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Shakespeare's Ocean

Shakespeare's Ocean: An Ecocritical Exploration

Dan Brayton
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    Shakespeare's Ocean
    Book Description:

    Study of the sea--both in terms of human interaction with it and its literary representation--has been largely ignored by ecocritics. InShakespeare's Ocean,Dan Brayton foregrounds the maritime dimension of a writer whose plays and poems have had an enormous impact on literary notions of nature and, in so doing, plots a new course for ecocritical scholarship.

    Shakespeare lived during a time of great expansion of geographical knowledge. The world in which he imagined his plays was newly understood to be a sphere covered with water. In vital readings of works ranging fromThe Comedy of Errorsto the valedictoryThe Tempest,Brayton demonstrates Shakespeare's remarkable conceptual mastery of the early modern maritime world and reveals a powerful benthic imagination at work.

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-3227-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xviii)
  6. Introduction: Shakespeare and the Global Ocean
    (pp. 1-14)

    This book explores the historical, textual, and material relationship between William Shakespeare and the global ocean. In yoking the name of a poet widely considered the paragon of literary achievement to a phrase employed by marine scientists to describe the vast body of salt water covering our planet, I wish to foreground the maritime dimension of the early modern imaginary and symbolic relationship to the biophysical environment. The phrase “global ocean” (or “world ocean’’) is standard in the marine sciences (oceanography, marine ecology, marine biology), signifying the interconnected biotic and physical properties of the great body of salt water that...

  7. 1 Backs to the Sea? THE TERRESTRIAL BIAS
    (pp. 15-42)

    These are the best and the worst of times for ecocritics, propelled as we are by a growing sense of professional legitimacy in the face of a looming sense of environmental catastrophe. New signs of ecological overload, collapse, and the wrong kinds of regime shifts appear almost daily to remind us that the Earth’s biosphere is in crisis and that this crisis is the result of human activity. The oil that was hemorrhaging into the Gulf of Mexico as I completed the manuscript of this book wreaked, in a matter of months, irreparable harm to the once-rich marine ecosystems of...

  8. 2 Consider the Crab
    (pp. 43-61)

    Barnacles cling at the low-water mark in the rocky intertidal zone of Massachusetts Bay, kelp fronds wave in the moving surge, and clumps of bladderwrack limn the granite shore. When wind and tide are at odds, white foam streaks the waves. The frigid water is fed by the Labrador Current, moving opposite to the east-flowing Gulf Stream far offshore, with nutrientladen water from the Davis Strait. The shingle beaches of granite pebbles and crushed shell breathe with life at low water, tide pools chuckle, seaweed shifts and pops, and crabs scuttle in the shallows. At Flat Rock Beach, in my...

  9. 3 Shakespeare’s Benthic Imagination
    (pp. 62-85)

    European intellectuals and artists have long employed the metaphor of human life as a sea voyage. Embarkation, passage, and shipwreck have long been popular topoi for the vicissitudes of human existence. In the sixteenth century the classical metaphor “the ship of state” gained new currency as the fates of European nation-states turned increasingly on sea power. Five hundred years later the metaphor remains alive. In the second half of the twentieth century the German philosopher Hans Blumenberg argued, perhaps hyperbolically, that “humans live their lives and build their institutions on dry land. Nevertheless, they seek to grasp the movement of...

  10. 4 Tidal Bodies
    (pp. 86-106)

    The nature of the material relationship between the human body and the physical universe was a particularly pressing topic for early modern poets. As Philip Hardie notes, “The early seventeenth century saw a great output of poetry containing cosmological allusion, but the advances in science which were largely responsible for this interest were also creating the conditions of a division between poetic and scientific discourses that has lasted to the present day.”¹ For Shakespeare, writing at precisely this moment of discursive and epistemological divergence, and often writingagainstsuch a divergence, cosmology—knowledge of the order of the physical universe...

    (pp. 107-135)

    On Wednesday, February 24, 2010, the Sea World trainer Dawn Brancheau was pulled by the hair from the shallow end of a pool and drowned in deeper water by a male orca named Tilikum.¹ The media coverage of this dreadful event emphasized not merely the literal circumstances of the drowning of the human victim but the psychology of the cetacean perpetrator: what, people wondered, was going on in “Tilly’s” mind? In an article published two days after Brancheau was killed, aNew York Timesjournalist noted that “questions about the mammal’s intent continue to linger.”² Was the young male cetacean...

  12. 6 Shakespeare among the Fishmongers
    (pp. 136-165)

    The story of Britain’s terrestrial commons has often been told in literary scholarship, yet one of the most dramatic chapters in the early modern “tragedy of the commons” is an oceanic one.¹ The mutual impact of a global ocean on an explosive European bourgeoisie took place not merely in the imagination but also on an ecological level. The first global fish market emerged in Europe between the eighth and tenth centuries as a response to increasing demand for cold flesh among the ecclesiastical community and thence gained momentum during the early modern period.²­ In the England of the Tudors and...

  13. 7 Prospero’s Maps
    (pp. 166-195)

    In his articulation of human life as a condition deeply but obscurely connected to the marine environment Shakespeare seems to delight in reminding us of the blue-green immensity of the globe and the near impossibility of fathoming its fluid vastness.¹ Are we truly at home on this blue globe? Do we even know what the nature ofherereally is? The very concept of place, rooted in culture, agriculture, the hearth, and the social order, belongs to the land. For centuries the vast watery plain that began at the edge of the shore could only be conceived as a space...

  14. Coda: Toward a Terraqueous Ecocriticism
    (pp. 196-202)

    The irony of Ambrose Bierce’s wry observation that humans have no gills gestures humorously (and skeptically) to the biblical notion of human dominion over the Earth. Bierce’s tongue-in-cheek definition of the nounoceanundercuts the idea, articulated in Genesis, of Adam (and his offspring) having “dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth” by implying that human experience is limited to the land.¹ While Bierce was prescient in pointing out the insufficiency of the biblical...

  15. NOTES
    (pp. 203-226)
    (pp. 227-244)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 245-258)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 259-260)