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Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program

English

Year Degree Awarded

2019

Month Degree Awarded

February

First Advisor

Jane Degenhardt

Second Advisor

Malcolm Sen

Third Advisor

Brian Ogilvie

Fourth Advisor

Adam Zucker

Subject Categories

Dramatic Literature, Criticism and Theory | Literature in English, British Isles | Theatre History

Abstract

As the far-reaching consequences of human-generated climate change continue to threaten the earth, an evaluation of the historical narrative of the Anthropocene has never been more important. Globalizing Nature revises the anthropocentric narrative of early globalization from the perspective of the non-human world on the early modern stage, which showcases Nature’s agency in determining ecological, economic, and colonial outcomes. Overturning the popular narrative that European technology and military might determined the outcome of settler colonialism in ancient Britain and colonial Virginia, John Fletcher’s Bonduca suggests that the floral and microbial grafts attending colonial exchange could make or break an invader’s attempt to plant themselves on foreign soil. I show how the English stage modeled strategies for confronting ecological crises during the supposed final “Age of Man”—strategies which can be useful to modern audiences confronting a changing global environment today. King Lear, for example, demonstrates how a human alliance with Nature’s capacity for balance provides a more equitable model for wealth distribution in a kingdom fraught by economic disparity. The history of Shakespearean performance in the British colonies—where weather events and other unpredictable ecological agents often played a role in a given performance—offers a similar strategy for provincializing the narrative of the Anthropocene. The agency humans now exert on the global climate, this performance history suggests, is not shared equally across the globe. Furthermore, by focusing on the materials of the stage, Globalizing Nature traces the distributive agency of natural commodities from their use in performance to their role in building an empire, or in changing the climate. I show how natural commodities used on stage derived from and facilitated British colonial expansion. Corkwood and galls, for example, which were used as cosmetic ingredients in representing African Moors in plays like Titus Andronicus and Lust’s Dominion, connect an emergent racial discourse to the environmental violence of early English colonialism. During a moment when the effects of human behaviors are blurring the distinction between human and nature, Globalizing Nature seeks to recover an early modern ethos of alliance between humans and nature from an otherwise violent human narrative of ecological imperialism and the Anthropocene.

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