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Journal Articles Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change Year : 2019

Climatic Issues in Early Modern England : Shakespeare’s Views of the Sky

Abstract

Climatic issues pervade early modern English drama, and three main reasons may be adduced for this. First, while in the first half of the sixteenth century Renaissance natural philosophers still felt compelled to acknowledge the accidental nature of weather-related phenomena, in the second part of the century, new beliefs emerged and the dramatization of celestial events allowed for a more immediate access to the natural world. Second, then as now, Shakespeare’s ‘sceptred isle’ (Richard II) was often exposed to the wind, the rain and the freezing air, and such characteristics were believed to have a lasting impact on the habits of the English nation. Third, people then had to struggle against the adverse weather conditions characterised by what is now referred to as the ‘Little Ice Age.’ As actor and playwright, Shakespeare saw the sky as a theatrical element. While his so-called ‘festive comedies’ appear far less festive if we pay attention to their climatic specificities, his tragedies offer interesting insights into the way the playwright associates heavens and humours on the one hand, climate and the planets on the other. I thus argue that climate was for Shakespeare a framing device giving coherence to his playtexts and providing the audience with a natural, elemental, and cosmic background. His interest in the way weather conditions affect human behaviour prompted him to modify traditional points of view and, as a result, to foreground man’s ominous capacity to trigger climatic disorders.

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hal-02350008 , version 1 (05-11-2019)

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Sophie Chiari. Climatic Issues in Early Modern England : Shakespeare’s Views of the Sky. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change, 2019, 10 (4), pp.e578. ⟨10.1002/wcc.578⟩. ⟨hal-02350008⟩
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