In a field-defining book, Gillian Rudd encourages her readers “to refocu[s] [their] customary view in order to read as it were through green lenses” (2007, p. 17). This would entail “devoting attention to the elements of the works which are usually regarded as marginal” (p. 11). Rudd’s ecocritical reading of medieval English literature demonstrates the new literary and cultural insights that can be gained through this radical change of perspective.
Foregrounding these marginal natural elements involves negotiating the coded systems of meaning used to represent the natural world in the medieval and early modern imagination. But these systems of meaning were continually subject to revision and reinterpretation; as Carlo Caruso has shown in his study of the citrus tree in an early modern version of the Adonis myth, the symbolic allusions of natural elements were not static, but subject to evolution through the rewriting and updating of earlier literary material. This one-day conference would seek to push beyond a reading of “nature” as mere content, questioning to what extent we can understand artistic and literary representations of the natural world as part of the ecological history of the Middle Ages and early modern period. It will address some of the following questions:
- How are the shifting dynamics of medieval and early modern ecologies registered in symbolic form?
- How does the representation of the natural world in literature relate to changing conceptions of “nature” in the medieval and early modern periods?
- What patterns and divergences can be observed in symbolic ecologies over time or across geographical spaces?
- How can we go beyond understandings of “nature” as merely setting?
This symposium will seek to engage with a range of medieval and early modern conceptions of “nature” and of the role of human beings within it. It will bring together scholars working on the intersections of a range of literary traditions and visual cultures.