'The earth...shall eat us all' : exemplary history, post-humanism, and the legend of King Ferrex in Elizabethan poetry and drama
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The legend of King Ferrex was employed by Thomas Norton and Thomas Sackville in their succession play, Gorboduc (first performed 1561), and by John Higgins in his Mirror for Magistrates (1574; 1587), to reflect on contemporary politics and offer topical warnings to Elizabeth I and her subjects based on legendary British history. However, as well as including a section specifically focused on environmental exploitation, Higgins imbues the earth with a destructive animism in his poem which stands apart as an anomaly in his collection of verse complaints and amongst wider treatments of the story. Higgins’s emphasis on the arbitrary amoral and areligious destruction of all by the agency of the earth and other non-human actors challenges the Mirror’s educative model, and renders the Gorboduc legend inert. Looking at various versions of the narrative in Gorboduc, Higgins’s Mirror, and William Warner’s Albion’s England (1586), and analogous uses of environmental discourse in other contemporary poetic and dramatic texts by Shakespeare, Spenser, and Marlowe, this article considers the role of the nonhuman, and specifically the earth itself, in early modern imaginative historiography and political commentary. In particular, it suggests that there are fruitful connections to be made between modern posthumanist theoretical approaches, and the post-humanism of Higgins’s approach to exemplary history, whereby his admonitory text appears to abandon its premise of human primacy and perfectability in response to the perceived failure of Elizabethan advice literature to effect political change.
Archer , H 2019 , ' 'The earth...shall eat us all' : exemplary history, post-humanism, and the legend of King Ferrex in Elizabethan poetry and drama ' , English: The Journal of the English Association , vol. 68 , no. 261 , pp. 162–183 . https://doi.org/10.1093/english/efz024
English: The Journal of the English Association
© The Author(s) 2019. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the English Association. This work has been made available online in accordance with publisher policies or with permission. Permission for further reuse of this content should be sought from the publisher or the rights holder. This is the author created accepted manuscript following peer review and may differ slightly from the final published version. The final published version of this work is available at https://doi.org/10.1093/english/efz024
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