Literary References

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William Powell Frith’s Merry Wives of Windsor (1843)1

Literary References: works in which “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love” is referenced, quoted, and used.

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What makes “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love” as equally frustrating as it is interesting, is how unsure we are of the date it was written. While The Passionate Pilgrim was printed in 1599, Marlowe had already been dead for 6 years. The first reference to “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love” is in Marlowe’s own work, The Jew of Malta, believed to have been written in either 1589-90 At the end of Act IV Scene II, lines 91-101,  Ithamore speaks to Bellamira (a courtesan): “Content, but we will leave this paltry land, / And sail from hence to Greece, to lovely Greece, / I’ll be thy Jason, thou my golden fleece; / […] Thou in those groves, by Dis above, / Shalt live with me, and be my love “(91-93, 100-101).Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta is not a tale of courtly love or romance, and the character of  Ithamore is not a heroic figure who inspires sympathy from the reader.

Later in William Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor, written before 1597 and first performed in 1602, Sir Hugh Evens sings two fragments of Marlowe’s poem in the middle of Act III, Scene I: “[Sings] / To shallow rivers, to whose falls/Melodious birds sings madrigals. / There will we make our beds of roses / And a thousand fragrant posies. / To shallow-“(12-16).3 In this scene, feelings of melancholy are represented through both scripture and Marlowe’s love song.

The most obvious reference to Marlowe’s “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love” was in 1653, under the title of “The Milkmaid’s Song,” in Izaak Walton’s (1593-1683) Walton’s Complete Angler.4 In this particular use of Marlowe’s poem and Raleigh’s reply, they are not a love song and answer from a man to a woman, but are a duet between a daughter and her mother. The song and its reply are introduced as a ditty or “that smooth song, which was made by Kit Marlow at least fifty years before. And the milk-maid’s mother sang an answer to it, which was made by Sir Walter Raleigh in his younger days.”5

Something to think about:

Another example to consider is a broadside ballad that Marlowe’s lyrics might have helped inspire. The quote below is from the 10th stanza of the ballad “Ile never Love thee more / being a true Love Song between a young / Man and a Maid” dated 1674-1679. Similar to the Marlowe/Raleigh broadside ballad, this ballad is a dialogue between a man and a woman, and as the title says, it is a song of true love. 

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Figure 1: Magdalene College, Pepys 3.266, EBBA 21280.7


Forty Crowns I will give thee
        sweet heart in good red gold,
To live with me and be my love
        say shall the bargain hold,
She answered him most modestly
       and with a pregnant wit:
A married wife I will not be,
       oh no etc.6




1 Frith, William Powell. Merry Wives of Windsor. 1843. 
2 Marlowe, Christopher, and Siemon, James R. The Jew of Malta. C Black, 1994. 
3 Shakespeare, William, and David Crane. The Merry Wives of Windsor. Cambridge UP, 1997.
4 Walton, Izaak. Walton’s Complete Angler1653, 14-19.
5 Walton, Izaak. Walton’s Complete Angler1653, 14-19.
6 “Ile never Love thee more / being a true Love Song between a young / Man and a Maid,” Printed for F. Coles. T. Vere, J. Wright, and J. Clarke, 1674-1679, Magdalene College, Pepys 3.266, EBBA 21280.
7 Figure 1: Magdalene College, Pepys 3.266, EBBA 21280.