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Ecocriticism and Shakespeare: Reading Ecophobia by Simon C. Estok, and: Ecocritical Shakespeare ed.

by Dan Brayton and Lynne Bruckner (review)
Rebecca Ann Bach

Shakespeare Quarterly, Volume 64, Number 1, Spring 2013, pp. 110-113 (Article) Published by The Johns Hopkins University Press DOI: 10.1353/shq.2013.0018

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$80.8 So inasmuch as Shakespeare stages the irreducibility of the woe and weal of individual human beings to the fate of the society to which they belong (whether “Denmark. VT: Ashgate. than either Holbrook or the historicists have grasped. one cannot but read Sophocles’ play as overdetermined by the cultural context in which it was first produced and performed.”“Venice. the most elegant and convincing defense of a historicist approach to drama of which I am aware is given by the venerable classicist Jean-Pierre Vernant.” in The Structuralist Controversy: The Languages of Criticism and the Sciences of Man. sexuality studies. Reviewed by REBECCA ANN BACH Simon C. the “individualism” that his book advocates seems. New York: Palgrave. Pp.” or Elizabethan-Jacobean society). Ecocritical Shakespeare. 2011.110 SHAKESPEARE QUARTERLY a historicist approach to drama only convinces if the fates of individual characters appear immediately absorbable by the concerns of the social world to which they belong. Illus. it is not clear that a shared social context can wholly explain or reflect the meaning of any of our individual actions. Richard Macksey and Eugenio Donato (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP. Illus. feminist criticism. By SIMON C. and contemporary. ed. Nonetheless. as in Attic tragedy. finally. The ongoing depth of this anxiety makes Shakespeare even more urgent. Pp. sufferings. Burlington. Edited by DAN BRAYTON and LYNNE BRUCKNER. queer theory. Estok’s monograph Ecocriticism and Shakespeare makes a case for the term “ecophobia. as empty as the shapes of modern individuality which Hegel dispatched. 273–89. $99. He promises in the introduction that “the pages that follow will offer nuanced and developed close-readings of Shakespearean drama” through an approach that “encompasses feminism.” a term that he hopes will help Shakespeareans to see connections between ecocriticism. See Vernant’s succinct discussion of Antigone and historicist scholarship in “Greek Tragedy: Problems of Interpretation. a historicist approach to Shakespearean drama. if not to modern life tout court. Precisely because the fate of Antigone is also the fate of the social world to which she belongs (as Hegel of course knew). x + 182. Ecocriticism and Shakespeare: Reading Ecophobia. and joys—is not misplaced.95 cloth. By returning our attention to the tremendous power of Shakespeare over the post-Romantic view of “individualism. cannot but fail to fully satisfy. 1970). 2011. the romantic anxiety from which Holbrook’s book springs—an abiding sense that we cannot simply historicize Shakespeare (or ourselves) because our shared practical world fails to completely account for our individual experiences.00 cloth. ESTOK. But because Holbrook does not adequately elucidate this basic problem.” Holbrook succeeds in reminding us of an unresolved anxiety about Shakespeare and his (or our) modernity: namely. critical racial 8 Not coincidentally. and studies of racism and anti-Semitism (2–3). . xxiv + 280.

