Rebecca Laroche and Jennifer Munroe, Shakespeare and Ecofeminist Theory

Rebecca Laroche and Jennifer Munroe, Shakespeare and Ecofeminist Theory (London: Bloomsbury Arden Shakespeare, 2017) 216 pp. £75.00 Hb. ISBN: 9781472590473.

Ecofeminism has emerged as a relatively new feminist theory as part of third-wave feminism. Ecofeminist literary criticism ‘redress[es] inequalities that result not only from dominations that subject women…Others..and non-humans to destructive pratices’ (xvii). Such readings clearly suggest intriguing and relevantly exciting ways to read texts in the twenty first century. Although, ecofeminist literary criticism has been explored since the mid 1990s, the title of this book suggests that it will introduce a new criticism of Shakespeare’s plays. So I was looking forward to embarking on this book. However, rather than offering anything new, the authors seem to concentrate on unnecessarily extended and often confused preambles to justify ecofeminist readings of literature followed by unconvincing literary critiques.

The authors state that ecofeminist readings ‘reveal new ways to read [Shakespeare’s] plays’ (xv). However, the authors spent the introduction and an explanation of their ‘process’ (xvi) informing the reader what the book sets out to do rather than getting on and doing it. Instead the authors delve too much into ecofeminist analysing of contemporary issues; for example, Baltimore protests of 2015 (28) and the Ziko virus crisis (34-37) both of which seemed out of place in an argument to encourage ecofeminist readings of Shakespeare’s plays.

That aside, the preface and introduction give a clear history of ecofeminism and its focus on a paradigm of the close relationship of domination of female and nature. But this ‘reliance on women's biological functions to establish a connection between women and nature

[has lead to a negative reading of]

the uncritical overprivileging of women's experiences, the inappropriateness of designating ideal female characteristics, and the regressive political implications of associating women with nature’.[1] Thereby, it is thought that ecofeminist readings can inadvertently reinforce patriarchal viewpoints. This argument was not challenged.

In a variety of Shakepeare’s plays there are generalised readings of brief specific characterisations or elements of scenes followed by ecofeminist readings in comparison. However, I was disappointed to feel that the authors’ ecofeminist analyses of some of these plays were particularly unimpressive. Nonetheless, the preface explains ‘how ecofeminism applies social justice and cultural domination as they relate to interactions with the living environment’ (xvi). Unfortunately, the analysis of Hermia’s dream in Midsummer Night’s Dream does not seem to fulfil this promise. The authors say that they are offering an ‘ecofeminist re-evaluation’ of Hermia’s dream of a snake as ‘evok[ing] not only anthropocentric delusions, but also androcentric ones’ (52). I would venture to suggest that any Freudian reading would to offer the same analysis. This example of an ecofeminist critique hardly offers anything new.

The authors say that they used ecofeminism ‘to interrupt the “natural” woman-nature alliance associated with the domestic sphere’ (18). But I was surprised by illogical discussion about pests in domestic spaces; for example, there is an unanswered question of ‘How does our perception change if we ask about the rat that Hamlet attacks behind the arras..’ (44). Presumably, this comment is referring to Hamlet’s killing of Polonius. If so, such ill-informed commentary adds nothing to promote the credibility and usefulness of ecofeminist analysis.

Similarly, the authors suggest that Lear ‘being mad does not cause [him] to lose everything…but rather it is the precondition for his recognition of that which he never had’ (87). I would suggest that this is a standard reading of Lear and not privileged ecofeminist reading, in much the same way as when Gloucester loses his eyes he sees more clearly. Moreover, in the analysis of Macbeth it is suggested that an ecofeminist reading ‘compels us to reorient ourselves to the weird sisters… which brings us to a vision of the world that is about multiplicity..and the not-yet-known’ (101). Again I would argue that this is a standard reading of Macbeth’s weird sisters. I was expecting so much more from an analysis that offers me a way to analyse ‘social justice and cultural domination as they relate to interactions with the living environment’ (xvi).

Greta Gaard has said: ‘Our failure to accurately and inclusively describe the past will surely limit our capacity to envision potential maps for viable futures. In ecocriticism's future developments, feminism and ecofeminism have much to offer’.[2] I want to be convinced of this argument. However, a more cogent discussion and analysis of canonical texts than this publication is needed to establish a more sure-footed progress for ecofeminist literary criticism. Consequently, on the strength of this book’s arguments, I remain unconvinced that ecofeminism offers a most effective literary criticism for the twenty-first century.

[1] Anne Archambault, A Critique of Ecofeminism, Canadian Woman Studies/Les Cahiers De La Femme, Vol 13 No 3 (1993) pp.19-22 (21).

[2]Greta Gaard, New Directions for Ecofeminism: Toward a More Feminist Ecocriticism, Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment, Vol. 17, No. 4 (Autumn 2010), pp. 643-665 (660).

Dr Elizabeth Askey, Simon Langton Grammar School for Boys, Canterbury, Kent.