Humankind has always been fascinated by the world in which it finds itself, and puzzled by its relations to it. Today that fascination is often expressed in what is now called ‘green’ terms, reflecting concerns about the non-human natural world, puzzlement about how we relate to it, and anxiety about what we, as humans, are doing to it. So-called green or eco-criticism acknowledges this concern. This book reaches back and offers new readings of English texts, both known and unfamiliar, informed by eco-criticism. After considering general issues pertaining to green criticism, it moves on to a series of individual chapters arranged by theme (earth, trees, wilds, sea, gardens and fields) that provide individual close readings of selections from such familiar texts as Malory's Morte D'Arthur, Chaucer's Knight's and Franklin's Tales, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Langland's Piers Plowman. These discussions are contextualized by considering them alongside hitherto marginalized texts such as lyrics, Patience and the romance Sir Orfeo. The result is a study that reinvigorates our customary reading of late Middle English literary texts while also allowing us to reflect upon the vibrant new school of eco-criticism itself.
This chapter introduces present green literary criticism that is used on late medieval texts and ecocritical literary study. It first tries to define the term ecocriticism and then addresses the issue of anthropocentrism. This chapter also tries to show an analogy between ecosystems and literary analysis, and takes a look at several texts that have been subjected to green criticism.
This chapter studies the term ‘earth’ and its attendant associations. It determines that there is a myriad of entries for this short word, which indicates that it offers many opportunities for the kind of allusive and elusive poetry one can find in lyrics. This chapter is concerned mostly with the readings of medieval English lyrics and their use of the term ‘earth’.
This chapter considers trees as individual specimens and as groups. It distinguishes between woodland and forests, and studies the concepts and associations that are attached to the term ‘forest’. This chapter demonstrates the various roles that are assigned to trees in medieval texts, such as Geoffrey Chaucer's A Knight's Tale.
This chapter examines the idea of wilderness, which may be even more evocative than that of the forest. It describes the wilderness as being able to create images of vast expanses of untamed and untameable land that is either barren or supports a tangle of plant life. This chapter suggests that the wilderness of the later Middle Ages combines the wilderness and wildness that Neil Evernden carefully distinguished in his discussion of latter-day wild spaces. It also states that medieval wilderness appears to exclude humans and refuses to recognise those aspects by which one usually seeks to differentiate themselves from the rest of the world. Sir Orfeo and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight are two of the medieval texts studied in this chapter.
This chapter focuses on the sea and coast, which appears to defy expression. It notes that descriptions of the sea are usually lacking in the very texts one might expect to find them. It then determines that much of one's view of the sea depends both imaginatively and literally on having a coast from which to view it. It shows that the effects of the sea on writers who live close to it are not always beneficial and studies peoples' highly ambiguous relations with the sea.
This chapter discusses the use of gardens and fields in medieval texts, where they both provide a sense of retreat from the outside world and restoration of the spirit. It determines that the garden can also become a debased place of sexual delight or become a form of a prison. This chapter centres on Piers Plowman and Pearl and the importance of gardens in these texts.