Seminar 12: ‘Green’ or Ecocritical Shakespeare: non-human nature as a character in his plays

Some of Shakespeare’s plays offer an endless riddle no matter how you approach them. The incomplete nature of a dramatic text plus the circumstances under which they were written/produced contribute to the wonder. So with Macbeth, with Hamlet, with The Tempest, with Midsummer Night’s Dream, hermeneutics has aimed at accounting for the marvellous without ever arriving at a fully satisfactory answer to the question whether that quality appear as part of the plot structure (cf. the ghost) or in the definition of the characters themselves (Cf. the Weird Sisters, Ariel and Caliban, the fairies).

By the time you come to King Lear or As you Like It, or to Othello, or again when you appreciate the concretisations of Akira Kurosawa or the Russians the issue of the role assigned to physical nature becomes unavoidable. In the splendid statement on King Lear that appears in the ASLE website at [->] Ralph Black, referring to the tv version of the play by Lawrence Olivier, wonders about ‘…the significance of the natural world in the play, the moments of clarity that all seem to take place outside – in a storm, on the moors, at the seashore.’ There is therefore the possibility that the category of ‘place’ find room in the study of the Bard’s writings and that such an approach afford a renewed reading of at least some of them in ways that make them more relevant to our times’concern with the permanence of life on the planet.

Nature as a reality outside the text, beyond the readers/spectators’ existence, independent from it, and its relation to culture at a time when England was slowly but surely rising, in the project of the Tudor monarchy, from a small marginalised nation, into a serious competitor for the riches of the New World. As the power struggle shifted from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic sea the distribution of the land that in King Lear seemed no more than a fairy tale pretext for the sisters’bickering turns out to be a most realistic predicament. Nature non-reducible to a mere concept but in the case of the newly discovered continent, a formidable entity still largely unknown, largely unconquered, non-textualised yet. From this perspective, the key concept of ‘wilderness’ deserves closer inspection. The sea, which looms large in the formation of the English identity, as does the forest, the river and other features of the English Midlands that Shakespeare knew and loved so well may cease to operate merely as ‘symbols’ to recover their original literality. Thus the ecocritical project has given a new dimension to the Romantics’ attachment to nature, and to their specific reception of Shakespeare’s genius.

For a contemporary re-assessment of his plays in the light of ecocritical theory we submit this invitation.

Please send your paper title, 250-word abstract, along with your name, job title, affiliation and email to [->] by September 15, 2013.