Birds and Other Creatures in Renaissance Literature: Shakespeare, Descartes, and Animal Studies, 1st Edition (e-Book) book cover

Birds and Other Creatures in Renaissance Literature

Shakespeare, Descartes, and Animal Studies, 1st Edition

By Rebecca Ann Bach


216 pages

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Hardback: 9781138673007
pub: 2017-08-10
eBook (VitalSource) : 9781315562216
pub: 2017-08-07
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This book explores how humans in the Renaissance lived with, attended to, and considered the minds, feelings, and sociality of other creatures. It examines how Renaissance literature and natural history display an unequal creaturely world: all creatures were categorized hierarchically. However, post-Cartesian readings of Shakespeare and other Renaissance literature have misunderstood Renaissance hierarchical creaturely relations, including human relations. Using critical animal studies work and new materialist theory, Bach argues that attending closely to creatures and objects in texts by Shakespeare and other writers exposes this unequal world and the use and abuse of creatures, including people. The book also adds significantly to animal studies by showing how central bird sociality and voices were to Renaissance human culture, with many believing that birds were superior to some humans in song, caregiving, and companionship. Bach shows how Descartes, a central figure in the transition to modern ideas about creatures, lived isolated from humans and other creatures and denied ancient knowledge about other creatures’ minds, especially bird minds. As significantly, Bach shows how and why Descartes’ ideas appealed to human grandiosity. Asking how Renaissance categorizations of creatures differ so much from modern classifications, and why those modern classifications have shaped so much animal studies work, this book offers significant new readings of Shakespeare’s and other Renaissance texts. It will contribute to a range of fields, including Renaissance literature, history, animal studies, new materialism, and the environmental humanities.

Table of Contents


Introduction: Inequality for All

Chapter One: Feathers, Wings, and Souls

Chapter Two: The Creaturely Continuum in A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Chapter Three: The Lively Creaturely/Object World of The Rape of Lucrece

Chapter Four: Falstaff and "the Modern Constitution"

Chapter Five: The Winter’s Tale’s Pedestrian and Elite Creatures

Conclusion: Human Grandiosity/ Human Responsibility



About the Author

Rebecca Ann Bach is Professor of English at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, USA.

About the Series

Perspectives on the Non-Human in Literature and Culture

In recent years, many disciplines within the humanities have become increasingly concerned with non-human actors and entities. The environment, animals, machines, objects, weather, and other non-human beings and things have taken center stage to challenge assumptions about what we have traditionally called "the human." Informed by theoretical approaches like posthumanism, the new materialisms, (including Actor Network Theory, Object-Oriented Ontology, and similar approaches) ecocriticism, and critical animal studies, such scholarship has until now had no separate and identifiable collective home at an academic press. This series will provide that home, publishing work that shares a concern with the non-human in literary and cultural studies. The series invites single-authored books and essay collections that focus primarily on literary texts, but from an interdisciplinary, theoretically-informed perspective; it will include work that crosses geographical and period boundaries. Titles are characterized by dynamic interventions into established subjects and innovative studies on emerging topics.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
LITERARY CRITICISM / Subjects & Themes / Nature
NATURE / Animals / Birds