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Writing the Forest in Early Modern England

A Sylvan Pastoral Nation

By Jeffrey S. Theis

Publication Year: 2009

In Writing the Forest in Early Modern England: A Sylvan Pastoral Nation, Jeffrey S. Theis focuses on pastoral literature in early modern England as an emerging form of nature writing. In particular, Theis analyzes what happens when pastoral writing is set in forests — what he terms “sylvan pastoral.”

During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, forests and woodlands played an instrumental role in the formation of individual and national identities in England. Although environmentalism as we know it did not yet exist, persistent fears of timber shortages led to a larger anxiety about the status of forests. Perhaps more important, forests were dynamic and contested sites of largely undeveloped spaces where the poor would migrate in a time of rising population when land became scarce. And in addition to being a place where the poor would go, the forest also was a playground for monarchs and aristocrats where they indulged in the symbolically rich sport of hunting. Conventional pastoral literature, then, transforms when writers use it to represent and define forests and the multiple ways in which English society saw these places. In exploring these themes, authors expose national concerns regarding deforestation and forest law and present views relating to land ownership, nationhood, and the individual’s relationship to nature. Of particular interest are the ways in which cultures turn confusing spaces into known places and how this process is shaped by nature, history, gender, and class.

Theis examines the playing out of these issues in familiar works by Shakespeare, such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Merry Wives of Windsor, and As You Like It, Andrew Marvell’s “Upon Appleton House,” John Milton’s Mask and Paradise Lost, as well as in lesser known prose works of the English Revolution, such as James Howell’s Dendrologia>/i> and John Evelyn’s Sylva. As a unique ecocritical study of forests in early modern English literature, Writing the Forest makes an important contribution to the growing field of the history of environmentalism, and will be of interest to those working in literary and cultural history as well as philosophers concerned with nature and space theory.

Published by: Duquesne University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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CONTENTS

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pp. v-

FIGURES

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pp. vii-

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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

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pp. ix-x

Place and the interconnection between the individual and various communities are the central concerns of Writing the Forest in Early Modern England. These concerns have also made this book possible. Save for the frozen lakes in winter, Madison, Wisconsin, was a near-idyllic place to begin this project as a dissertation at ...

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INTRODUCTION: Sylvan Pastoral in Early Modern England

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pp. xi-xv

A tree is not just a tree, and a forest is not merely a forest — especially in early modern England. The English woods and their material strength yet vulnerability to deforestation are intricately bound up in the nation’s history, but what these woods signify varies drastically over time and depends upon one’s subject position. ...

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ONE. The Rise of Sylvan Pastoral: LITERARY FORM MEETS FOREST HISTORY

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pp. 1-32

Although forests are thought to be opposed to civilization, the two have long coexisted in the cultural imagination. Indeed, civilization literally and figuratively builds upon the forests’ material resources. Western history, in particular, repeatedly documents the process of turning complex wooded spaces into known places ...

Part I. Sylvan Pastoral, Shakespeare, and 1590s England

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pp. 33-34

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TWO. Shakespeare’s Green Plot: THE STAGE AS FOREST AND THE FOREST AS STAGE IN AS YOU LIKE IT

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pp. 35-90

Gathering in the woods for the rehearsal of Pyramus and Thisby, Peter Quince says, “This green plot shall be our stage, this hawthorn-brake our tiring-house.”1 The ironic joke, of course, is that as Quince ostensibly points to open forest ground and hawthorn-brake, in truth, he is gesturing toward a real platform stage and a ...

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THREE. Green Plots and Green Plotters: A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM AND SYLVAN STRUGGLE

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pp. 91-120

Through this sylvan control green plotters attempt to control their own roles as well as those played by other characters. Thus, a green plotter is not Jaques disguised as a proto-ecoterrorist protecting the trees; rather, it is a character that defines the wood in ways that maximize that character’s personal agency. Sunlit, if sometimes shady, Arden facilitates characters seeing the world ...

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FOUR. A Border Skirmish: COMMUNITY, DEER POACHING, AND SPATIAL TRANSGRESSION IN THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR

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pp. 121-154

The blurring of early modern and fictional sylvan locales often presents to characters and audiences imaginative possibilities and limitations to defining the forest. These imaginative spaces allow a character like Duke Senior and audiences to engage with historically relevant questions regarding how early modern English ...

Part II. Forest Knowledge/Forest Power: Sylvan Pastoral in Mid-Seventeenth Century England

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pp. 155-156

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FIVE. Sylvan Pastoral and the Civil War: REPRESENTING NATIONAL TRAUMA IN SYLVAN TERMS

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pp. 157-212

... the townspeople’s invasion of Windsor Forest’s Little Park and their use of deer poaching tropes demonstrate a complex negotiation between informal social control and the power of transgression with the forest as the site to enact such a struggle. But this minor insurrection pales in comparison to an onslaught of destruction the park and Windsor Forest ...

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SIX. Royalist Woods

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pp. 213-242

Although the radical Digger Gerrard Winstanley and the royalist James Howell subscribed to vastly different political ideologies, their mutual fascination in describing England’s war through the prism of forest terminology reflects the protean power of woodlands. The long tradition in which the oak symbolized monarchical ...

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SEVEN. John Milton’s Sylvan Pastorals and the Theatrical and Godly Individual

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pp. 243-290

Civil war sylvan pastorals, as we have seen, bear witness to the literary mode’s ability to represent national trauma and the nation’s identity as woodland born and bred. Largely absent from this discussion in chapters 5 and 6, however, is perhaps the most thoroughly committed sylvan pastoralist of the period — John Milton. ...

NOTES

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pp. 291-238

BIBLIOGRAPHY

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pp. 339-358

INDEX

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pp. 359-368


E-ISBN-13: 9780820705057
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820704234

Page Count: 383
Illustrations: 3 facsimile pages, 1 map
Publication Year: 2009

Series Title: Medieval & Renaissance Literary Studies
Series Editor Byline: Albert C. Labriola

Research Areas

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Subject Headings

  • Environmentalism -- England -- History -- 17th century.
  • English literature -- Early modern, 1500-1700 -- History and criticism.
  • Environmentalism in literature.
  • Environmentalism -- England -- History -- 16th century.
  • Ecocriticism.
  • Ecology in literature.
  • Forests in literature.
  • Pastoral literature, English -- History and criticism.
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