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Shakespeare and Ecology$
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Randall Martin

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780199567027

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780199567027.001.0001

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Localism, Deforestation, and Environmental Activism in The Merry Wives of Windsor

Localism, Deforestation, and Environmental Activism in The Merry Wives of Windsor

1 Localism, Deforestation, and Environmental Activism in The Merry Wives of Windsor
Title Pages

Randall Martin

Oxford University Press

Poisoned towns and rivers, species extinctions, and now climate change have confirmed many times over how modern dreams of limitless growth combined with relentless technological exploitation have compromised planetary life at every level. In response to such degradation, the integrity of local place has been a major orientation for environmental ethics and criticism. The origins of localism are conventionally traced to late-eighteenth-and nineteenth-century critiques of urban industrialization, and Romanticism’s corresponding veneration for rural authenticity and wilderness spaces. Mid-twentieth-century environmentalism revived this ‘ethic of proximity’ in denouncing the release of pollutants and carcinogens into local soils, waters, and atmospheres by civil offshoots of military manufacturing and industrial agriculture. Those releases did not stay local, but soon penetrated regional water systems and wind patterns to become worldwide problems. Such networks of devastation continue to grow, especially in developing countries eager to mimic the worst aspects of Western consumer culture. In response to these developments, ecotheorists have partially revised locally focused models of environmental protection. Planetary threats such as rising global temperatures, melting polar ice sheets, and more intense storms have made it imperative to update the famous Sierra Club slogan and to act globally as well as locally. Localism has also been reshaped by conservation biology’s new recognition that geophysical disturbances and organic change are structural features of all healthy ecosystems. Within these more complicated ecological paradigms, the cultivation of relatively balanced and genuinely sustainable local relationships nonetheless remains an important conservationist worldview. In early modern England it was the leading life experience out of which responses to new environmental dangers were conceived. In this chapter I shall discuss Shakespeare’s representations of one of the three most significant of these threats—deforestation—in The Merry Wives of Windsor. (The other two, exploitative land-uses and gunpowder militarization, will be the subjects of Chapters 2 and 3 respectively). Early modern English writers and governments treated deforestation as a national problem, even though its impacts were concentrated mainly in the Midlands and the south-east.

Keywords:   Chases, Dwelling, Enclosure, Fuel crisis, Hamlet, Iron–manufacturing, Localism, Midlands, Parks, Reforestation

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