Economies of nature in Shakespeare.
Notably, Burgundy entangles categories that we "moderns" perceive as distinct, if not diametrically opposed. Hence, in observing the unkempt fields, he laments that "her hedges even-plashed / Like prisoners wildly overgrown with hair / Put forth disordered twigs" (5.2.42-44). Here he compellingly entangles human attributes-like hair--with natural growths like the twigs that spring haphazardly from hedges. And yet, lest we dismiss such comparisons as mere rhetorical flourish--a classic instance of anthropomorphizing or of the "pathetic fallacy"--we should notice that he is equally comfortable reversing this optic in that he views people as a species of plant which can "grow to wildness" (l. 55), manifesting "stern looks" and "diffused attire" (l. 61) like "fallow leas" (l. 44) and "even [meads]" (l. 48) in the absence of coulter and scythe. Both person and land can slip, in Burgundy's view, to a similar state of "savagery" (ll. 47, 59), the one through omissions of learning, enabling passions to spread unchecked, and the other through the cessation of "husbandry," allowing the meadow to "[Conceive] by idleness" through the weeds that "root upon" her "Corrupting ... fertility" (ll. 39, 51, 46, 40). His view of savage fields and wildly growing people suggests a fundamental confusion for modern readers, a tendency to illegitimately mix human and natural terms in a kind of "barbarian medley" that confounds the "civilizing distinction[s]" of modernity (Latour, We Have Never Been Modern, 130). Still more surprising for modernity, perhaps, is his tendency to view the slide to a state that modern readers would perceive to be a more "natural" one--whether it be the fields that are no longer marked by human labor or the person displaced from civilizing rituals--as precisely that which makes these "earthly things" "unnatural" (l. 62, emphasis added). (4) In the estranging logic here elaborated, as people and plants "grow to wildness"--as they cease to be cultivated--they become "unnatural." (5) For Burgundy, to be "natural" is to be at least in part "cultured."
If Burgundy's account of war's effects on the garden of France seems, at best, anthropomorphic and, at worst, riddled by category confusion, I propose that his way of articulating the connections between person and world be seen as commonsensical for the period. As I have implied, it is a logic that will confound us if we approach these texts through the prism of the Enlightenment, since it collides in crucial ways with modern ways of thinking. (6) As such, it is a logic that requires our willingness to step, at least provisionally, outside our own categorical comfort zone. I suggest that this quite different alignment between human and nonhuman has profound implications for what it means to combine ecology with the study of Shakespeare and his milieu, which I will strategically describe in a language of dissonance and rupture as a "premodern" one. For, if practicing "ecocriticism" for those working in the later period of the nineteenth or twentieth centuries can readily translate as explicating representations of "nature" or the exploitative practices that contribute to the devastation of the environment in that period's literature, the same cannot be said to be true for literature of the Renaissance. How can we illuminate such attitudes to "nature" when "nature," in its modern delineation, had not yet been called into existence? Do we take "nature" to be what Burgundy considers "natural"--namely, cultivated fields and educated people--or do we overrule him and assume that we know "nature" when we see it, and "babble," with Falstaff, about "green fields," pastoral landscapes, and/or the increasing encroachments on such greenery that is a hallmark of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries? (7)
Although such approaches have their merits, to my mind they do not strike to the core of what this period has to offer ecostudies. What I propose as an alternative is an approach that considers the quite estranging animation of terms and categories surrounding notions like "nature," "culture," "unnatural," and "disnatural" (8) that this period offers. Entering into the pre-modern field of difference that underpins these terms equips us with the tools to see more clearly what pre-moderns took for granted: that "nature" and "culture," "human" and "nonhuman" have never been the hard divisions that moderns often presume them to be. Latour models the sort of approach I advocate here in recoiling from the tendency to purify the past. In his view, the point is not to emerge "from an obscure past that confused natures and cultures in order to arrive at a future in which the two poles will finally separate cleanly"; rather, by moving to acknowledge