1641
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Sad Shepherd: or a Tale of Robin Hood.

The Sad Shepherd: or a Tale of Robin Hood. Written by Ben: Johnson.

Ben Jonson


Only three acts of Ben Jonson's Robin Hood poem were completed. It was published with a separate title page in the second volume of Jonson's Works. after the poet's death. Not seen.

Nathan Drake: "The labours of Jonson closed with a species of dramatic poetry in which he had made no previous attempt, and we have only to regret that it was left in an unfinished state; for had the Sad Shepherd been completed in the style of excellence in which it was commenced, it would have been superior not only to the Faithful Shepherdess of Fletcher, but perhaps to any thing which he himself had written" Shakespeare and his Times (1817; 1838) 614-15.

Henry Hallam: "The pastoral drama of the Sad Shepherd is the best testimony to the poetical imagination of Jonson. Superior in originality, liveliness, and beauty to the Faithful Shepherdess of Fletcher, it reminds us rather, in language and imagery, of the Midsummer Night's Dream; and perhaps no other poetry has come so near to that of Shakespeare" Literature of Europe (1837-39) 3:309.

William Minto: "One is surprised to find such sympathy with simple innocence in rare but rough Ben — all the more that the Sad Shepherd was written in his later years, when he was exacerbated by failure and poverty" Characteristics of English Poets (1874) 449.

Edmund Gosse: "The story is charming: Robin Hood has invited all the shepherds of the valley of the Trent to attend a festival in Sherwood Forest. All come except Aeglamour, who cannot be persuaded to break through the melancholy into which he has fallen since the disappearance of his love Earine, who is supposed to have drowned in the Trent. Suspicion falls on Maudlin, the witch of Poplewick, from whom at last Robin violently rends her magic girdle. There is an ancient argument, from which it would appear, if this is genuine, that the piece did not long continue after this point, where it at present breaks off, but ceased at the conclusion of the third act" Complete Works of Spenser, ed. Grosart (1882-84) 3:xxxiv-v.

Oliver Elton: "The fragment of Jonson, indeed, is the closest of all [to the spirit of an elderly poet]; for it was now the second age of pastoral, when the direct influence of Spenser was beginning to confine itself to a caste or school, and was losing that wide predominance which had marked it for thirty years after the Calendar. The pastoral dramas of Italy, which had lain on the desks of Jonson and of Fletcher, had inspired, not merely, a preference for the theatrical form, but a change of the ruling motives in pastoral; or, say rather, a kind of even and pure elegance, with a marked absence of those allusions to the poet's loyalty, assurance of immortality, and personal pride, which had marked the earlier eclogues, and Drayton's, as we have seen, among them" Introduction to Michael Drayton (1895) 47.

W. J. Courthope: "Closely allied with the genius of the Masque is Jonson's pastoral comedy, The Sad Shepherd; a play in which he combines the spirit of Italian pastoral, represented by Guarini's Pastor Fido, and the English sylvan legend of Robin Hood, and makes use of the superstitious rural belief in demonology and witchcraft for the development of his action. The Sad Shepherd has unfortunately come down to us only in a fragmentary form; but, even as a torso, [William] Gifford only slightly exaggerates in saying of it that it 'may not only be safely opposed to the most perfect of his early works, but to any similar performance in any age or country.' In the skill of the machinery, the consistency of the characters, and the beauty of its ideal sentiment, it is, in my judgment, little, if at all, inferior to Fletcher's Faithful Shepherdess, while its exclusively pastoral character removes it from the danger of comparison with Comus" History of English Poetry (1895-1910) 4:299-300.

E. Felix Schelling: "The juxtaposition of the pastoral Aeglamour, Robin Hood, and Puck-fairy under the beeches of Nottinghamshire seems hardly more startling than that of Titania, Theseus, and Bottom in the copses bordering a certain very unclassical Athens. Indeed, their fine names and the poetry of their lines alone ally Jonson's shepherds and shepherdesses with the old pastoral conventions. The freshness and naturalness with which the familiar figures of Robin and Marian and the witch of Paplewick with her lout of a son, Lorell, are drawn scarcely admit of too much praise. The Sad Shepherd is a refreshing piece of open-air realism and is entitled to a place in the drama of English folk-lore with A Midsummer Night's Dream, Friar Bacon, and Old Fortunatus" Elizabethan Drama (1908) 2:168-69.

David Norbrook: "Significantly, [Jonson's] late plays show him moving towards the political rhetoric of the 'Spenserians.' He had not shared in the Spenserians' nostalgia for the Elizabethan age in James's reign, but now he began to imitate the Elizabethans closely. At a time when new fashions in courtly pastoral were being imported from France, he wrote a self-consciously English pastoral play, 'The Sad Shepherd', in which for the first time he adopted the Spenserian archaisms which he had earlier disdained" Poetry and Politics (1984) 246.

In 1783 Francis Godolphin Waldron published "The Sad Shepherd ... with a Continuation, Notes, and an Appendix."