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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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PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 11 May 2021

Biospheric Ecologies in Cymbeline

Biospheric Ecologies in Cymbeline

4 Biospheric Ecologies in Cymbeline
Shakespeare and Ecology

Randall Martin

Oxford University Press

Cymbeline makes a theatrical virtue of continually echoing dialogue and scenarios from Shakespeare’s previous plays. Earlier critics were doubtful about this recycling, wondering whether Shakespeare was not falling back on re-runs to make up for failing inventiveness towards the end of his career. These opinions tended to overlook his return to writers such as Boccaccio and Holinshed for fresh material, as well as his projection of personal conflict into new geographic contexts, in the manner of All’s Well That Ends Well and his other late romances. Modern stage productions have capitalized on these signs of imaginative vigour, however, by embracing Cymbeline’s retrospective recreation as cheeky, knowing humour, particularly in the final scene of over-packed revelations and entwining narratives. Cymbeline’s multiple storylines create a polygeneric experience characteristic of Shakespeare’s plays in general and his romances in particular. Steve Mentz has observed that Cymbeline and other ‘polyglot’ romances are well suited to staging modern narratives about the natural world’s tendencies to interdependence, adaptation, and biodiversity. Every main character in Cymbeline has his or her own environmental attachments (e.g. Innogen and Britain, Giacomo and Italy, Lucius and the Roman empire, Cymbeline and ‘Lud’s Town’, Belarius, Arviragus, Guiderius and Wales, Posthumus and Milford Haven). Each of these place-identities represents a different physical and cultural worldview, so when they shift and/or interweave, they suggest dynamic networks operating at multiple levels of planetary space and time. These webbed relations raise modern questions of environmental ethics and practice. Which plane of ecological relations suggests the best way of dwelling responsibly in the world? Which life-challenge might analogize a resolve to reduce excessive consumption and reverse human harm? (e.g. cultivating the local allotment garden? travelling to fewer conferences? preserving boreal forests?). Following trends in postmodern and postcolonial studies, ecotheorists observe that environmentalism has tended to privilege local attachments and modes of dwelling as the common ground for resistance to degrading forces of economic globalization. Pioneering ecocritic Jonathan Bate, for example, celebrated regional and village-focused writers such as William Wordsworth and John Clare.

Keywords:   Foodwebs, Grafting, Hybridization, King Lear, London, Metabiosis, Space, Twelfth Night, Woodland, biodiversity

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