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Shakespeare & Beyond

Shakespeare, ecology, and the environment

Herne's Oak
Herne's Oak
Herne's Oak

Herne’s Oak, Windsor Forest, from Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor. J. Linnell, painter ; T. A. Prior, engraver. 19th century. Folger Shakespeare Library.

What does Shakespeare say about ecology and its politically engaged cousin environmentalism? Neither term appears in his work—unsurprising since they hadn’t been coined yet. Nevertheless, we see Shakespeare thinking ecologically in ways that resonate with our own perceptions of the environmental challenges we face today.

He was writing when early capitalism, globalized trade, and colonialism were beginning to extend Western and masculine ideals of conquering nature around the world. Responding imaginatively to these developments, Shakespeare recognizes the limits nature imposes on human exploitation, the necessity of conserving the bio-integrity of ecosystems for human and non-human benefit, and the earth’s absolute power to overrule human attempts at domination.

  1. Amitav Ghosh, The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable (Chicago, 2016).
  2. Much Ado About Nothing 3.3.11; Henry IV Part Two 2.1.87; The Merry Wives of Windsor 1.4.7-8.
  3. The Merry Wives of Windsor 4.4.51, 5.4.2. See also Vin Nardizzi, Shakespeare’s Wooden Os (Toronto, 2013) and R. Martin, Shakespeare and Ecology (Oxford 2015), ch. 1, 32-55
  4. R. Martin, Shakespeare and Ecology (Oxford 2015), ch. 2, 56-77
  5. Dan Brayton, Shakespeare’s Ocean: An Ecocritical Introduction (Charlottesville and London, 2012)
  6. R. Martin, Shakespeare and Ecology (Oxford 2015), ch. 3, 78-111.
  7. Jason W. Moore, Capitalism in the Web of Life: Ecology and the Accumulation of Capital (London, 2015)
  8. Respectively, Henry IV Part Two, Henry V, Antony and Cleopatra, and Cymbeline.


Nice piece, Dr. Martin!

Adam Crowley — April 22, 2017

This seems like a good topic for a book on Shakespeare on Environmentalism or something similar. There are enough references to organize a thoughtful piece that include much. More than climate change and global warming. Any Thoughts?

Raymond whittemore — February 2, 2018

[…] Shakespeare And Beyond […]

Shakespeare & Global Warming – Everything Art Journal — October 11, 2018