the network of exchanges between nature and society that still define us--that is, by owning up to the "production of hybrids of Nature and Society" which has proliferated amid a kind of denial--we bypass a crucial impasse of modernity: "the intoxicating idea of nature" (We Have Never Been Modern, 76 and 133; Politics of Nature, 43). For Latour, it is the very idea of Nature--that "blend of Greek politics, French Cartesianism, and American Parks"--that disenables ecopolitical projects by positing a nature that is by definition "incontestable" and therefore beyond the reach of "ordinary political life" (Politics of Nature, 4-5, 10). In the space below, I respond to this assessment by briefly considering a few moments in Shakespeare that draw out this dynamic interrelationship between human and nonhuman which Latour considers the unique value of the premodern. My hope is that Shakespeare's premodern sensibility, insofar as it openly acknowledges the "exchange [of] properties" between human and nonhuman, might loosen the juggernaut of the view that such categories are discrete and in need of "purification," a tendency that Latour suggests impedes rather than enables the goals of ecopolitics. (9)
We can move in this direction by asking what it means that "ecology" as a word and science emerged in relatively recent history. The word entered English in the late nineteenth century from the German word okologie, which was used by German scientists contemporaneous with Darwin. The German word, in turn, took its root from the Greek word for "house, dwelling," and joined it with the suffix "logie," then commonly applied to emerging scientific fields. (10) The meaning of the Greek word alerts us to the complex exchanges between human and nonhuman which are the very fabric of the word's history, since the ancient word evokes a humanly constructed edifice--a home, as in the related word economy--that the later period then interprets metaphorically in applying to a larger "natural" dwelling: the "home" that is the planet. But the definitions provided by the Oxford English Dictionary elide the exchanges recorded by etymology, positioning the term less as one that straddles two soft divisions (constructed worlds and "natural" worlds) than as a mediator between two distinct and opposed terms. Hence, this "branch of biology" studies the relationship between "living organisms" and "their environment"; or "social groups" and "their environment"; or the effect of "human activity" on "the environment." (11) It would seem, then, that ecology as a branch of knowledge is called into existence only once a rupture between human and nonhuman has been consolidated. Of course, its very purpose is to heal that rupture, that is, to put the human back into relation with an environment from which s/he has been alienated. But what does it mean to use this term to think about a culture that predates that rupture?
Indeed, I speculate that the word ecology, and the practice it describes, postdates the period of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in part because this rupture had not yet occurred. For the premodern world of which Shakespeare was a part, the social, the cultural, and the human were still perceived to be inside nature, not separated from it and abiding by a discrete set of principles. This is not merely to say that natural forms were considered analogous to human forms, for analogy, if understood in its rhetorical sense as "simile" or "similitude," or in its biological sense as a "resemblance" between things that are "essentially" different, presupposes a kind of rupture between similar but unlike forms, and may better describe subsequent historical formations. (12) Rather, it is to say that natural forms are homologous to human forms in Shakespeare's moment, meaning that they abide by "sameness of relation, correspondence," or "agreement," and "assent." (13) When Shakespeare describes what we perceive to be "nature"--that is, green fields, botanical forms, or animal behaviors--he sees not an externalized object opposed to the human world but rather a version of his social milieu written in another key: the same range of possibilities and principles structure those "green worlds" as do the social world. Those green fields, like the human subjects Shakespeare imagines into existence, can express moral conditions--embodying either depravity, savagery, and degeneracy or orderliness, cultivation, even royalty. (14) In behaving in the former manner, green fields become "unnatural" for early modern observers because they fail to move in the direction of an implied, ideal potential. By contrast, in receiving cultivation, they become fully, properly, and ideally natural. "Nature," then, is not the "green stuff" that occasionally appears in Shakespeare's plays--it is not a "thing" or an "object" that man singularly acts upon. Rather, it is a process that envelops all earthly life--human no less than animal, plant, and element. (15)
