Toxic pastoral: Comic failure and ironic nostalgia in contemporary British environmental theatre

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Abstract

In what follows, I will read two recent versions of the pastoral—Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem (2009) and Thomas Eccleshare’s Pastoral (2013)—as examples of the vitality which literary comic modes can offer to thinking about ecological dilemmas. Both invert and frustrate the conventional pastoral movement, wherein the equalising effects of release, reconciliation, and return are not realised. Rather, each play subjects the pastoral mode to actual or threatened displacement—in Eccleshare’s play the forest invades the city, whereas Butterworth dramatizes the efforts of civic authority to evict the green man from his wood—and makes this failure the basis of its exploration of the possibilities available in an eco-comic mode; finally, via the presentation of toxicity as a trope to, as Buell puts it, “unsettle[…] received assumptions about the boundaries of nature writing and environmental representation”, each play represents a version of pastoral that is alert and able to give form to the ironies, anxieties, and absurdities that inhere in contemporary environmental discourse.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Ecocriticism
Volume6
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2014

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