Tuesday, December 17, 2013

"Pan, O Great God Pan, To Thee, Thus Do We Sing" (1608)

"Hail, holy Earth ..." Thus begins John Fletcher's The Faithful Shepherdess, first performed in 1608. This was a crucial time in English history. Elizabeth I had been dead for five years, but the "Elizabethan" era was still going strong. One of the remarkable hallmarks of that Age was a great flowering of pastoralism in literature and the arts. Some of this pastoralism was purely stylistic, and to some extent it was merely one aspect of a broader classicism (for there is much pastoralism in classical Greco-Roman literature). But there was a deeper, spiritual aspect to this Elizabethan pastoralism as well. This was, after all, a time when Alchemy and Astrology were highly valued courtly Arts, even if their practitioners had to live under constant suspicion of being in league with Satan.

"Holy Earth" is mentioned, in those precise words, once more in the play, but another deity is granted pride of place in Fletcher's pastoral tragicomedy. "The Great God Pan" is referred to with those precise words three times. In addition we hear of "great Pan" eight more times, and Pan is referred to as a "great god" three additional times. In all, Pan is mentioned by name over twenty-five times. The play begins and ends with a hymn to Pan, sung by a chorus of shepherds and shepherdesses who are led by a priest of Pan.

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