Indeed, if through great effort post-structuralism has weaned us of the view of human exceptionalism, Shakespeare's tendency to position the human inside nature, and nature inside the social--mixing "'things' and 'persons'" within a "single order"--expresses an already heightened sense of human indistinction. (16) Homology leads him to see overlap and identity, thwarting ideologies of human uniqueness. (17) Hence, in the space that remains, I investigate the implications of one such hybrid, namely, the tendency to perceive human flesh as not merely like earth but as earth. My reading emphasizes how the plays position human and nonhuman earth as a single collective, one that suspends notions of human mastery often associated with this era. Frederick Waage has pointed to the "terrocentric identity" that anchors Shakespeare's representation of humans, and I'd like to build upon this observation by tracing the intricate networks of exchange that conjoin person and earth across the plays. (18) I begin by noting the commonplace of the period that man was made from dust and would return to dust. As Margreta de Grazia has shown, both biblical text and formal ritual in the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods reiterated man's abiding attachments to soil. (19) The earth was conceived as his origin, his sustenance, and his body's destination, and if man's soul was claimed by God, his physical body yet belonged to the soil where its dispositions, even passions would conjoin with and animate the earth. Hence, Genesis records not just Cain's fall into sin when he took his brother's life, but the resonance of his sorrowful lament from the earth's core: "the voyce of thy brothers blood cryeth vnto me from the earth. Now therefore thou art cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receiue thy brothers blood from thine hand." (20) In effect, the hybrid figure thereby imagined--human voice emanating from earthly soil--was but an extension of man's very existence: the fact of his living inside earth, being quite literally en-soiled. Raleigh, quoting Abraham, strikingly captures this view in describing man as a soul living in a "[house] of clay," making Hamlet's observation in Q2 of a "vicious mole of nature" that "ore-leauens" his complexion a powerful extension of this sense of man's fundamentally "[soyled]" nature (621). (21) Of earth, on earth, in earth, the human's intimate connections to the physical, sentient world that bred him was a widely available cultural assumption in Shakespeare's moment.
Shakespeare's earth, like the biblical earth that "was moved" at Christ's death (22) and that echoed with Abel's cries, is both animator and animated, a kind of hybrid organic system that is coextensive with humankind. The plays frame earth as alpha and omega, as "mother" to all life, but also as a centripetal force that seeks to reclaim her own. Cyclical exchanges between earth and human recur, as when succulent juices derived from "the veins o'th' earth" (Tempest, 2.3.356) are consumed by man only to return to earth in the form of spilled blood, a substance that quenches "thirsty earth" (3H6, 2.3.15), or, when consumed less temperately, makes her "drunken with ... blood" (3H6, 2.3.23). A co-participant in the demands of living, she is also afforded a kind of morality, as when King Richard reproves his usurper for wishing to have her "soiled / With that dear blood which it hath fostered" (Richard II, 1.3.124-25), or when King Henry IV expresses regret at instigating such reversals in observing "No more the thirsty entrance of this soil / Shall daub her lips with her own children's blood" (1 Henry IV, 1.1.5-6). A kin to humankind, the earth of these plays is perceived to be driven, like man, by the laws of kinship, which translates as not cannibalizing her own, or, perhaps, as helping to avenge wronged offspring, as when Lady Anne implores earth to destroy her husband's murderer: "O earth gape open wide and eat him quick / As thou dost swallow up this good king's blood" (Richard III, 1.2.65-66). Edward's blood, as the mourning widow observes, is so freshly spilled that its "cursing cries and deep exclaims" (1.2.52) echo--Abel-like--from earth's bowels. (23) As these moments suggest, earth and human emerge in the plays, under the force of homological thinking, as creations twinned in anatomy (veins, wombs, blood), affections (sorrow, revenge), and physical states (thirst, hunger, and distemperance). As such, they are co-substantial bodies, conjoined actors that dynamically modify each other's various potentialities.