Estok’s second chapter. Estok parenthetically claims in chapter 4 that “Caliban is evidently vegetarian” (53).” That chapter consistently reads Coriolanus’s rejection of the body politic and society as ecophobia. and whatever her ‘nothing’ signifies for him . It is more accurate to say that the plays present the natural world as sometimes nurturing and beautiful and sometimes dangerous. But this exaggeration may be necessary in order to claim that the play is both misogynist and ecophobic and that one tendency produces the other. and early arguments for vegetarianism. the mere fact of her communicating anything is monstrous to Lear because she is a woman” (27). These are all important things to be thinking about as we read Shakespeare. We can learn about. .’ Lear hears something. For instance. . In general. Estok’s book discusses many significant environmental and animal rights concerns during the early modern period. the connections people were making between bad sanitation and ill health. the pollution problem in early modern London. offers the play’s generally malevolent weather as proof of its horrific vision of an unpredictable natural world. miserable winter is as much evidence of nature’s predictability as it is of its unpredictability. on King Lear. Chapter 6’s reading of The Winter’s Tale as ecophobic is also problematic. or be reminded of.” it does not necessarily follow that rejection of social ties equals rejection of the natural world (40). The book does deploy all of these ways of reading texts. Attempting to ally all of these liberatory theories and practices leads Estok to some suspect claims. and deconstruction and demonstrates just how productive a theoretically informed historicist ecocriticism can be” (12). This vision of nature is certainly anthropocentric. cultural anthropology. Shakespeareans who believe that early modern sexuality was organized along the lines of dominant late twentieth-century American sexuality might find his readings of The Merchant of Venice and Coriolanus (chapters 7 and 3) more persuasive than do I. Although Estok is certainly right that “the social is embedded in the natural. . Another example of this problem occurs in chapter 3. “Coriolanus and Ecocriticism. the Little Ice Age in the late sixteenth century. but it did not convince me that they are all in the service of ecocriticism. he seems to exaggerate King Lear’s misogyny when he says. And they are all significant ecocritical concerns. ecopsychology.“In Cordelia’s ‘nothing. The marmoset-snaring Caliban may not be so easily allied with animal liberation. but it can be as ecophilic as it is ecophobic. poststructuralism. Estok is very interested in the linkages he sees between homophobia and ecophobia. Likewise. Estok shows us that Shakespeare’s plays often extol nature’s virtues. the evidence the book presents for Shakespeare’s ecophobia is not entirely persuasive. the appearance of ravenous wolves and bears in the play may not mean that the play rejects or fears nature. and Caliban’s eating practices may have little to do with The Tempest’s ecological implications. But he often takes evidence of natural dangers as signs that a play is essentially ecophobic. More significantly. It is a bit difficult to see how the play could have made winter on the heath into a positive image. food studies. the misogyny that is in King Lear may not be intimately connected with the play’s vision of the natural/human/animal world. It also may not follow that the play’s rejection of Coriolanus because of his extreme individualism is ecophobic. Surely a stormy.BOOK REVIEWS 111 theory.

” The first part consists of broadly theoretical essays. “in Shakespeare. the continual worry . penetrated always by “invisible entities” (36) and largely directed by unconscious desires. it’s animals all the way down” (121). It is more than understandable that scholars with personal commitments to ecological activism would worry that their scholarship may do much less than devoting their lives to Greenpeace. A. The third part of Brayton and Bruckner’s book consists of three intriguing essays: Richard Kerridge demonstrates Shakespeare’s indigenous sensibility in “An Ecocritic’s Macbeth.” “Flora. for instance by taking her Shakespeare class outdoors and asking them to imagine “Shakespeare’s rural childhood” (232).” Rebecca Laroche agrees with Kerridge about Shakespeare’s detailed knowledge of the world in which he lived. In their introduction. Brayton and Bruckner state that their goal is “to broaden and deepen the field of early modern ecocriticism” (2). Raber explains how in the plays’ depictions of the “urban environment” and the “human body” animals and humans are “mutually. Lynne Bruckner’s essay also introduces a new way to teach Shakespeare’s plays. Geisweidt explores the references to spontaneous generation and to excrement (including hair) in Antony and Cleopatra. materially interdependent.112 SHAKESPEARE QUARTERLY Estok’s own significance as an ecocritic can be seen in his work as author of the afterword to Dan Brayton and Lynne Bruckner’s edited collection Ecocritical Shakespeare. Her essay will change the way I teach the play. Edward J. As a whole.” Incorporating short readings of Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet. She presents a plan for teaching Hamlet that takes early modern women’s medical practice seriously. It is organized into three parts: “Contexts for Reading. For example. Fauna. the collection is an excellent introduction to the possibilities and problems that ecocriticism of Shakespeare poses. For them. and the last applied scholarship. the second offers particular readings. she brings Ophelia’s herbs and flowers into her classroom and explains their properties. Reading The Taming of the Shrew as a contest between two human-shrew or -mouse hybrids. with one another and with the spaces they inhabit” (16). For Shakespeareans who focus their primary energies elsewhere. Shea and Paul Yachnin challenge notions of human exceptionalism. Watson’s essay offers a fascinating view of A Midsummer Night’s Dream as presciently showing a world in which humans are less fully conscious. concluding that such textual evidence reveals the essential commonalities among all life forms. Robert N. Weather. independent beings than Freudian and microbiological creatures. A highlight of part 1 of the collection is Karen Raber’s “Vermin and Parasites: Shakespeare’s Animal Architectures. In part 2. Raber offers theoretical and historical contexts that will be useful for Shakespeareans as they attempt to make sense of the myriad animals in the plays. Each section contains fine insights and carefully crafted essays.” and “Presentism and Pedagogy. Water. Both Estok’s monograph and Brayton and Bruckner’s collection are overwhelmingly concerned with activism and presentism. including exciting new ways to teach and read the plays. Likewise. J. such as forests and oceans. The collection as a whole achieves this goal. Other essays look closely at particular environmental topics. Shakespeareans will find many rewards in this collection. some essays confirm theoretical insights from part 1.

