that of… (something pretty). We see this in lines 9-12 of “The Passionate Shepard” when the speaker states, “And I will make thee beds of roses/ And a thousand fragrant poises,/ A cap of flowers, and a kirtle/ Embroidered all with leaves of myrtle.” The shepherd tries to gain the love of the Nymph by bestowing her with gifts. And, as any good, courtly woman would, the Nymph is supposed to graciously accept the gifts, although, in “The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd,” she refuses, but I will rationalize this in a bit.

We see in the two poems examples of courtly love. As readers, we want to believe that the shepherd in “The Passionate Shepherd” is being a complete gentleman and wooing a woman, but the Nymph and we are being misled. Lets be honest, the Shepherd just wants to get laid. The speaker begins by requesting the Nymph to be his love. He exclaims that he will bestow upon her many floral and jeweled gifts, as previously detailed and explained. This sounds wonderful, but the speaker has an underlying sexual tone and desire. Likewise, the speaker is flattering the woman and placing her beauty on a pedestal, just as true courtly gentlemen do. In this, we see that women during the Renaissance period were viewed as unintelligent and jaded, although this woman surely is not. Then final lines of this poem read, “If these delights thy mind may move,/ Then live with me and be my love” (lines 23-24). We see that the speaker is not simply asking the Nymph to live with him, he is telling her. This is strikingly similar to how men of the Renaissance would have treated women. At the time, women were viewed as property- something pretty to look at and play with, but nothing more than that. The shepherd sounds as if he is asking the woman to love him, but we see that the shepherd is exclaiming that he already owns her (or so she thinks), so she must comply.

In “The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd,” we are given an unrealistic response to an exclamation of courtly love. The Nymph states, “If all the world and love were young/ And truth in every shepherd’s tongue,/ These pretty pleasure might me move/ To live with thee and by thy love” (lines 104). The Nymph is expressing her understanding of the courtly love tradition of placing women on pedestals in order to gain their affection, thus exclaiming that his deceitfulness and false flattery does not fool her. This entire poem is devoted to the nymph breaking apart his compliments and belittling his wit. Women during this time period would have wanted to give a response such as this, but reality was that they could not. As property, women had to do as their father or husband told her to. Again, this is expressed when the shepherd tells the Nymph to live with him. So, as faithful and devoted daughters and wives, they would comply, although this woman refuses. To women, this poem would have been silent empowerment. To men, on the other hand, it would have been blasphemy.

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3 thoughts on “Silent Empowerment and Utter Blasphemy

  1. I love your point of view. Blasting the lid off of what the women are supposed to/or told to do, while the Nymph does what she wants/needs to do. And the brutal honesty that the shepherd is mis-leading both the Nymph and the reader. Your right in saying that women were just as pretty as the baubles and tokens they were given. Only, women are the baubles for men to play with. Good post!

  2. I like your point that, as property, woman would be forced to do as their father or husband said — and it reminds me of “Othello,” where Desdemona defies her father to marry Othello. In one sense, Othello’s courtship is in the best courtly love tradition — he woos with words (although it’s telling that his focus is himself and his life, not Desdemona) and in secret. But it is Desdemona who acts, as the nymph does, to create the life she wants. Although her bold move ends tragically, it is not through any fault of hers.

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