Study of the sea--both in terms of human interaction with it and its literary representation--has been largely ignored by ecocritics. In Shakespeare’s Ocean, Dan Brayton foregrounds the maritime dimension of a writer whose plays and poems have had an enormous impact on literary notions of nature and, in so doing, plots a new course for ecocritical scholarship.
Shakespeare lived during a time of great expansion of geographical knowledge. The world in which he imagined his plays was newly understood to be a sphere covered with water. In vital readings of works ranging from The Comedy of Errors to the valedictory The Tempest, Brayton demonstrates Shakespeare’s remarkable conceptual mastery of the early modern maritime world and reveals a powerful benthic imagination at work.
To sail the ocean with Shakespeare you need a pilot’s local knowledge, a navigator’s perspective, and an ear for the poetics of salt. Dan Brayton brings these maritime tools to bear on early modern literature and contemporary oceanic dilemmas, and he adds his own ecocritical vision and wide experience of the watery world. This book helps reimagine Shakespeare through the ‘strange kinship’ between humans and the sea.
The book opens with as clear a statement on ecocriticism as I have yet seen. Then Brayton’s abilities as Shakespearean take over, and the result is a steady stream of insights.
Dan Brayton is Assistant Professor of English and American Literatures at Middlebury College and the coeditor of Ecocritical Shakespeare.