Shakespeare's Ocean: An Ecocritical Exploration (Under the by Dan Brayton

By Dan Brayton

Study of the sea--both when it comes to human interplay with it and its literary representation--has been mostly missed by way of ecocritics. In Shakespeare’s Ocean, Dan Brayton foregrounds the maritime measurement of a author whose performs and poems have had a massive influence on literary notions of nature and, in so doing, plots a brand new direction for ecocritical scholarship.

Shakespeare lived in the course of a time of serious growth of geographical wisdom. the realm within which he imagined his performs was once newly understood to be a sphere coated with water. In very important readings of works starting from The Comedy of Errors to the valedictory The Tempest, Brayton demonstrates Shakespeare’s impressive conceptual mastery of the early sleek maritime international and divulges a strong benthic mind's eye at work.

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It is di≈cult to overstate just how radical is the idea that the marine environment is linked to human history. Patricia Yaeger theorizes what she calls ‘‘ecocriticism$’’ in terms of the historical exploitation of the oceans as a form of capital; thus, ‘‘the challenge of oceanic studies is to put the ocean’s agitation and historicity back onto our mental maps and into the study of literature. ’’≤∑ At stake is the conceptual linkage of the sea and the idea of historicity itself. Western civilization has long defined the ocean as an unnatural (or prenatural) void forever evincing a hostile alterity, a void lying eternally outside—or on the margins—of human social constructs.

Byron’s watery plain is an infinite reservoir for the Romantic cult of the sublime precisely because it is fundamentally ahistorical. The rhetorical strategy of apostrophe, verbally addressing someone or something, implies the correlative response of prosopopeia, speech by an inanimate object. One half-expects the ‘‘deep and dark blue Ocean’’ that is the object of Byron’s passionate verses to talk back, yet it remains silent. ’’ This separation is definitive; the rupture enacts an irremediable boundary between land and sea, the one subject to ‘‘ruin,’’ the other ine√able and indomitable.

To achieve this, he argues, ‘‘an ecological criticism must be historically more self-conscious, if only because ecology is a relative newcomer in the world of science. Such selfconsciousness, moreover, is a requisite for any kind of useful interaction between scientific and humanistic studies. It is the dangers of metaphysical universalizing . . ’’≤≥ Here Kroeber enunciates for us the crux of the matter, for ‘‘the land’’ has become a metaphysical term that has been hypostatized by overuse, even to the extent of authorizing the tendency of ecocritics to repress the ocean as a key feature of the Earth’s biophysical environment.

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