Graduation Year

2004

Document Type

Thesis

Degree

M.A.

Degree Granting Department

English

Major Professor

Munson-Deats, Sara

Keywords

comedy, ecocriticism, literary ecology, early modern, Renaissance

Abstract

Recent interest in environmental crises has inspired literary critics to consider how the history of ideas shapes our current ecological debates. Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream sets the stage for assessing how Renaissance attitudes towards nature have influenced current ideologies. While the play appears to be a fantasy, it reveals a relationship with nature, both physically and figuratively. The play's excursion into the woods shows an attempt to heal human relationships. Shakespeare's use of the imagery of nature argues in favor of the green world, for it is a world inhabited by shadows and shamen -- or, as Shakespeare calls them, fairies. A key element for ecocritics concerns the apparent silence of nature in literature and other cultural forms.

Christopher Manes' article, "Nature and Silence," alerts readers to nature's lack of voice as a symptom of humanism, especially of theories such as the Great Chain of Being, which place nature in a subordinate role to humans, giving homo sapiens the dubious power to speak for nature. I wish to present Shakespeare's fairies as the speakers of the forest and of nature's values, according to the Early Modern period. By liberating fairies from demonic associations, Shakespeare's forest appears to us as inviting and healing. Furthermore, I argue that the pastoral tradition, which informs the Early Modern attitude towards nature, is superceded by picaresque and shamanic figures within the text. These elements allow for a subversive understanding of nature and our relationship to it.

If humans adapted to their environment by developing consciousness, what has been the effect of that consciousness on their environment? Shakespeare's forest and fairies help to confront this issue because they restore human awareness to a healthy state of consciousness. By showing fairies in this light, Shakespeare provocatively proposes that humans "mend" their relationship to their surroundings as well as their own human relationships.

Share

COinS