1st Edition

The Tree of Life and Arboreal Aesthetics in Early Modern Literature

By Victoria Bladen Copyright 2022
    246 Pages 20 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    246 Pages 20 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Continue Shopping

    The Tree of Life and Arboreal Aesthetics in Early Modern Literature explores the vital motif of the tree of life and what it meant to early modern writers who drew from its long histories in biblical, classical and folkloric contexts, giving rise to a language of trees, an arboreal aesthetics. An ancient symbol of immortality, the tree of life was appropriated by Christian ideology and iconography to express ideas about Christ; however, the concept also migrated beyond religious doctrine. Ideas circulating around the tree of life enabled writers to imagine and articulate ideas of death and rebirth, loss and regeneration, the condition of the political state and personal states of the soul through arboreal metaphors and imagery. The motif could be used to sacralise landscapes, such as the garden, orchard or country estate, blurring the lines between contemporary green spaces and the spiritual and poetic imaginary. Located within the field of environmental humanities, and intersecting with ecocriticism and critical plant studies, this volume outlines a comprehensive history of the tree of life and offers interdisciplinary readings of focus texts by Shakespeare, George Herbert, Henry Vaughan, Aemilia Lanyer, Andrew Marvell and Ralph Austen. It includes consideration of related ideas and motifs, such as the tree of Jesse and the Green Man, illuminating the rich histories and meanings that emerge when an understanding of the tree of life and arboreal aesthetics are brought to the analysis of early modern literary texts and their representations of green spaces, both physical and metaphysical.

    List of Figures



    1. Arboreal Aesthetics: the Language of Trees
    2. The Garden of the soul: George Herbert, Henry Vaughan and the tree of life
    3. Political gardens: Shakespeare and the tree of life
    4. The Tree of Life in the Country Estate: Aemilia Lanyer
    5. Andrew Marvell and the forest of the mind
    6. The Sacred Orchard: Ralph Austen and the tree of life
    7. Conclusions


    Victoria Bladen teaches in literary studies and adaptation at The University of Queensland, Australia and has twice received a Faculty Teaching Award. Her publications include six Shakespearean text guides in the Insight (Melbourne) series, including The Merchant of Venice (2020) and Much Ado About Nothing (2019), and five co-edited volumes, including Shakespeare on Screen: King Lear (2019), Shakespeare and the Supernatural (2020), and a special issue of Australian Literary Studies on Afterlives of Pastoral (2015).

    "In this exciting new work, [Bladen] establishes further perceptions, making the concept of ‘arboreal aesthetics’ her basis for a fresh approach to deeper cultural understandings. Drawing attention to the phenomenon of the tree of life motif in both religious and secular understanding of the natural world, she examines diverse poetic forms, finding that aesthetic considerations embrace changing political realities through the seventeenth century. Victoria Bladen has provided us with an elegant and important contribution to the Routledge series ‘World Literature and the Environment’."

    -- Christopher Wortham, The University of Western Australia, Parergon 39.2 (2022)