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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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Gunpowder, Militarization, and Threshold Ecologies in Henry IV Part Two and Macbeth

Gunpowder, Militarization, and Threshold Ecologies in Henry IV Part Two and Macbeth

3 Gunpowder, Militarization, and Threshold Ecologies in Henry IV Part Two and Macbeth
Shakespeare and Ecology

Randall Martin

Oxford University Press

The disputed land-uses and cultivation practices represented in As You Like It responded to unprecedented changes in Elizabethan climate, population, and economic relations. Traditional modes of rural dwelling were no longer protected by virtue of their rural isolation or autonomy, but were becoming inescapably tied to national and global orders of competitive growth and resource exploitation. Perhaps the most disruptive of these modernizing turns was the development of gunpowder technologies and the armament industry. As in other western European countries, military culture became ubiquitous in England by the late sixteenth century as a result of innovations in gunpowder weapons and the formation of national armies. During the Middle Ages, low-tech weaponry and feudal mobilization had limited the social and environmental impacts of war. This situation began to change from the fifteenth century onwards with the development of far more deadly cannons, mines, and firearms. Influenced partly by the Erasmian ethics of his Humanist education (like Queen Elizabeth and King James in their attitudes to war), Shakespeare drew attention to gunpowder’s devastating effects on human and non-human animals and their environments in virtually all his history plays and several of his tragedies, even thoughmost of these references were anachronistic. By layering historical and contemporary viewpoints he registered changing material realities and cultural assumptions about the ecology of war: from self-regulating cycles of martial destruction and agrarian regeneration, to incremental technological mastery reliant on ever-increasing resource consumption. Traditional ideas about redeeming war through cultivation are captured by the Virgilian image of beating swords into ploughshares. It suggests that peacetime cultivation will heal wartime damage, and that periods of war and peace routinely alternate. The swordsinto-ploughshares trope also encodes temporal assumptions that the arc of catastrophe, in its political, ecological, and dramatic senses, is limited in scope and ultimately reversible. In this chapter I want to examine the emerging gunpowder regime putting pressure on this paradigm, and replacing it with modern structures of recoiling environmental risk and planetary push-back, represented in Henry IV Part Two and Macbeth respectively.

Keywords:   Climate change, Deep ecology, Ecofeminism, Fuel crisis, Grafting, Hamlet, Industrialization, King Lear, Localism, Macbeth

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