Please join us at the upcoming MLA conference in Chicago on Saturday, January 5 from 3:30 to 4:45 p.m. for “Marlowe and Ecology.” Exploring the ways that Marlowe’s work might be understood in the light of the growing body of scholarship in ecostudies, this roundtable will address topics that draw from animal studies, queer studies, posthumanist studies, and literature and the environment in order to consider how such modes of inquiry might offer new ways of reading works like Dido, Tamburlaine, and Hero and Leander.
Participants’ abstracts and bios appear below. The discussion will be moderated by Jennifer A. Munroe (UNC Charlotte).
Karen Raber (University of Mississippi), “Ecology and Gender in Dido Queen of Carthage”
Following the apparent wreck of most of his ships, and driven to the woods by his son’s “fainting” hunger, Aeneas and his surviving company in Marlowe’s Dido, Queen of Carthage find themselves marveling at the Libyan coast’s “ayre most pleasant and the soyle most fit / for Cities and societies supports.” The language and encounters of Act I root my argument in this essay that Marlowe’s play interrogates the political and ecological consequences involved in the triumph of a (gendered) model of destructive resource-extraction over generatively cooperative ecological practices.
Karen Raber is Professor of English at the University of Mississippi. Her most recent monograph is Shakespeare and Posthumanist Theory (Arden 2018); she is also author of Animal Bodies, Renaissance Culture (Penn 2013) and editor or coeditor of several collections covering topics in early modern gender, women writers, animals, and ecostudies.
Steven Swarbrick (Baruch College), “Bringing Out Tambur-Lame: Marlowe's Eco-Teratology”
Reading Marlowe’s Tamburlaine in relation to its source material, the historical “Timur-the-Lame,” I argue that the play’s desire to bring out Tamburlaine as “other”—monstrous, disabled—creates queer manifolds in the epic time of the play, suggesting not only alternatives to the epistemology of the closet that informs normative reading practices but also cartographic and relational imaginaries at odds with English expansionism. Consequently, what we “see” via Tamburlaine’s “disability” is not so much the truth of premodern disability but rather the nomadic assemblage of affects, materials, and ecologies that form and deform queer/dis/abled existence in Marlowe’s history.
Steven Swarbrick is Assistant Professor of English at Baruch College, CUNY. His research interests include early modern English literature, queer theory, and ecotheory. He is working on a book manuscript entitled “Larval Subjects: Poetry, Ontology, and the Creaturely Complaint.”
Benjamin Bertram (University of Southern Maine), "Marlowe's Ecology of War"
As one of the four “warring” elements in Marlowe’s Tamburlaine plays, water is perceived as a chaotic force beyond human control, an obstacle to military success, and “standing reserve” for commercial and military exploitation. Humans’ ability to alter their physical surroundings during war can be seen in both the massive destruction of ecosystems like Limnasphaltis Lake and in the more carefully managed construction of dams and other forms of hydraulic power. I will argue that a historicist approach to the element of water in Marlowe, one that focuses in particular on the Anglo-Spanish war, is not incompatible with a presentist approach that finds forms of catastrophic damage to lakes, rivers, and oceans in his plays that are very similar to what we are witnessing on a local and global scale in the 21st century.
Benjamin Bertram is Professor of English at the University of Southern Maine. His new book, Bestial Oblivion: War, Humanism, and Ecology in Early Modern England is forthcoming from Routledge. He has also published a book on Renaissance skepticism and articles on Shakespeare, Webster, and Critical Theory.
Lowell Duckert (University of Delaware), “‘Cut the arctic line': Marlowe in Gruntland”
At the start of Tamburlaine, Part 2 (ca. 1587), Orcanes recalls the “[g]iants as big as hugy Polypheme” who inhabit “[v]ast Gruntland [Greenland].” Despite their size, the king continues, “[o]ur Turkey blades shall glide through all their throats.” Classical and contemporary descriptions of the far north tended to populate the arctic with pygmies, however – not giants. Comparing accounts and images from Swedish historian Olaus Magnus (1490-1557), German geographer Dithmar Blefken (fl. 1563), and Icelandic historian Arngrim Jonas (fl. 1609) – amongst others – this paper lingers over Marlowe’s aggrandizement of Greenlandic indigenous peoples, hoping to identify in the playwright’s scalar shift either a full-throated encouragement for eco-imperialism; a tacit check to English north-western and eastern expansion; or a combination of the two.
Lowell Duckert is Associate Professor of English at the University of Delaware. He is the author of For All Waters: Finding Ourselves in Early Modern Wetscapes (University of Minnesota Press, 2017), and, with Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, the editor of Veer Ecology: A Companion for Environmental Thinking (University of Minnesota Press, 2017). He specializes in early modern studies, environmental criticism, and new materialism.
Tiffany Jo Werth (UC Davis), “‘Ever grene & flourishing’: ‘Discoloured Jasper’ and Marlowe’s ecotone in Hero and Leander”
In “Hero and Leander” the narrator describes the “discoloured Jasper stone” of the fair church wherein Leander will become enamored of Hero. The church that boasts images of Proteus and the gods in “sundrie shapes” contains a riot of green vines interspersed with forms of bronze, crystal, and iron. Comparing accounts from Revelation and contemporary poets like Edmund Spenser, this paper asks how the poetic negotiation between organic and inorganic analogues, what we might think of as two poetic biomes, demands a reformulation of the act of making—and arousing human desire.
Tiffany Jo Werth is Associate Professor of English at University of California, Davis. Her work on the contentious relationship of romance to the long English Reformation has appeared in article form in the Shakespearean International Yearbook and English Literary Renaissance and as The Fabulous Dark Cloister: Romance in England after the Reformation (Johns Hopkins University Press 2011). Her current book project, entitled The English Lithic Imagination from More to Milton, reflects her broader research into Renaissance ecologies of the nonhuman. Publications reflecting these interests include essays in the edited collection The Indistinct Human in Renaissance Literature; journals such as Literature Compass Online, Upstart: a Journal of English Renaissance Studies, Spenser Studies; and a special issue on “Shakespeare and the Human” for the Shakespearean International Yearbook.
Joshua Calhoun (University of Wisconsin, Madison), “Saving Marlowe in the Anthropocene”
From book-burning in Doctor Faustus to accusations that Marlowe himself believed in the existence of written records that predated Adam to the scant survival of Marlowe’s translation of Ovid’s Amores, Marlowe’s life and work draw attention to destructibility of ideas recorded on objects made from the natural world. This short presentation thinks with Marlowe about the ecologies of book survival and destruction, about biodeterioration and loss, but also about the costs of book preservation in climate-controlled vaults in the present.
Joshua Calhoun is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Faculty Affiliate at the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies. His work has been published in PMLA, Shakespeare Studies, and Environmental Philosophy. He is completing The Nature of the Page: Poetry, Paper, and the Ecology of Media in Renaissance England, a book that explores Renaissance ecologies of writing and reading, especially the poetic interplay between literary ideas and the physical forms they are made to take as media fashioned from plants and animals.