Writing the Forest in Early Modern England: A Sylvan Pastoral Nation

Writing the Forest in Early Modern England: A Sylvan Pastoral Nation

Jeffrey S. Theis $70.00

Published in 2009 | 368 pages | cloth | ISBN: 978-0-8207-0423-4


"Theis is superb at weaving together social and natural history with literary tradition and nuanced close readings. . . . As a contribution to studies of the environment and Renaissance Literary Studies, Theis's work is welcome and significant." — Renaissance Quarterly


"Theis identifies and examines sylvan pastoral, a highly adaptable literary mode in which English writers from the 1590s to the 1670s resituated pastoral from open land to forest. This change in setting permitted imaginative engagement with contemporary issues such as fears of deforestation, increased rates of migration to woodlands, and the status of the royal forest as a symbol of monarchical power." — Choice

Writing the Forest is at its best when describing the various issues—hunting and poaching, enclosure and squatting, timber extraction, and so on—that made England's forests a site of political and literary contention during the seventeenth century. Writing the Forest offers readers a fresh ecocritical perspective on representations of the forest in early modern English Literary Studies.” — Journal of British Studies

“This book makes an important contribution to ecocritical scholarship and to critical work on early modern English pastoral writing.” —SEL Studies in English Literary Studies, 1500-1900 

Book Information:

In Writing the Forest in Early Modern England: A Sylvan Pastoral Nation, Jeffrey S. Theis focuses on pastoral Literary Studies in early modern England as an emerging form of nature writing. In particular, Theis analyzes what happens when pastoral writing is set in forests — what he terms “sylvan pastoral.”

During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, forests and woodlands played an instrumental role in the formation of individual and national identities in England. Although environmentalism as we know it did not yet exist, persistent fears of timber shortages led to a larger anxiety about the status of forests. Perhaps more important, forests were dynamic and contested sites of largely undeveloped spaces where the poor would migrate in a time of rising population when land became scarce. And in addition to being a place where the poor would go, the forest also was a playground for monarchs and aristocrats where they indulged in the symbolically rich sport of hunting.

Conventional pastoral Literary Studies, then, transforms when writers use it to represent and define forests and the multiple ways in which English society saw these places. In exploring these themes, authors expose national concerns regarding deforestation and forest law and present views relating to land ownership, nationhood, and the individual's relationship to nature. Of particular interest are the ways in which cultures turn confusing spaces into known places and how this process is shaped by nature, history, gender, and class.

Theis examines the playing out of these issues in familiar works by Shakespeare, such as A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Merry Wives of Windsor, and As You Like It, Andrew Marvell's “Upon Appleton House,” John Milton's Mask and Paradise Lost, as well as in lesser known prose works of the English Revolution, such as James Howell's Dendrologia and John Evelyn's Sylva.

As a unique ecocritical study of forests in early modern English Literary Studies, Writing the Forest makes an important contribution to the growing field of the history of environmentalism, and will be of interest to those working in literary and cultural history as well as philosophers concerned with nature and space theory."

Author Information:

JEFFREY S. THEIS is associate professor of English at Salem State College. He has published articles in journals such as English Literary Renaissance and Milton Studies and was a contributor to Renaissance Ecology: Imagining Eden in Milton's England, edited by Ken Hiltner.

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