This view of human and earth as part of a single material and social fabric becomes particularly pronounced in a scene of incorporation and re-assimilation that features in Titus Andronicus. The moment that interests me occurs during the hunt scene, when Quintus and Martius find themselves in the perverse posture of being buried alive alongside the deceased Bassianus. Notably, they assign the earth a kind of agency for his death, describing the "subtle hole" (2.3.198) in which they fall as a "detested, dark, blood-drinking pit" (2.3.224). But the passage conveys more than just displaced misogyny in expressing their fear of this "suffocating mother." (24) It provides, as well, an emblem-like account of the layers of borrowing that conjoin human and earth into a hybrid body. The Folio describes Bassianus as "embrewed here / All on a heape" (TLN 976-77), while the Quarto records him as being "bereaud in blood" (18). The Norton editors break with both early texts by providing the phrase as "berayed in blood," which they gloss as meaning "defiled" (2.3.222). The Folio's choice--embrewed--has no listing in the Oxford English Dictionary, perhaps contributing to the decision to replace it for modern readers, but this notion of "brewing" in blood is worth pausing over in that it alerts us to the material exchanges figured here between blood and soil. We have seen in 3 Henry VI that human blood, imbibed by the earth, could cause intoxication, just as the earth's blood--wine--could induce drunkenness among people. As such, the Andronici brothers of the Folio use a word that evokes human flesh in a state of transformation, into sacrificial lamb and Eucharist, but also into earthblood. In the exchange that follows, a "precious ring" (2.3.227)--perhaps golden--is described by Martius as encircling Bassinaus's "bloody finger" (2.3.226), and as lighting the pit so that they see "the dead man's earthy cheeks" and the "ragged entrails" of the hole (2.3.229-30). Here the human body morphs back into earthen walls--its cheeks professing those material connections, even as and while we see the earth in human form, rendered ragged like Bassianus through the wounding act of Aaron's shovel, which ruptures her entrails. (25) These networks spread further, as Bassianus's ring suggests he has been encircled with still other "earthly things"--with the gold that earth begets alongside man. The scene's design ensures that we see gold in association with soil since we have already witnessed Aaron burying a bag of gold and awaiting its reproduction in the villainous acts he expects it to "beget" (2.3.6). The scene thus conjoins social economies with the "earthly things" that shape this collective, enveloping its human actors into networks of exchange with earth, soil, planet: humans draw blood-nourishment from soil only to one day be "embrewed" back into soil; they extract gold for circulation thereby emulating the forms of begetting patterned by earth.
In these layered images of attachment--earth bound together with human bound together with element--Shakespeare's play reveals what it means for the human to be "inside nature" and for nonhuman/nature to be inside "the social." It powerfully distills what it means to be a pre-modern with an "obsessive interest in thinking about the production of hybrids of Nature and Society" (Latour, We Have Never Been Modern, 133). If we have fallen into modernity's trap of seeking to "purify" such networks, acting like "customs inspectors, [in returning] items to their rightful categories, extraditing the natural from the social, and especially, the social from the natural," reading Shakespeare ecologically crystallizes another option available to us: that of entering the dizzying exchanges that constitutes the human/nonhuman hybrid. (26)
(1.) Citations of Shakespeare's plays are to the Norton Shakespeare, gem ed. Stephen Greenblatt (New York: Norton, 1997) and will be noted parenthetically in the text with reference to act, scene, and line number. For the complete passage here discussed, see The Life of Henry the Fifth, 5.2.23-67, esp. ll. 30, 36-37, 50, and 39. Citations of the First Folio are to The First Folio of Shakespeare: 1623, ed. Doug Moston (New York, Applause, 1995); parenthetic citations of this text refer to through line numbers (TLN). Citations of quartos are to Shakespeare's Plays in Quarto: A Facsimile Edition of Copies Primarily from the Henry E. Huntington Library, ed. Michael J. B. Alien and Kenneth Muir (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981); parenthetic citations of this text refer to page numbers.
(2.) See Bruno Latour, We. Have Never Been Modern, trans. Catherine Porter (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993), 139. See also his Politics of Nature: How to Bring the Sciences into Democracy, trans. Catherine Porter (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004), 44-45.
(3.) Indeed, it is Latour's argument that the moderns produce more hybrids in practice than the premoderns do. even if and as the latter are more aware of them: "To put it crudely: those who think the most about hybrids circumscribe them as much as possible, whereas those who choose to ignore them by insulating them from any dangerous consequences develop them to the utmost" (We Have Never Been Modern, 44).