It provides a wide range of entry points into a complex question—by the sheer number of essays (seventeen).BOOK REVIEWS 113 voiced in both Estok’s book and the collection can become tedious. He understood natural and animal worlds. while answering the demands of the present. Denmark.” “War Time Interpretation”). especially Brayton and Bruckner’s collection. these books. and Croatia. It is evidently more difficult to apply questions of national identity and relations between monarch and subject outside the English sphere—for instance. These are plays in which. UK. as no doubt by others. and one that remembers it is dealing with writing intended for performance” (8). There are thoroughly contextualized studies of translations. that they are all but excluded. adaptations. M. Basingstoke. to Titus Andronicus. Edited by ROS KING and PAUL J. and New York: Palgrave Macmillan. and the geographical diversity of authorship and focus. xii + 250. the codes and values associated with that most down-to-earth of human practices. On the other. and will doubtless stimulate further debate. Troilus and Cressida. in both content and approach. On the one hand. remind us that Shakespeare is more than a poet of humanity. it is a welcome contribution to both aspects of the topic. Yet the range of this collection is more limited. a position the editors justify by citing “the range of angles” supplied. C. not least for the connections it develops between them.” and it diminishes the volume’s scope. the shifting of perspective across four principal sections (“Ideas of War and Peace.” “Rhetoric of War. By this measure. Helen Wilcox’s essay emerges as one of the book’s strongest for its close attention to All’s Well That Ends Well’s interrogations of honor (an early modern preoccupation that is otherwise given short shrift). Pp.00 cloth.” “Translation and Adaptation. or Coriolanus. several plays obviously deserving attention receive virtually none. Shakespeare and European Politics. $89. Henry V deserves the preeminence it receives as the subject of several essays. “war features as a direct activity and subject. held in Utrecht. which “indicate a way of reading dramaturgically: one that is historically rigorous. In general. Italy. as befits the volume’s origin in the 2003 conference. 2008. Germany. and productions in Romania. FRANSSEN. Shakespeare and War. and his plays and poems provide keys to those worlds. than might be at first supposed. this is clearly a collection whose time has come. unquestionably. there is a general tendency to downplay the metaphysical aspects of war in early modern culture. although much more remains to be . as well as its depth. However. The guidelines laid down by the editors in their introduction are restrictive on both counts: “The Shakespeare plays in which war features as a direct activity and subject are centrally concerned both with the identity of the nation and the nature of the contract between ruler and people” (3). as well as to our own. Reviewed by RICHARD HILLMAN Given the recent preoccupation with Shakespearean war in both critical analysis and performance practice. Illus.