Untitled design

Portrait of John Donne, © National Portrait Gallery, London 1

Responses: This is an introduction to the responses to Marlowe’s work including replies, parodies, musical replies, compositions, and works referencing the work. Grouped with the replies are derivations from the poem in other literary works, artistic works of art, and musical compositions.

The Evolution of the Reply

To the modern reader, Christopher Marlowe’s “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love” is intimately connected with the “The Nymphs Reply to the Shepherd,” attributed to Sir Walter Raleigh. On this site, we will be looking at Raleigh’s “Reply” as a separate entity from that of Marlowe’s poem. It is important, however, to remember that in the printed version of the poem The Passionate Pilgrim, the last stanza being “Loves Answer,” the reply as a tool has always been a part of Marlowe’s poem.

As you may have read in the short essay, the 16th and 17th century was a period of mass advances in printing for England. The letter press allowed texts to be printed and distributed everywhere. All of a sudden, poetry was not only for the elite. This meant that the poor and illiterate were now gaining access to articles of culture via broadside ballads. The broadside ballad as a medium is wonderful as it contains not only words, but images in the form of woodcuts. The combination of the woodcuts, lyrics, and the song allowed people walking down the street to be involved and interact with the work both by listening, viewing, and singing.

Those who may or may not have seen a play by Christopher Marlowe, could now be introduced to his work through the broadside ballad. While a play is a momentary, fleeting performance and a speech or two may stay imprinted in the mind (as a face that could launch a thousand ships might), the broadside was something that was not only for viewing but was a continuous form of entertainment. The broadside  ballad could be kept, hung, shared, and sung over and over again.

The original reply “Loves Answer,” printed after the poem in The Passionate Pilgrim, may have been a place-holder for Raleigh’s “Reply.” Another possibility, is that Raleigh’s “Reply” itself was a manifestation of the original “Loves Answer” stanza in The Passionate Pilgrim. It is impossible to really know which scenario is accurate, so we will consider the “Reply” to be attributed to Raleigh but separate from the original “Loves Answer.” We can see Raleigh as the first of many to be inspired by Marlowe’s words—so much so that he was inspired to write his own reply.

Today the poem still inspires a continuous interaction — it demands to be heard and to be answered. The reply, in connection with the poem, inspired responses not only in the 16th and 17th century, but does so even to the current day. These responses may be in the form of reinterpretations, parodies, playing off of the theme and imagery the work represents. Consider examples such as Thomas Hood’s 1862 “I Love Thee,” seen as a classic in its own right and Diane Di Prima’s 1950’s parody “The Passionate Hipster to His Chick,” seen as an updated version of Christopher Marlowe’s “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love” that replaces the country pastor with an urban pastoral setting.2

1 Portrait of John Donne by Unknown English artist, oil on panel, circa 1595, NPG 6790 © National Portrait Gallery, London.
2 Cucinella, Catherine. Contemporary American Women Poets: An A-to-Z Guide. Greenwood Group, 2002, p. 101.