(4.) The "earthly things" quote is from a passage in William Lawson's A New Orchard and a Garden (London, 1638) which echoes the logic used by Burgundy: "Such is the condition of all earthly things ... that they degenerate without good ordering. Man himselfe left to himselfe growes from his heavenly and spiritual generation and becommeth beastly, yea devilish to his own kind, unless he be regenerate. No marvell, then if Trees make their shoots and put their spraies disorderly" (40)', quoted in Terry Comito, "Renaissance Gardens and the Discovery of Paradise," The Journal of the History of Ideas 32 4 (1971): 483-506, esp. 502. Consider also Hymen's lines which initiate the marriage rites at the conclusion of As You Like It: "Then is there Mirth in heaven / When earthly things made even / Atone together" (5.4.97-99).
(5.) For a more extended consideration of the ways that plants and people submit to analogous forms of cultivation, see Rebecca W. Bushnell, A Culture of Teaching: Early Modern Humanism in Theory and Practice (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1996).
(6.) As Keith Thomas has argued, the centuries that separate the Renaissance from now produced vast changes in how we conceive of the natural world, such that "the idea that human cultivation was something to be resisted rather than encouraged would have been unintelligible" for earlier eras; see Keith Thomas, Man and the Natural World: Changing Attitudes in England 1500-1800 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1983), 14. See also Rebecca Bushnell's discussion of the complex valences and ever-changing meanings of nature and culture across the centuries which appears in the Introduction to her Green Desire: Imagining Early Modern English Gardens (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2003), 1-11. Simon Estok views the Industrial Revolution as an engine of cataclysmic changes in such conceptions, crediting it with redefining "Nature from participative subject and organism in an organic community to the status of pure object"; see "An Introduction to Shakespeare and Ecocriticism," Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment 12.2 (Summer 2005): 109-17. esp. 113. Gabriel Egan places the rupture somewhat earlier in describing a "radical new way of thinking that emerged in the 17th and 18th centuries: the Enlightenment"; see "Shakespeare and ecocriticism: The unexpected return of the Elizabethan World Picture," Literature Compass 1 (2003): 1-13, esp. 1.
(7.) I borrow this phrase from Gabriel Egan's introduction to Green Shakespeare: From Ecopolitics to Ecocriticism (Oxen and New York: Routledge, 2006), 1-16. Egan, in turn, derives it from Falstaff, who "babbled of green fields" as he was dying, as reported by Hostess Quickly in The Life of Henry V (2.3.15-16). And yet, as the Norton editors observe in their gloss to the line, the text was "corrupt at this point, reading 'a Table of green fields,' and was corrected by the eighteenth-century editor Louis Theobald in a famous emendation" (see n. 4). For further discussion of the history of this line, see Egan, 12-13.
(8.) This less familiar locution seems to have been a holdover from the late-fifteenth century and was occasionally used by Shakespeare's contemporaries. The Oxford English Dictionary gives one example from Florio's translation of Montaigne's Essays (1632): "There are many ... who think to honour their nature, by disnaturing themselues"; see disnature, v., 2. Consider also Lear's depraved wish that Gonoril have a child who is a "thwart, disnatured torment to her" (1.4.260).
(9.) This is the view that underpins Politics of Nature, which argues that ecopolitics has been dodged by its refusal to let go of the concept of "an incontestable nature" (10); see 61. In Latour's view, political ecology in practice, though not in principle, recognizes "associations of beings that take complicated forms," so that it powerfully "dissolves nature's contours and redistributes its agents" (21).
(10.) For a fuller discussion of this etymology, see Raymond Williams, Keywords: a vocabulary of culture and society, rev. ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985), 110-11. See also Egan, Green Shakespeare, 45.
(11.) See the OED, ecology, sb., la, lb and 2.
(12.) See OED, analogy, 5 and 9.
(13.) See OED, homology, general definition and etymology.
(14.) I discuss the idea that nature can embody "rank" in my essay "Botanical Shakespeares: The Racial Logic of Plant Life in Titus Andronicus," Special Issue: Shakespeare & Science, edited by Carla Mazzio, South Central Review 26.1 (March, 2009), 82-102. See also the extended treatment of this topic in my chapter on Ligon's True & Exact History of the Island of Barbados, which appears in my Strangers in Blood: Relocating Race in the Renaissance (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2010), 137-72.
