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An Ecocritical Study of Shakespeare’s Tragedies

Author WangLin
Tutor LiuYuHong
School Guangxi Normal University
Course English Language and Literature
Keywords Shakespeare’s great tragedies Ecocriticism Women Human Civilization
Type Master's thesis
Year 2010
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Shakespeare’s four great tragedies which have rich implications and far-reaching influence, are the sparkling pearls in world literature. Under different critics’discussions during dissimilar periods, they present diverse splendors. With the assistance of the present eminent literal theory --- green ecocriticism, the thesis tries to discuss the relationships between nature and women, between nature and human, between nature and civilization in Shakespeare’s four great tragedies. Its purposes are to find out how people think of nature and how people view the association between nature and human beings, and to dig out the ecological thoughts in the plays. In this way, the research helps to make the plays emit new brightness. Besides, as a contribution to the construction of the theory ecocriticism, it is beneficial to assist people in reflecting the cultural root of the current ecological crisis and to apply some ecological wisdom.The thesis consists of five chapters.Chapter 1 is an introduction. It briefly introduces the source of the subject, surveys the studies on Shakespeare’s four great tragedies, and especially cards the scholarship in the ecocriticism study, from which the writing intention and innovation of the thesis come out. Then the origin, development, and actuality of ecocriticism as a new study are provided while its definition, core viewpoints and the relative theoretic points are mainly stressed. The end of this chapter is about the structure of the thesis.Chapter 2 deals with the relationship between nature and women. In Shakespeare’s tragedies, nature is closely related to women, which is firstly proved in that the natural images appearing with the females have special connotations. Ophelia in Hamlet is a good example. Her emergence is always accompanied by various flowers, trees, water and the soil, which are not simply natural things but represent more than what they are. The close interaction between nature and women is secondly demonstrated in that the two images of nature, one as a kind and peaceful mother, the other as a wild and uncontrollable witch are respectively reflected in Cordelia of King Lear and the witches of Macbeth, which actually mirrors different classes’distinct views towards nature in that transitional time.Chapter 3 discusses the association between nature and human, chiefly embodying the analogy between nature and human, and human’s status in natural world. On the one hand, in western cosmology system, the analogy between nature and human is the microcosm-macrocosm correspondence. Then the cosmos music that symbolizes the highest level of universal harmony corresponds to the harmony in human hearts, namely, human music, which has specific examples in Hamlet and Othello. On the other hand, people in Renaissance overvalued humanism so much that they placed human beings above all the other creatures, which was full of anthropocentric pride and prejudice. Hamlet’s famous soliloquy is the best illustration. Nevertheless, at the same time, Hamlet also has to admit that human is part of the food chain, relying on other creatures. Thus, human should not overtop other creatures with his reason, but become a defender instead of a ruler of the natural world.Chapter 4 explores the connection between nature and civilization, whose connection is centrally glassed in King Lear. They experience the process from antithesis to fusion. To some extent, the two wandering on the heath, Lear who is baptized by the heavy storm and Edgar who is saved by the tree hallow, represent nature while the two sisters Goneril and Regan, and Edmund who live in the castle and enjoy wealth and culture are the mouthpieces of civilization. The antitheses between nature and civilization own three aspects, geographical place and living style, property status, and spiritual state. However, the civilization opposed to nature is dissimilated and unhealthy. Civilization’s healthy development can be without the cooperation and fusion of nature. The death of Goneril, Regan and Edmund, and Lear and Edgar’s being given the governing right of the country stand for the mergence of nature and civilization, which also incarnates Shakespeare’ideal.Chapter 5 is conclusion. Shakespeare’s great tragedies not only reveal people’s attitudes towards nature and the association between nature and human, truly and vividly reflecting the culture and thoughts of Renaissance, but also contain abundant ecological wisdom, consumedly inspiring us in how we should treat the environmental crisis nowadays.

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