The Forest and Social Change in Early Modern English Literature, 1590-1700 , recasts the green world of the early modern forest in a historical framework and in a literature of landscape that shaped conceptions of social power in England. I argue that Renaissance poets employ forest imagery and settings in ways that register a slow decline of land-based aristocratic influence and accompanying social markers. At a time of struggle between the Crown and the nobility, growing influence of the middle ranks, and evolving economic and political ideas, literary depictions of forests build upon the unrest associated with historical forests to suggest new social arrangements. The dissertation traces this convergence of landscape, literature, and social rank in forest law and forestry manuals, stage comedy, romance epic, brief biblical epic, and country house poetry. Chapter 1 examines forest law and an arboricultural treatise and demonstrates that their silent omission of aristocratic interests reveals a shift in thought about social power and influence tied to the English landscape. Chapter 2 examines dukes in the woods of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream and As You Like It and argues that forests harbor authority that transcends the social structure and is accessible to characters outside circles of power and privilege. Chapter 3 shows how the intertextual depiction of two failed forest squires in Book VI of Spenser's The Faerie Queene reflects doubt about the long-term efficacy of aristocratic social dominance and the promise it offers for personal and social advancement. Chapter 4 places the banquet temptation of Milton's Paradise Regained in the context of country house poetry by Lanyer, Jonson, and Marvell, and it traces how the poem subjugates the social hierarchy to an ideal of spiritual humility by blending religious dissent with the rumblings of social discontent latent in historical and literary forests.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. May 2009. Major: English. Advisor: Dr. John Watkins. 1 computer file (PDF); iv, 201 pages.
Weixel, Elizabeth Marie.
The Forest and Social change in Early Modern English literature, 1590–1700..
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