(15.) See Williams's discussion of "nature" in Keywords, where he observes that the sense of nature as "the material world," which implies that it possesses a "fixed property," grows in importance across the seventeenth century. He notes that this meaning is in tension with an earlier meaning--one I highlight here--of nature as "a quality or process" (219-20).
(16.) Latour, Politics of Nature, 45. It is interesting to consider that Shakespeare never once marks the human realm as distinct from the nonhuman realm by using the phrase "human nature," although the phrase was available as early as the late fifteenth century; see OED, human nature, n.
(17.) This is not to suggest that the period did not abound in models of human exceptionalism, although it is to suggest that such models were inflected differently from one discursive mode to the next, and could be seriously qualified. Laurie Shannon, for instance, has recently argued that natural history seems to enable models of indistinction to a much greater extent than do theological discourses, and she traces these influences to the negative exceptionalist view of humanity that pervades King Lear. But she has also detected "antiexceptionalist material" in high humanist texts that are dedicated to celebrating man as "the ultimate triumph of divine creation"; see Laurie Shannon, "Poor, Bare, Forked: Animal Sovereignty, Human Negative Exceptionalism, and the Natural History of King Lear," Shakespeare Quarterly 60 2 (2009): 168-96, esp. 173-74. For a detailed discussion of theories of "human uniqueness" in this period, see Thomas, Man and the Natural World, 17-50.
(18.) See Frederick O. Waage, "Shakespeare Unearth'd," Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment 12 2 (2005): 139-64, esp. 146.
(19.) See Margreta de Grazia, Hamlet without Hamlet (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), esp. chap. 2.
(20.) The Geneva Bible of 1587 (Geneva, 1587), Gen. 4:10-11, searched online through http://www.studylight.org/desk/?l=en&query=Genesis+4§ion=0& translation=gen&oq=Genesis%25202&new=l&nb=mt&ng=2&ncc=2,August 30, 2010. For a discussion of the related (pagan) practice of sparagmos--"sprinkling the earth with blood for fertility," see Linda Woodbridge, The Scythe of Saturn: Shakespeare and Magical Thinking (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1994), 152-205, esp. 193-94.
(21.) As quoted in de Grazia, 30.
(22.) Consider the Book of Psalms, 82:5: "They knowe not and vnderstand nothing: they walke in darkenes, albeit all the foundations of the earth be mooued." St. Augustine's commentary on this line famously describes how "the earth swelled high when it crucified Thee: rise from the dead, and judge the earth"; see the commentary online at http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnfl08.ii.LXXXII .html, August 30, 2010. A similar sentiment is expressed in Psalm 114:7: "The earth trembled at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Iaakob"; for further discussion of these biblical passages in the context of Milton's "Paradise Lost," see Richard J. DuRocher, "The Wounded Earth in 'Paradise Lost,' " Studies in Philology 93 1 (1967): 93-115, esp. 94-96.
(23.) Moments like this, where a man's flesh blends together with earth--typically gendered female as a dame, grandma, or mother--may suggest that the indistinction that obtains between human and earth scrambles the coordinates of gender in compelling ways, perhaps subordinating gender identity to a more fundamental earthly identity.
(24.) The classic study on this topic is Janet Adelman, Suffocating Mothers: fantasies of maternal origin in Shakespeare's plays, Hamlet to The Tempest (New York: Routledge, 1992). See also the discussion of the earth as a suffocating mother in Timon which appears in Coppelia Kahn, "'Magic of Bounty': Timon of Athens, Jacobean Patronage, and Maternal Power," Shakespeare Quarterly 38 1 (1987): 34-57.
(25.) See DuRocher's discussion of earth's wounding in Milton, esp. 96-98.
(26.) For the quote, see the introduction to The Moral Authority of Nature, ed. Lorraine Daston and Fernando Vidal (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004), 1-20, esp. 3.
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|Title Annotation:||FORUM: Shakespeare and Ecology; William Shakespeare|
|Author:||Feerick, Jean E.|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2011|
|Next Article:||The preternatural ecology of "A Lover's Complaint".|